Categories: Benefits Realization, Business Case, IT Strategy, Leadership, PMO, Quality, Risk Management, Utility
By John Herman PMP, CQE, MPM
About 40 years ago, a new strain of flu hit in New Jersey. During the analysis of that flu outbreak, critical thinking took a big step forward via questions asked by Dr. Russell Alexander, although no one probably realized the impact at that time. Alexander’s Question, as a management tool, was probably refined and documented for the first time by Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May in their book, “Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers”.
In a nutshell, Alexander’s Question can be summed up like this:
“What information, if we had it, would make us change our decision?”
Follow-up activities are focused on obtaining that information so that the decision can be based on better information, and thus likely have better results.
The goal of Alexander's Question is to uncover assumptions and perspectives that may be clouding one’s judgment. By asking what information would be needed to change your mind, faulty reasoning can be intercepted and the decision can be based on more objective data. Alexander’s Question can also identify which facts should be researched before committing to a course of action.
Another, more detailed variation of Alexander’s Question focuses on Project Management aspects like risk, schedule, and quality management :
What new information would change your estimation? When would you need this information? Why would it change your estimation?
Regardless of how Alexander’s Question is written, the underlying principle is the same: Identifying information that would make the decision more firmly rooted in facts, and less based on subjective opinions.