Strategic Planning – Part 1

“Strategic planning is a management tool, nothing more, nothing less. As with any management tool, it is used for one purpose: to help an organization do a better job – to focus its energy, to ensure that members of the organization are working toward the same goals, to assess and adjust the organization’s direction in response to a changing environment.” (Adapted from Bryson’s Strategic Planning in Public and Nonprofit Organizations).

In short, strategic planning is a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future.

A short analysis of this definition provides the key elements that underlie the meaning and success of the strategic planning process:

The process is strategic because it involves preparing the best way to respond to the circumstances of the organization’s environment, whether or not its circumstances are known in advance. Being strategic, then, means being clear about the organization’s objectives, being aware of the organization’s resources, and incorporating both into being consciously responsive to a dynamic environment.

The process is also about planning because it involves intentionally setting goals (i.e., choosing a desired future) and developing an approach to achieving those goals.

The process is disciplined in that it calls for a certain order and pattern to keep it focused and productive. It raises a sequence of questions that helps planners examine experience, test assumptions, gather and incorporate information about the present, and anticipate the environment in which the organization will be working in the future.  Those questions are:

  • Why are we in business?
  • What do we do?
  • How do we do business?
  • Where are we now? Be realistic.
  • Where do we want to be? In the near and short term? What will it cost?
  • How do we get there? What can you do to achieve this both now and later? How will you identify the resources you will need? Tools, technology, capital, and people.
  • How do we implement our plan? What are the risks? What if you fail? What are the contingency plans?
  • How do we know when we’ve arrived? What metrics and milestones will be in place to measure success or failure?
  • Who will evaluate the process after we have completed the plan? ….To keep everyone on track.


Dont neglect the present as you develop your strategic plan. A tactical, rolling 90-day plan should be included in the process. The reasons for this are several, but to name a few, this short term plan plugs into the overall strategy and allows for a tactical focus, while you are ramping up the long-range plan.

Finally, the process is about fundamental decisions and actions because choices must be made in order to answer the sequence of questions mentioned above. The plan is ultimately no more, and no less, than a set of decisions about what to do, why to do it, what resources to involve, and how to do it. Because it is impossible to do everything that needs to be done in this world, strategic planning implies that some organizational decisions and actions are more important than others – and that much of the strategy lies in making the tough decisions about what is most important to achieving organizational success.

The strategic planning process can be complex, challenging, and even chaotic, but it is always defined by the basic ideas outlined here and you can always return to these basics for insight into your own strategic planning process.


Brian Hazelgren….

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