Guiding questions for learning about an organization


The following sections are quoted from pages 39-41 of The First 90 Days.

Questions About the Past


  • How has this organization performed in the past? How do people in the organization think it has performed?
  • How were goals set? Were they insufficiently or overly ambitious?
  • Were internal or external benchmarks used?
  • What measures were employed? What behaviors did they encourage and discourage?
  • What happened if goals were not met?

Root Causes

  • If performance has been good, why has that been the case?
  • What have been the relative contributions of the organization’s strategy, its structure, its technical capabilities, its culture, and its politics?
  • If performance has been poor, why has that been the case? Do the primary issues reside in the organization’s strategy? Its structure? Its technical capabilities? Its culture? Its politics?

History of Change

  • What efforts have been made to change the organization? What happened?
  • Who has been instrumental in shaping the organization?

Questions About the Present

Vision and Strategy

  • What is the stated vision and strategy of the organization?
  • Is it really pursuing that strategy? If not, why not? If so, is the strategy going to take the organization where it needs to go?


  • Who is capable and who is not?
  • Who can be trusted and who cannot?
  • Who has influence and why?


  • What are the key processes of the organization?
  • Are they performing acceptably in terms of quality, reliability and timeliness? If not, why not?

Land Mines

  • What lurking surprises could detonate and push you off track?
  • What potentially damaging cultural or political missteps must you avoid making?

Early Wins

  • In what areas (people, relationships, processes or products) can you achieve some early wins?

Questions About the Future

Challenges and Opportunities

  • In what areas is the business most likely to face stiff challenges in the coming year? What can be done now to prepare for them?
  • What are the most promising unexploited opportunities? What would need to happen to realize their potential?

Barriers and Resources

  • What are the most formidable barriers to making needed changes? Are they technical? Cultural? Political?
  • Are there islands of excellence or other high-quality resources you can leverage?
  • What new capabilities need to be developed or acquired?


  • Which elements of the culture should be preserved?
  • Which elements need to change?
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