The Art and Practice of Strategic Planning

Business or strategic planning is essential for organizations and projects to stay on track. It is how organizations set priorities, focus energy and resources, keep stakeholders working towards common goals, and fix directional problems.  Strategic planning can also serve as a benchmark to judge performance.

Sometimes, though, consultants present strategic planning as a mystical, magical procedure that requires a wizard to be done properly.  The process of updating the model keeps the consultant employed and provides a new “proposal” every five years or so. I am not saying the models should not be updated – after all, industries, economies and circumstances change – but I will suggest that the fundamental foundation of strategic planning remains the same over the course of a lifetime:

  • Organizations should plan.
  • They should do so thoughtfully and methodically.
  • They should collect data to inform the planning.
  • And they should plan purposefully with a proactive process that leads to specific, measurable outcomes.

There are numerous models of business planning including: the Business Model Canvas (BMC); the John Bryson Strategy Change Model (SCM); the Objectives, Goals, Strategies, Measurements (OGSM) Framework; the Visions-based or Goals-based process; and more.

Regardless of the model used, the important components of strategy planning include:

  1. Develop the right team. This might be an executive team or a cross-functional, cross-departmental, interdisciplinary team.  The context of the team depends on the type of organization, the goals for the plan, and the impact the plan will have across the organization.
  2. Gather data. Too often, strategic planning is based on incomplete or inaccurate data or, dare we say, no data at all.  In the current environment of big data and big data analysis, it can be a daunting task to be charged with the task of gathering data; however, without the proper mix of internal and external factors affecting an organization, business planning faces the obstacle of developing goals and strategies in a vacuum.
  3. Use the data. Have you ever sat down in a board room to discuss planning, and the President or CEO hands you a list of pre-determined goals?  Strategic planning needs to begin with the data. End of story.
  4. Let the team be flexible in conversation but rigid in decision-making.This means that the team (the right team) should be given latitude to brainstorm and discuss mission and vision. They should be allowed to dream big and even unrealistically at the early stages of the process. This provides for intelligent dialogue regarding the future of the organization.  However, each strategic planning meeting should end with rigid decision-making where consensus is built around concepts.  At the beginning of the process, these decisions can be small “wins” that the group agrees upon.  At the end of the process, the decisions should be specific (see point five) and should narrow the field of goals and objectives.
  5. Be specific. As you build the plan, be specific about the goals the organization or project should hope to achieve. The areas of the plan should be measurable and reasonable within the context of the organization.
  6. Build an implementation plan.Many planning processes end with the plan. Take the next step to build the implementation piece of the plan.  Without implementation, the plan is a dusty set of pages or simply a model approved at a board meeting. Plans should be living, breathing documents that have life after the consultant or facilitator ends the process.

These six principles establish the base for useful and powerful planning. The organizations and individuals who keep these ideas in mind while developing a plan, will have a head start in creating the magical tools that consultants promise. I hope you enjoy creating your BMC, your OGSM, your SCM (your plan) using these ideas.

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