How to Improve Your Strategic Planning, Analysis, and Alignment

The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray. Why? Individuals, teams, and organizations lack the healthy habits of identifying and managing the uncertainty that surrounds their world. Today, let's look at a step-by-step process to improve your strategic planning, analysis, and alignment with a particular focus on risk management.


What I found over the years is the most important thing is for a team to come together over a compelling vision, a comprehensive strategy for achieving that vision, and then a relentless implementation plan. —Alan Mulally

Strategic risk management is a process for identifying, analyzing, and managing risks most critical to the achievement of your goals. While many individuals, groups, or organizations perform risk management informally, a more structured approach has its benefits. For instance, strategic risk management can help you invest your precious time, money, resources and energy where it counts most.

The Scope of Strategic Risk Management

PMI Talent Triangle

The Project Management Institute says, "The ideal skill set (for a project manager) is a combination of technical, leadership, and strategic and business management expertise." —PMI Talent Triangle

Organizations are looking for project managers who can manage projects. Additionally, they want individuals who can help define the organization's strategies and ensure that the projects are aligned with the enterprise goals. 

During the project initiation process, a project charter should be completed. The project goals should align and support the achievement of the enterprise goals. Furthermore, the Project Steering Committee can help by defining and using project selection criteria to approve projects that fit the criteria, ensuring better alignment to the organization's goals. 

Want to know more? Check out my online course: The What, Why, & How of Powerful Project Charters.

Strategic risk management may be applied to enterprise, portfolio, program, and project levels of an organization. 

Let's Do Some Strategic Planning

So, here is a step-by-step process to help you improve your strategic planning, analysis, and alignment.

In the broadest sense, strategic risk management starts at an enterprise level. Even if your organization does not have an Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Program, you can apply this process to improve your portfolio and program risk management. Lastly, if you only manage projects, consider this process as the context for your projects. Do you understand how your projects align with the organizational vision, mission, values, and goals?

  1. Define the Vision, Mission, and Values. What is your preferred future? What is the purpose of your organization? What do you value?
  2. Define Long-Term Goals. What are the long-term goals (typically 3 year goals) to support the mission? These goals will likely be broader than your annual goals.
  3. Define Annual Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). What will you measure? For example, you may have a KPI for profit or expenses. What is the target for the KPI? How do you calculate the KPI?
  4. Define Annual Goals. Using the KPIs, we can define specific, measurable goals. For example: “To increase profit by 5% over the prior year by 12/31/XX.” Cascade the goals. Lower level goals should align and support higher level goals. For example, you may have a hierarchy like this:
    • Corporate Goals (i.e. Enterprise Goals)
      • Business Goals (i.e. Business Unit or Division Goals)
        • Functional Goals (i.e. Department Goals)
          • Team Goals (i.e. Project Goals)
  5. Define Strategy. How will you get from your present state to the desired future state? Strategies may include action plans, projects, and programs.
  6. Identify Risks. Here is where risk management comes into play. What are the opportunities and threats for each goal? Who are the risk owners?
  7. Analyze Risks. What is the priority of the risks? Which risks matter most? At a minimum, complete a Qualitative Risk Analysis to prioritize the risks. In some cases, you may wish to complete a Quantitative Risk Analysis.
  8. Plan Risk Responses. Develop the risk response plans for the highest risks.
  9. Build a Scorecard. Develop a scorecard where actual results are reported for each of the goals. Determine the frequency of reporting (e.g., monthly, quarterly, bi-annual, annual).
  10. Monitor Risks. Periodically review the risks. Update assessments and response plans as needed.

Start Your Strategic Planning

You may be thinking—interesting article. But I want you to be more than interested. I challenge you to take action, particularly if you are an enterprise, portfolio, or program manager. Develop your strategic plan, identify your risks, and start managing those risks. Most importantly, add value by keeping your eye on the achievement of your goals.

My Top 10 Most Popular Blog Posts of 2018

Oh, what a year! Thank you for being a part of the Project Risk Coach Community. I hope you have found my articles practical and helpful. In this article, I'm sharing my most popular blog posts of 2018.

So, just how many of you came to the Project Risk Coach website in 2018? 













One of my 2018 goals was to have 75,000 people visit the Project Risk Coach website. Thanks to you, I had more than 113,000. Visitors spent an average of 4 minutes and 47 seconds per visit. 

Where were the visitors from? Here were the top countries:

  1. United States
  2. Australia
  3. The United Kingdom
  4. India
  5. Canada

Most Popular 2018 Blog Posts

2019 Project Risk Coach Plans

I am grateful that the demand for my consulting services, particularly in the P&C insurance industry, has been great in 2018. In 2019,  I will be creating more online courses with a focus on project risk management and helping individuals prepare for the PMI-RMP Exam.

I also plan to speak and conduct workshops at a few PMI Chapters in 2019 

I see my primary audience as practicing project managers in the United States with a college education. Most are between the ages of 30 and 60 and most work in the financial industry.

Irrespective of where you live or what you do, I hope you will find the Project Risk Coach as a go-to resource for project management tips, tools, and techniques.

Please Take My Reader Survey (It's Quick)

Please help me help YOU. It is my sincere desire to provide greater value to you in 2019. Click here to complete a quick survey.

How To Write Clear Project Goals

Occasionally, someone will ask me for risk management tips. I think my first answer surprises individuals—write clear goals. Yes, good risk management always starts with clear goals. In today's article, I will give you a simple method to write clear goals every time.

The Fable of the Crow and the Pitcher

The Crow and the Pitcher is one of Aesop’s Fables. In the story, a thirsty crow discovers a pitcher with water at the bottom, beyond the reach of its beak. The crow did not have sufficient strength to push the pitcher over. He took a different approach. The bird dropped pebbles one by one in the pitcher until the water level rose to the top of the pitcher, allowing the crow to drink.

The crow had a clear goal. Though there were obstacles, the crow creatively solved the problem and achieved his goal. In risk management, we ask ourselves—what may help or hinder our ability to achieve our goals.


“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses those skills to accomplish his goals.” -Larry Byrd

Write Clear Goals Every Time

Allow me to provide a simple but powerful formula for writing goals. What I am about to share will work for personal goals, enterprise goals, department goals, team goals, or any goal. Furthermore, it works for long-term goals, intermediate-term goals, and short-term goals.

Using this goal formula, you will write specific, measurable goals every time. You will find writing goals easier. Let's start with the formula.

Verb -> Focus -> Target -> Deadline

Example: Increase new members 5% by December 31, 20xx.

  1. Verb. I typically start goals with a verb such as increase, decrease, maintain, or have. (I use verbs like implement, develop, establish, utilize, or revise for strategies, broad statements of direction.)
  2. Focus. What is the focus of the goal? The focus of the example above is "new members."
  3. Target. The target specifies the measure. The target may be a specific amount, range, or percentage.
  4. Deadline. The deadline makes the goal time-based. A goal without a deadline is simply a wish.

Personal Goal Examples

  • To maintain my exercise of 3 times per week for 45 minutes through the end of the year.
  • To increase my 401K contributions by 5% over the prior year by December 31, 20xx.
  • Business Goal Examples

  • To increase the net income by 10% by the end of the third quarter.
  • To decrease auto claims cycle time from an average of 12 days to 8 days by the March 31, 20xx.
  • To have 5 project managers achieve their Project Management Professional (PMP) designation between April 1 and June 30 of 20xx.
  • Writing goals is an iterative process. Zig Ziglar said, "Don't become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific." Write your goals again and again, each time refining and clarifying your thoughts. Revisit them regularly to monitor your progress.

    Project Risks and Issues – What’s the Difference?

    Do you find yourself working overtime, trying to deal with unexpected disruptions? Some negative events that you thought might happen has now occurred. And it's costing you more time and energy than you thought possible. Overwhelmed? Well, let's talk about project risks and issues, the differences, and why it's so important to manage risks.

    What is Risk?

    The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines risk as, “An uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives.” 

    Let's examine a risk statement and underscore some key attributes of risks. Here's a risk statement:

    Because the project team failed to review the requirements with the users, the project team may not meet the user's needs, resulting in unsatisfied users.

    • Cause: Failure to review and validate the requirements
    • Risk: Project team may not meet the user's needs
    • Impact: Users will not be satisfied with the product

    Notice the risk: project team may not meet the user's needs. Think of risk as events or conditions that might happen in the future.

    What is an Issue?

    So, how does an issue differ from a risk? Where a risk might happen, an issue has happened. When a threat occurs, it becomes an issue or problem. By the way, when an opportunity occurs, it becomes a benefit

    Why Distinguish a Risk from an Issue?

    Are we splitting hairs? The distinction between risks and issues matters for a few reasons.

    • Proactive Management Saves Time. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Project managers should manage risks proactively. Project managers can save valuable time through prevention. As often noted, Project managers can eliminate up to 90% of threats through risk management.
    • Measure of Management Effectiveness. If a project manager is experiencing lots of issues, it may be a sign that the project manager has not been managing the project effectively. 
    • Different Type Response. Issues require a different response than threats. Project managers respond to threats with different strategies: avoid, mitigate, accept, or transfer. Issues require corrective action to bring the performance of the project in alignment with the project management plan. 

    Risk vs. Issue Debate

    Some project managers and risk managers are not convinced that the differentiation between risk and issue adds any value. Even though the risk has occurred (i.e. it is now an issue in terms of the differentiation) there is still uncertainty regarding the impact and the objectives that will be impacted. 

    What about Assumptions and Constraints?

    While we are on this topic, let's clarify two other terms—assumptions and constraints.

    • Assumptions. Assumptions are “a factor in the planning process that is considered to be true, real, or certain, without proof or demonstration” according to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. Assumptions may be a source of risks. Be sure to perform an assumption analysis periodically to validate assumptions.
    • Constraints. A constraint is “a limiting factor that affects the execution of a project, program, portfolio, or process.” Constraints such as a budget or schedule constraints are factual. The project manager must continually consider these defined limits when managing risks, particularly when planning risk responses.

    How to Create a Project Affinity Map

    Have you ever conducted a project brainstorming session and found yourself drowning in a cloud of ideas? Not a bad thing, but how can we make sense of the ideas? Well, let's see how to create a project affinity map to sort your ideas. As a bonus, we'll also look at Dot Voting, a simple and quick way to prioritize your ideas.

    What is an Affinity Map?

    An affinity map is a tool that can be used to organize ideas into groups based on their natural relationships. The ideas commonly come from a brainstorming session. So, how do project managers actually use this tool?

    For instance, a project manager may ask a project team to identify reasons why a project is behind schedule. Imagine that the team identifies fifteen reasons. Next, the project manager asks the team to sort the ideas into groups. The team discovers that the reasons fall into the following groups: processes, people, product, and technology. This is a great way to create a Cause and Effect Diagram.

    There are countless ways to use a project affinity map after brainstorming. Here are some examples. Identify and sort:

    • Project risks
    • Causes of risks
    • Responses to risks
    • Problem-solving ideas
    • Ideas for improving interpersonal relationships
    • Ways to improve communication

    Step by Step Project Affinity Maps

    So, what steps do we take to create an affinity diagram? Let's walk through the process.

    1. Define the issue or the question on a whiteboard or flip chart. For example: "What ideas do you have to expedite our project?" Or "What is causing the quality issues in our software project?"
    2. Ask participants for responses. Have the participants write their responses on sticky notes or index cards.
    3. Collect and post ideas.
    4. Sort the ideas into columns or clusters. Ask the participants to help you sort the ideas into common groups.
    5. Define categories. Ask the participants to define category names or headings.
    6. Discuss the Affinity Map. Ask participants for key observations. Ask probing questions to help everyone better understand the results.

    When you complete the exercise, the team should have a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the issues. Sometimes the team may need additional help to identify the most significant items. Let’s look at another simple tool to prioritize the items.

    Cling On Sheets

    Have you ever used Cling On Sheets? They work like a whiteboard, but the nice thing is that you can put them anywhere on a dry wall and then move them as needed. After my brainstorming sessions, I take them back to my desk so I can complete my documentation and minutes.

    Prioritize Your Ideas with Dot Voting

    Dot Voting - each participant cast their votes by placing sticky dots on their top choices.

    1. Determine what to vote on.
    2. Give the participants a number of votes. I give participants 5 sticky dots.
    3. Give guidelines for voting. For example, participants may cast one or more votes for any one idea. Participants may cast all of their votes for one idea if they feel strongly enough about the idea.
    4. Ask participants to cast votes. Participants cast their votes by putting their dots on the sticky notes.
    5. Total votes. Count the dots and declare the top items.
    6. Discuss the results. Are most of the votes in one category? What are the top 3-5 ideas?

    The Affinity Map and Dot Voting provide a powerful one-two punch. You and your team will be able to sort and prioritize the ideas in a quick and organized manner. Give it a try!

    How to Initiate a Project Steering Committee

    Someone decided that it was a good idea to bring project management into your organization. Perhaps it was your CEO or operations manager or IT Director. But for some reason, it never took off. Project management has not been supported by your culture. Let's look at how to get things in flight with a project steering committee.

    Project Steering Committee

    What's the Current State?

    Start with an evaluation. Here are some questions to aid you in discovering the deeper issues. Interview your stakeholders to get their feedback.

    • When your organization introduced to project management, what were the problems project management was to address? If the problems have not been addressed, what is it costing you right now?
    • What's working well?
    • What's not working?
    • How can we get more value from project management?

    Initiate a Project Steering Committee

    Sometimes, the person responsible for project management (e.g., PMO Director or Project Services Manager) fails to involve stakeholders in evaluating project management. This person makes changes in project management with little to no input from the people being impacted. A better approach is to get regular feedback through a Project Steering Committee.

    The purpose of the committee is to improve process and results. The Steering Committee determines the required changes, how much change is needed, and how fast changes need to occur.

    Who Should Comprise the Project Steering Committee?

    It is best if an influential senior member of your organization sponsors the committee. The sponsor helps to establish the vision and ensures the commitment of resources. But this person doesn’t have to manage the committee.

    The Steering Committee may be managed by the person responsible for project management, a person with the proper credentials and experience. The team should include representatives from different areas such as IT, project management, and business operations. Ideally, team members have had project management training and have project experience.

    Team Size and Tenure

    An optimal team size is six to eight people. Team members should serve no longer than a year. You may wish to implement a staggered rotation where you add a couple of new team members and drop a couple of team members periodically.

    Meeting Frequency/Time

    The Steering Committee may meet as often as desired—for example, monthly, quarterly, or twice per year.

    Plan for Improvement

    How should the team approach the evaluation and improvement? Determine the problems and define a plan for improvement.

    • Define the problem(s) to be addressed (e.g., requirements defects are being identified late in the projects or poor communication between projects).
    • Define the goals.
    • Describe how you will measure success (i.e., desired effects).
    • Define the scope of changes (e.g., risk management planning process).
    • Identify team members who will develop, implement, and test the changes.
    • Define the action plan and completion date.
    • Execute the plan.

    Try executing the changes for one of your projects to test the improvements.

    Reviewing the Results

    Once the team has executed and tested the improvement plan, the team should report their findings to the Steering Committee. The team should recommend one of the following:

    • Make the change(s) for subsequent projects.
    • Do not make the change(s).
    • Test again with modifications.

    Final Thoughts

    Implementing project management in an organization is not an easy task. Why? Because people are resistant to change, particularly when individuals do not understand the reason for the changes. Be patient. Listen carefully. Evolve at a healthy pace, not too fast and not too slow. Your Steering Committee can provide the feedback necessary to guide your pace and maturation.  


    Five Bad Communication Habits to Avoid

    A common denominator in challenged projects is poor communication. What are the results? Stakeholders make bad assumptions. Team members don't trust one another. Work has to be redone. Let’s look at ways to improve our communication by overcoming five bad communication habits.

    lady speaking through a megaphone to a computer

    “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” —George Bernard Shaw

    1. Communicating only once.

    Busy Billy reviews the project charter to his team and other stakeholders in the kick-off meeting. Then he moves on to other project management tasks and never mentions it again.

    How to improve:  Things pop up in projects and people want to know if it's in scope. At moments like these, project managers should review the charter with the project team to ensure that the team is aligned with the original intent of the project.

    2. Giving stakeholders irrelevant information.

    Some project managers email the project documents to all stakeholders including the project schedule, budget, process improvement plans, weekly status reports, project risks, and stakeholder analysis, to name a few. What do you think the stakeholders do? Yes, most ignore the email and miss critical information.

    How to improve: Tailor your communication to the needs of your stakeholders. When analyzing your stakeholders—particularly your high-power/high-interest stakeholders, ask about their communication preferences. What information would they like to receive? How would they like to receive it?

    3. Communicating to everyone the same way.

    We all develop habits, some good and some bad. Are you one of those people who largely communicates in only one or two ways such as email and phone.

    How to improve: Use a wider variety of communication channels including but not limited to:

    • Email
    • Meetings
    • Instant messaging
    • Teleconferences / Videoconferences
    • Internal blogs
    • Newsletters

    Also, have more face-to-face communication when possible. This allows you to improve communication. How? Body language and facial expressions can greatly enhance the understanding between you and your stakeholders.

    4. Thinking that communication will just happen.

    Jovial Julie thinks people should understand things through osmosis. She jokes, “Why should I have to be the one to carry the communication burden? We have professionals on my teams. I’ve got more important project management responsibilities to take care of.” Really?

    How to improve: Be intentional about your communication. Develop and execute your communication plan. Periodically, review and update the plan. Ask for feedback from your stakeholders on how you can improve your communication.

    5. Not planning your project meetings.

    How often have you attended a project meeting and left mumbling—what’s was that all about? Many meetings are a complete waste of time. Why? Little thought in the planning.

    How to improve: First, Develop and distribute your meeting agendas prior to your meetings. Ask the meeting participants if they have agenda items they would like to include. Attach materials that participants should read and bring to the meeting.

    Second, invite subject matter experts who can communicate the needed information and help the team analyze things.

    Third, determine how you will facilitate the discussion points. Are there items in which you wish to brainstorm? Should you present a prototype? Will you illustrate with an example?

    Lastly, determine how decisions will be made. Will the project sponsor make the final decision? Does the project team have the authority to make the decision? Perhaps, you—the project manager—plans to get the team’s input and make the decision.

    The Purpose Driven Project Manager. Got soft skills? Discover how to improve your communication, develop trust within your teams, enhance your decision making, and run productive meetings in my book—The Purpose Driven Project Manager.

    How to Improve Your Project Communication

    In my project management workshops, I ask this question, "What are the top causes of project failure?" Nine times out of ten, I hear the answer—poor communication. Hence, let's look at how to improve your project communication.

    There are many ways in which project managers communicate — coaching, summarizing action items, influencing a stakeholder, educating team members, listening, facilitating decisions, creating a contract with a third party, escalating an issue, and meeting with a project sponsor, to name a few.

    What happens when poor communication exists? Stakeholders get the wrong information. Others get the right information but at the wrong time. Consequently, individuals misunderstand and make bad assumptions.


    "Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people." -Jim Rohn

    Here's the bottom line -- poor communication drives projects into an abysmal valley. Your reputation is marred. The cost of your project spirals out of control. Heck, your team may even abandon ship.


    The Purpose Drive Project Manager

    Looking for ways to improve your interpersonal skills? Kick it up a notch with my book—The Purpose Driven Project Manager. Discover how to use your interpersonal skills to build high-performing, unified project teams.

    7 Attributes of Great Project Communicators

    If you want to improve your communication, consider these powerful attributes of great communicators:

    1. Intentional. One of the best ways to improve project communication is through the development of a communication plan. Who do you need to communicate to? What should be communicated? When will the communication occur? How will you communicate (e.g., face-to-face, email, presentation, meetings)? Why is it important? Click here for a communication plan template.
    2. Clear. The best project managers are clear. Put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholders. What can you do to ensure clarity in your messages? Most noteworthy, lead by communicating in simple and clear terms.
    3. Relentless. Some project managers start out with a blast, communicating wonderfully. Somewhere along the way, they lose their steam. The project manager gets busy and fails to distribute minutes or fails to tell the developers about decisions to change the requirements. In contrast, the best project managers have a healthy habit of reviewing and updating their communication plan regularly and relentlessly executing the plan.
    4. Unforgettable. Your stakeholders are bombarded daily by information — advertising, emails, tweets, messaging, podcasts, and videos. What can you do to stand out? How can you communicate in a creative manner that catches your stakeholder's interest and keeps them coming back for more? For example, I once saw a quality assurance manager and her testing team dress up like bugs and invited team members to throw water balloons at them to celebrate a milestone in the number of bugs (i.e., software defects) that they found.
    5. Wise. One of the best things that a project manager can do is review the lessons learned from similar projects. What were the communication issues? What decisions were made? How were they made? What were the results of the decisions? There's no need to make the same mistakes of prior project managers.
    6. Honest. One of the most important attributes of a leader is honesty. People want to know that they are dealing with someone who is trustworthy and has their best interest in mind. Don't shade the truth or hide information intentionally. Furthermore, look for ways to be as transparent as possible.
    7. Harmonious. Finally, most of our communication comes through our body language such as facial expressions and gestures. Speech and tone of voice are also key. Want to enrich your communication? Make sure your words, body language, and speech are in alignment.

    Secure a Communication Mentor

    None of us are perfect communicators. We are blind to our bad habits. For years, I had a habit of looking up and away from the person to whom I was speaking. Why? I was thinking about how to solve the problem we were discussing. I was unaware of how this behavior was annoying others.

    We don't know what we don't know. So, how can we discover our communication issues?

    Ask a trusted mentor or friend to provide feedback on the communication strengths and weaknesses. What do you need to work on? Your writing skills. Your public speaking skills. Listening.

    Is Poor Public Speaking Hurting Your Project Management Career?

    Great project managers are great communicators. And we are often required to inform, persuade, inspire, and lead others. Let's look at how public speaking may be hurting your career and twelve ways to become a better speaker.

    So, what is public speaking (also called oratory)? It is the process or act of performing a speech to a live audience.

    When does this occur for project managers? Every time you lead a meeting. When you train others. Presentations to senior management. Board meetings. 

    There are also opportunities to advance your career outside of your day-to-day projects. I regularly speak at PMI Chapter meetings and project management symposiums (which earns me PMI Professional Development Units). 

    How do you feel about public speaking? According to the Washington Post, public speaking is one of our top fears (followed closely by bugs, snakes, and other animals). 

    Here's the good news. You can learn to be a better speaker. Yes, it takes practice, but you can improve your confidence and your skills. Consequently, you will boost your career opportunities. Here's how.


    “Fully 85 percent of your success as a leader will be determined by your ability to communicate effectively with others.” -Brian Tracy

    12 Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking

    1. Focus more on your audience and less on yourself. Think about your opportunity to serve others, to provide individuals and groups with knowledge, and to inspire others.
    2. Incrementally increase the size of the audience. Take baby steps.  Start small. Incrementally ask for more challenging events with larger audiences.
    3. Practice at meetings. Every time you lead a meeting, you have an opportunity to develop your public speaking skills. Work on the openings for your meetings. Practice the delivery.
    4. Learn through teaching. I love to teach! As I have taught through the years, I have learned to be a better communicator. You too can improve your communication skills by teaching.
    5. Build and manage your energy reserve. I often run the day before I speak at a PMI Chapter or symposium. This helps ensure that my mind is clear and sharp. When I can, I walk 5 to 10 minutes before I speak. This helps me relax.
    6. Arrive early. I always arrive early to get set up and ensure that everything is prepared.
    7. Always take backup equipment. Your host may say they have all the necessary equipment. They mean well, but things don’t always go as planned. I always carry backup equipment just in case I need it.
    8. Breathe deeply. When you feel nervous, take long, deep breaths before you speak. This has a calming effect.
    9. Join Toastmasters. I don’t know of a better way to improve your public speaking. Give it a try.
    10. Watch TED Talks. And here is a book tip: read “How to Deliver a Ted Talk.”
    11. Smile. When I first look into the eyes of my audience, I scan the room a few moments and smile. Positive, first impressions are critical!
    12. Make eye contact. During my speech, I make eye contact with one person, pause a few seconds, and rotate to another person and continue this pattern. All along, I pretend I am having a one-on-one conversation.

    It’s Your Turn

    Where can you improve your public speaking skills? In what ways? Identify an area or two that you will work on. Look through this list of 12 ways to improve your public speaking, and work on a few at a time.

    How to Create a Cause and Effect Diagram

    Do you have problems? Projects running behind schedule? Cycle time for a business process increasing? Sales down? People continuing to live in silos? Let's discuss a simple but powerful tool for solving problems - the Cause and Effect Diagram (alias Fishbone Diagram).

    Steps to Create a Cause and Effect Diagram

    1. Identify and clarify the problem. State the problem objectively. Ask questions concerning the problem. As Jack Welch said, “Continually expand your definition of the problem, and you expand your view of all the different ways that it can be solved.” Write out the problem or effect on the far-right-hand side of the diagram. Draw a horizontal line (the spine of the fish) to the problem.
    2. Identify the cause categories. For example, use the 4 M categories: Machine, Method, Materials, Manpower. Add the categories to the diagram. Draw diagonal lines (bones of the fish) to each category.
    3. Brainstorm causes for each category. Add causes to the appropriate category lines.
    4. Identify the most significant causes.  Ask the team to identify the most significant causes. Remember the Pareto Principle - 80% of the problem comes from 20% of the causes.
    5. Define the risk response plan. What can be done to eliminate or reduce the most significant causal factors? Who will be responsible for taking actions? When are the actions due? 

    “A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved.” -Anonymous

    Power Tips for Cause and Effect Diagrams

    1. Invite creative problem solvers who lack knowledge of the problem domain. Does this sound counterintuitive? Your team members may have deep-seated thoughts and assumptions about problems. Ask someone unfamiliar with the problem to participate in the session. Invite them to challenge the norm and inject a different perspective.
    2. Resist the temptation to solve the problem when identifying the problem and causes. Many people prematurely jump to solutions before understanding the problem and causes. Seek first to understand.
    3. Dig deeper in identifying the causes. Use the 5 Whys technique. Identify the problem and then to ask “why” five times. You may ask “why” less than or more than five times. Continue until you identify the primary root causes in which you can take actions yielding significant results.
    4. Use the Cause and Effect Diagram to analyze an opportunity. For step 1, identify the opportunity rather than a problem. For step 5, seek to exploit or enhance the opportunity.

    It's Your Turn

    Are you behind schedule on one of your projects? Develop a cause and effect diagram to identify the causes. And then determine which of the causes had the greatest impact. Don't stop there. Determine how you will minimize the probability and impact of those causes going forward.

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