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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Project Management Basics – Chapter 2 – Needs Assessment

leadership, management,
You have to know why you are delivering a project!

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.” Elbert Hubbard

“There are two fatal errors that keep great projects from coming to life:

1) Not finishing; 2) Not starting” Buddha Gautama

Two questions should be answered before any project is initiated:

1) What are trying to accomplish?

2) How will we measure the benefits of the project?

Let us step back for a minute.

Every organization should have a strategic planning process that includes a current state assessment and the identification of threats and opportunities. The leaders of the organization then determine the desirable future state to address those threats and opportunities. They then compare that future state to the current state.

In project management terms, that is called a needs assessment. The needs assessment will identify gaps between the current and the desired state, and projects are born in that gap. Projects are the tactical way to bridge the gap from the present state to the future state. Every project should be strategically aligned, and the sponsor should be able to explain, in very precise terms, the expected business benefit of the project and when those benefits will be realized.

With the strategic alignment determined and the need identified, we need to develop high level measures. This is hard! Many organizations don’t even try…

That is a mistake! If you don’t determine good measures, then how will you know if you have accomplished your goal? This seems like a basic concept, but when I ask the project managers why they are doing the project and how they will measure success, I hear “I don’t know” far too many times.

That is a leadership failure. Why would you fund something if you couldn’t define precisely why you are doing it or what success looks like?

Next we will discuss the difference between project and product metrics.


Do you think there is objective reality? I no longer think that there is such a thing, rather our opinions are shaped by perspective more than by pure facts. Quantum mechanics supports this notion in the form of the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. Dramatically simplified, the cat is in a box. Is the cat dead or alive? The answer is that the cat is both dead and alive until someone observes that it is either dead or alive. Think about that next time you see something in the news that supports your opinion on a given topic!


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