What makes a good strategic plan?
How do you make a good strategic plan?
Wait... what is "good"??
My perspective on planning may be similar to yours. Have you been part of a "strategic planning" meeting full of pie-in-the-sky-ideas prioritized by highest-paid-opinion-in-the-room resulting in a create-and-forget plan? I have.
Nothing is strategic about a strategic plan that doesn’t get executed.
A strategic plan effort is only so good as:
the planning exercise itself produces clarity, alignment and connection
the plan is executable, accountable, operational…and thus useful.
A better term for an impactful strategic plan is an “operational plan that is strategic”.
With that table set, here are a few guideposts to creating a good “operation plan that is strategic”. (and if you need to, you can retitle this to “strategic plan” for folks needing to feel 'strategic'!)
Set context: don’t confuse strategy with vision, mission and goals. Your vision, mission, and goals explains the why and the what. Strategy is about HOW resources should be allocated to accomplish a mission, tied to a vision. The plan determines the who, how and when. The plan is about resource allocation, sequencing and prioritization.
Set context: ideas vs. problems. People like to talk about ideas and solutions more than problems. But the key to getting the “how” of strategy right is aligning on and prioritizing the problems getting in the way of achieving the goals.
Set context: get aligned on top goals. You can do this before the planning. Goals are set by the CEO and/or board. Sub-goals, required to hit the top goals, can be defined in a planning session. These goals should be time-bound and should be written down for all to see.
Set context: agree on data-driven decision making. Agree up front that all obstacles, ideas, hypothesis and ‘opinions’ should have a grounding in some data. And anyone can ask “what data is that based on”. Sometimes the data is experience. But sometimes you can determine it’s an anecdotal observation that either requires further data or can be ignored.
Set context: here is where we say "No". Since the plan is about the who and how, and there are limited resources, the biggest strategic decision you can make is when and where to say "no" to something. There are always more ideas than resources. A good, impactful plan focuses the team on the most important ideas against the most important problems. As you get into hypothesis (a.k.a. Ideas, projects, programs, initiatives, etc.), give the team persmission to say"no". That is much easier when you’re aligned on goals and the most important problems to solve.
Get aligned on top problems. This is the part that you don’t want to spend time on because no one wants to admit problems, challenges, and obstacles. And yet, I’m going to suggest you spend the majority of your time on identifying and prioritizing problems that are getting in the way of your goals. Be as data-driven as you can be to size the problems. Use post-it notes and voting. Know the problems that are not worth solving, because at some point people are going to have ideas to solve the not-worth-solving-problems. And you need to say no to those.
Every idea has a life. Plan accordingly. Every initiative that is put into motion will have a life that needs care and feeding. Projects have a more expensive life than you imagine at birth. It’s like the wake behind a boat that starts small but over time has the energy to ripple across an entire body of water with sustained energy. So, be realistic about the effort and resources beyond ‘launch’ of an idea.
A good plan has accountability. Nothing gets done without someone owning it. Every hypothesis or idea has to first be agreed to get done, and then should have a name and date next to it. This plan you build -- even if an annual or 5 year plan -- should have a monthly or quarterly check ins. It should be a living document, and as such, needs updates from everyoneexecuting the plan.