So just what is a Strategic Plan anyway? Our answer? A summary of decisions made.
Building a strategic plan can be an important part of any business approach. Essentially it drives decision making and creates focus to direct activities within the business to achieve significant accomplishment over time. It differs from a business plan in that its usage is not aimed at financial projections or acquiring funding, so dollar aspects of strategic plans are typically minimal. It differs from a tactical plan in that it doesn't refer to specific operational actions to be taken in the near term, but identifies longer term, more impactful areas of change that the business needs to address to drive sustained success over time.
If you go to the internet and image search for “strategic plan” you may find the following samples amongst many others:
A key strategic plan attribute can be pulled from these samples. Almost all strategic plans focus on a critical few topics – as few as three in some cases and as many as ten perhaps in more complicated versions. Another observation with these samples is that the format varies considerably. There are many approaches to describe the elements of a plan.
If you do a second internet image search on “strategic planning process”, you may see some of these finds:
Similar to the results from the “strategic plan” search, it can be seen that there are many, many processes and templates available for creating a strategic plan. Some of the planning processes are a few simple steps and some are complex and span from the mission of the organization all the way through continuous improvement and monitoring the strategic plan results over time.
The most common element across most of these strategic planning processes is driving on decision making to choose a critical few important topics for the organization to pursue. Some strategic planning processes also cover aspects of follow on activities, what might be called strategic project management. And some additionally provide for creating business metrics and review processes. All of these derivations are valid business planning processes that if pursued with excellence will yield a Strategic Plan.
Strategic Planning That Works (SPTW) focuses attention on the front end of these strategic planning processes by driving on decision making and providing a framework to describe these decisions. This framework can then be moved into activity planning and project management and results tracking, however, we restrict SPTW to the first phases of strategic planning around Customers, Mission, Objectives, Goals and Strategies.
Strategic Planning That Works is a planning process that allows you to create a concise summary of strategically critical areas of focus for your organization. It also provides reasonable detail on how those critical areas ought to be attacked. By providing “what” needs to be accomplished as well as “how” to bring about the accomplishments, Strategic Planning That Works builds a map for the organization that is useful for decision making, resource deployment and ongoing tactical management.
There are five basic stages in Strategic Planning That Works as indicated in the graphic below:
The planning process begins with the customer in mind and understanding customer needs. It can be argued that an organization that meets and exceeds customer needs may flourish and one that doesn’t may perish. Strategic Planning That Works requires customer definition and a discussion on customer requirements to set the planning backdrop.
In many organizations, there are not only end-user customers, but also channels that conduit deliverables from the organization to the customer. In these customer delivery situations, it is necessary to identify and describe the needs of these channel partners. SPTW provides for articulating the entire value delivery path to the end user customer so that the planning backdrop is fully described.
Once agreed upon definitions of customers and their needs is established, Strategic Planning That Works moves to reviewing the mission of the organization in serving those customers and meeting their needs. Oftentimes the mission as stated is quite accurate and current and this stage is simple to complete. However, in Strategic Planning That Works, it is not adequate to hang the mission on the wall and be done.
In order to fully inform the downstream stages of the planning process, a critical step is developing a situation assessment around the mission. How is the organization performing at this time? Where are we strongest? Weakest? Are there new developments that need to be considered, both good and bad?
Strategic Planning That Works utilizes a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) to accomplish this assessment and provides a rich array of ideas that will be useful during downstream decision making. Rich discussion around all SWOT elements provides a foundation of understanding across the planning team and provides a great source of potential items for including in the organization’s strategic plan.
After ensuring an accurate description of customers/channels exists and reviewing the organization mission/current situation is completed, the decision making required to build a relevant strategic plan can begin in earnest. The objectives phase of SPTW requires a planning team to first define “what” the organization needs to accomplish in the upcoming period of time and it has two sub-steps.
The first sub-step is to develop a short list of objective topics by brainstorming a larger list and then prioritizing and selecting a critical few areas that need to be pursued. Strategic planning is all about decision making and this first set of decisions sets the playing field for the remainder of the strategic planning process.
The second sub-step with objectives is to define one or more specific goals for each of the objective topics to provide additional clarity and focus. Objective/goal sets together become the “what” that needs to be addressed by the organization and form the basis for defining “how” each objective/goal will be worked.
At the completion of the objectives stage, a planning team has built a list of objective/goal sets that define important areas of required accomplishment. The idea is that if all of the objective/goal sets are completed, then the organization will have made successful strategic progress. The strategy stage refines the objective/goal sets by identifying “how” each of these sets should be approached.
One by one, each objective/goal set is presented and then decisions made on what activities should be pursued by the organization to address each item. There is allowance for multiple strategies per objective/goal set to provide a framework that is rich with detail. It is the list of objectives/goals and supporting strategies that become the backbone for the organization’s strategic plan.
The outcome of the previous strategy stage is typically a few pages of text, or perhaps an outline that summarizes decisions made by the planning team. This outline is the result of understanding customer requirements and the current situation, along with the common education/discussion that the planning team goes through that provide specific attack plans for each area of strategic work.
In most organizations, the actual work to address strategic plan topics is not done by the planning team alone, and there are often stakeholders on the periphery that need to understand and align with the plan. This requires the planning team to gather the materials that have been generated during the planning process and provide a concise report useful for communications.
This final stage of Strategic Planning That Works is literally documenting key elements of the planning stages. A story needs to be created that ties meeting customer needs to specific approaches that address strategic topics. This story when shared improves the organization’s ability to meet customer needs more effectively and improve organization performance. Additionally, the document itself is not the endpoint and communication sessions are built to broadly disseminate the strategic plan itself, where it came from, important decisions made along the way, and other planning information useful to create the energy and organization alignment required to succeed with strategic work.
In order to actually bring about strategic change, the results of SPTW need to be followed up with clear definition of tactical projects that put key elements of the strategic plan into motion. This is a required, but adjunct activity that creates the follow-through that accomplishes strategic change. Decision making is the critical component of strategic planning and without crisp identification of “what” and “how”, downstream efforts are hampered. By rigorously following the sequential stages of Strategic Planning That Works, a planning team can build a cohesive strategic plan that starts with the customer and ends with specific approaches that will eventually lead to enhanced performance improvement for the organization.
A general management executive with depth in global operations, multi-plant manufacturing, product generation and volume scaling, Jim Stewart has over 30 years experience in leading businesses to meet growth and profit goals. Strong in strategic planning and executing to strategy, he brings his leadership to bear in positions that require significant change management for success.
You can reach him at 858-472-7880, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://www.linkedin.com/in/jimstewartsandiego