The Art and Science of Strategy

Strategic Planning

Good planning is good programming

If strategic thinking provides clarity around vision and strategy, strategic planning helps you identify and prioritize the goals, objectives and actions necessary to implement your strategy effectively. At its heart, strategic planning is a “programming” process. It translates the conceptual results of your creative efforts into a tangible, manageable and understandable plan. Think of it as the engine that turns your speculative strategies into realized ones.

For most organizations, developing a plan is the least challenging aspect of the strategic process. While never easy, the relative difficulty inherent in planning is clearly less punishing than the often head-wrenching creative process or the daily challenge of alignment and execution. I have yet to see an organization that failed to develop a reasonable, multi-year plan when properly motivated. However, without the right assistance, I’ve seen many that fail to identify a truly competitive strategy or maintain the discipline necessary to execute their plan effectively.

Strategic planning is a subset of strategic management

Typically, people see strategic planning as the umbrella concept within the strategic process. That’s really not the case. As most strategic thinking takes place outside the planning process, and strategic execution is aligned with action rather than planning, something else is at work here: These key organizational activities are more in line with the process of strategic management.

Strategic management is the primary responsibility and concern for leaders and managers in every organization. It includes the imperative to articulate strategy, program strategy and execute strategy effectively. So when you think of strategic planning, I encourage you to understand it in context of this broader process. You’re likely to find it a much more useful tool.

When built on the foundation of an insightful strategic thinking process, strategic planning can be highly effective in helping you:

  • synthesize the results of your creative and discovery initiatives;
  • develop goals and metrics aligned with your strategic opportunities;
  • identify tasks, accountabilities and timelines; and
  • monitor and measure your progress.

A good strategic plan will adapt and evolve

In its simplest form, strategic planning is similar to developing complex construction plans. Plans of this type incorporate creative, architectural design elements into a tangible, actionable and understandable building plan. Accountabilities are assigned, actions are identified and timelines are specified. And like any good plan, a process is put in place to monitor, adjust and revise the plan as construction moves from bare ground to final structure.

Unlike a building project, though, a strategic plan has no final structure or endpoint. A strategic plan continues to evolve and change as the competitive issues that affect the organization change. Revisions and adjustments must be made in response to what is learned as the plan unfolds. And so the plan changes as your environment changes. In essence, it becomes a living document.