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September 3, 2015 at 10:11 pm

Strategic Plan 101 – Learn the Basics of Strategic Planning

Strategic Plan 101 – Learn the Basics of Strategic Planning

This article will discuss the basics of strategic planning and provide you with a framework to get your organization started in the creation of your strategic plan.

A strategic plan is a roadmap for where you want your organization to go during a specific timeframe. A well developed strategic plan will move your organization out of stagnation and into more profits.

Strategic planning as a process takes inventory of your company, competitors and the market. Simple right? Well, let’s just say that I will describe it as a journey. A few bumps and scrapes along the way but once accomplished your company and team will be stronger because of it.

To be successful, you should know:

  • Your market, including competitors and their products and services.
  • Your company’s internal strengths and weaknesses.
  • Where you want your company to be five years from now.

Strategic Planning is a tool that will help guide you along the potentially arduous journey of moving from point A to point B.

Strategic plans are supposed to be about things you want your company to do, not things the company is already doing. They can include things you want to do better, but if you’re doing something and you want to continue doing that something in the exact same way, then leave that something out of your strategic plan.

Most people find creating a strategic plan to be intimidating and even a bit confusing. After working on the strategic planning team for two different companies, I can tell you that when done correctly, creating a strategic plan can be a fun and very rewarding process.

The most important part of creating a strategic plan is to have a good solid framework and complete buy in by everyone in the C-Suite.

The Importance of a Solid Strategic Plan Framework

strategic-plan-luckThe following framework will provide you with the basic knowledge needed to create a robust strategic plan for your company. This overview will outline the framework and provide you with the tools to get a strategic plan developed and implemented.

This framework is NOT the only way to perform strategic planning activities. There are a several different frameworks available. However, I have found this framework to be well rounded and simple to follow.

You can modify this framework so it fits your company’s needs and culture. Every business is unique in its products, services and culture. Using this framework will give your company the ability to organize and focus on its goals and define both internal and external opportunities.

I have used this framework in the past and was surprised at some of the results. For example, during an Internal Analysis we discovered some strengths we didn’t realize we had and weaknesses that were hiding in plain sight. Discovering these facts is a huge opportunity for any company to learn about itself.

Executive Level Buy-in of the Strategic Plan

The most important part of developing a strategic plan happens before you get started and that’s having your company’s leadership 100% buy-in and involvement. They need to be at the table providing their expertise in the company and planning.

Without the complete support from the company’s leadership for the strategic plan process it will fail.

The Importance of the “Key Three”

Finance, Human Resources and Information Technology are the “Key Three” to this very complex puzzle.

If you are going to make capital investments into the company your key three departments have to understand and provide feedback:

  • Finance – will need to budget for these new expenditures
  • Human Resources – will need to understand the new people that may need to be hired
  • Information Technology – will need to provide both Finance and Human Resources with what will be needed within the budget. New staff and new technology will impact the budget.

Round Out the Strategic Plan Team

Identify people to be involved in the strategic plan process who can provide additional value and knowledge. You need to have a fully comprehensive analysis of your company and other staff member’s can provide that vital information.

It’s vital that you include people who provide service to your employees and customers on the strategic plan team.

Strategic Planning Workshops

You need a plan to plan. Make sure you have a good working location to conduct your strategic plan workshops. You’ll need a big enough room to hold everyone, audio/visual equipment for presentations and videos and enough office supplies to get you through the process. This includes flips charts, colored markers, pens and pencils.

Don’t forget the food! You’ll want to have snacks and drinks to help maintain the energy level of everyone in the workshop. Having a well stocked meeting room will add to the success of your workshops.

Plan for six, three-hour workshops to complete the strategic plan. You can break them up into smaller more frequent meetings if needed. I don’t suggest attempting to complete the strategic plan process in a one-shot meeting. The strategic plan process is just too robust to attempt in one sitting.

Strategic Plan Facilitator

I recommend having at least one strategic plan facilitator throughout the entire process. The facilitator will act as an educator and guide for issues and questions that will arise from the planning.

The facilitator will need to have a strong understanding of the strategic plan methodology, as well as project management planning, in order to maintain the flow of the process.

Also, a strong leader in strategic plan is needed to maintain control and tempo of the workshops and audience. It is easy to get side tracked with parking lot issues or personality differences.

Lastly, I would keep the strategic plan team down to a group of 10. Having more than 10 people and you run the risk of distractions and side conversations.

Workshop 1 – Strategic Planning Overview

It’s important to educate your audience about the outline for the strategic plan workshops. Provide them with the framework of your planning process and all of its major components. From my strategic-plan-workshopprevious strategic plan workshops the following were the major components used for the strategic plan:

  • Strategic Planning Methodology
    • External Environmental Analysis
    • Competitor Analysis
    • Internal Environmental Analysis
    • Mission, Vision, Values
    • Strategy Formulation
    • Strategy Implementation
    • Strategy Controls
  • Alignment
  • Balance Scorecard Approach
  • How To’s on Completing the External Environmental Analysis

In each workshop there will be tasks assigned and reports to be written in order to complete the final strategic plan.

Once you’ve gone through the overview, be sure to provide them with the steps on how to complete the External Environmental Analysis and have assign someone to present their findings at the start of the next workshop.

Workshop 2 – External Environmental Analysis >> Competitor Analysis

Begin this strategic plan workshop by having the point person for the External Environmental Analysis present their findings in a presentation. Typically this includes answering questions like:

  • What are the changes or trends in the market?
  • How will these changes in the market affect the company?
  • What opportunities do these changes in the market present?

Answering these questions will help with the External Environmental Analysis report. The presentation should identify the high priorities for your organization. Going through the External Environmental Analysis will bring to the surface the most important changes that will impact your organization.

Next, educate the team on the importance of the Competitor Analysis. Educate them on how to find their competitors and how to measure their impact and value.

The process won’t result in extremely detailed information, but through researching and other tools they should be able to find and document the known competitors. When researching the competition you’ll probably identify other competitors that may not be completely in line with their market.

Basic information to gather and document for the Competitor Analysis should include:

  • Company name
  • Location
  • Website
  • Services – including areas of expertise
  • Pricing – if available
  • Customer feedback and reviews

Workshop 3 – Competitor Analysis >> Internal Environmental Analysis

This strategic planning workshop begins with the team presenting their findings on the Competitor Analysis. The presentation should include an overview of the criteria used to score the competition.

Typically, finding the reviews and customer feedback from competitors is simple and provides great insight on their customer support. It is best to keep an open mind when looking at the competitors in your market. You will find that you have both direct and indirect competitors.

  • Direct Competitors – companies that provide the same services or products as you.
  • Indirect Competitors – are competitors that are in a different market but that may impact your sales through other services or products not quite as similar.

The next step is to educate the team on the Internal Environmental Analysis. This is the step I like to call the internal inventory of a company.

In this portion of the strategic plan your team will begin to understand the company’s abilities.

If you are a manufacturing organization you probably have the ability to manage inventory, manage process times or more. In a healthcare organization you may have great doctors and nursing. These are all examples of positive internal resources or inventory available to the company.

The other information to gather and document, or take inventory of, is the lack of ability to perform something. If you have great customer service but you find you have limited leadership, or development skills in the company that could be considered a weakness.

Going through the Internal Environmental Analysis will be crucial to developing the situational assessment, also known as the Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat Analysis or SWOT Analysis.

Workshop 4 – Internal Environmental Analysis >> SWOT Analysis

At this point the strategic planning team should have easily recognized and documented the strengths and weaknesses of the company. It is always best to provide honest feedback with regards to what the company does well and what it can improve on.

The feedback should not be a negative review of the leadership team but described as a way of improving the strengths of the company and its offerings.

The SWOT Analysis is typically broken up into four main categories:

  • Strengths – can include capabilities, resources, capital, market share.
  • Weaknesses – can include lack of specific skillsets, lack of market understanding, financials, morale.
  • Opportunities – can include new market development, competitors vulnerabilities, or new technology systems available.
  • Threats – strong competitors with great financials, change in regulations, economy.

The information need to complete the SWOT Analysis is in the completed External and Internal Environmental Analysis and the Competitors Analysis.




The above diagram provides a visual representation of your company in relation to the market. From this SWOT Analysis your company can then move on to reviewing or developing their Mission, Vision and Core Values.

Now that you have the visual representation of the SWOT Analysis, you can complete the written analysis that should accompany it. Be sure to describe in detail how you came to your conclusions and have data to back them up. Having solid data to back up your analysis will provide the strategic plan much needed value.

Workshop 5 – Strategy Formulation and Implementation

In workshop 5 the team will take all the information gathered in the first four workshops and start writing the strategic plan. They will develop a strategy to take advantage of both the strengths and weaknesses of the company and write down all the tasks to be accomplished over the next three to five years.

To ensure success of your new strategic plan, include SMART goals.

SMART goals are:

  • Specific – do not be general about a goal; make is specific and to the point.
    • Answer the “W” questions when developing the goals:
      • Who? – typically someone is involved.
      • What? – is the item to be accomplished.
      • Where? – is there an actual place.
      • When? – what is the timeframe.
      • Which? – identify what is needed and what are the roadblocks.
      • Why? – your reason or results.
  • Measureable – keep you goal quantifiable; how will you know it is done.
  • Attainable – do not make a goal that is not reachable; it’s a recipe for failure.
  • Realistic – is this relevant to what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Timely – when will it be completed.

Workshop 6 – Review Strategic Plan Draft

In this last workshop the strategic plan team reviews the draft strategic plan. Looking at it from a holistic view will help the team see the needs of other departments within the company.

This is the time to discuss your SMART goals and align them with the direction the company wants to move toward. Typically, a strategic plan includes the next five years, but you can modify it to be only a three or two year plan.

I recommend a minimum of three years for your plan, in order to give your company enough time to work through and properly align with the newly developed strategic plan.

This strategic plan framework is simply a tool to help your company move into a better financial position.

When embarking on this strategic plan journey, make sure to encompass the following:

  • Leadership is involved and engaged in the strategic planning process.
  • Have the “Key Three” departments represented on the team.
  • Have a well stocked and dedicated meeting room with all of the necessary tools and snacks.
  • Be open, honest and respectful when providing feedback.
  • Educate the team on the power of the strategic plan.
  • Have data to drive the direction of the company.
  • Align the plan with the company’s mission, values and goals.

This framework will help you learn more about your company and be able to have key people step up and shine. Developing a plan is the hard part, but if developed patiently and with strong data to back up the objectives, your company can grow with the market.

The potential is there, you just need to identify the opportunities within your company and the market. Be clear and concise with your information gathering and your SMART goals. These are all part of the new robust strategic plan for your company.

If you’ve been on a strategic planning team, let me know your thoughts in the comments. What was most helpful to you when working on your strategic plan?

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