Strategic Planning 101

Approaches to Planning

There are many variations of the strategic planning theme, but in simplest terms strategic planning is figuring out where we want our community to go over the next year or more, choosing how we're going to get there, and defining how we'll know when we arrived. It doesn't have to be any more complicated than that, and often the best strategic plans are noted for their simplicity and clarity of purpose.

There are probably as many perspectives, models, and approaches used in strategic planning as there are organizations that have developed strategic plans, but that's to be expected since strategic planning is by design a customized process that is all about integrating local assets, conditions, and opportunities into a winning formula for each community. No two communities are the same so their strategic plans should not be exactly alike either.

We've heard from the experts that there are no right or wrong answers in strategic planning, just different methods to use to find your own answers. Each community has to take stock of its capabilities, expertise and intentions in adapting the principles of strategic planning to charting its future course. For some communities the outcome may be a short list of goals whereas others may produce multi-year multi-option scenarios with contingency plans.

Measures of Success

The measure of strategic planning success is not the complexity of the plan, but rather the fit and effectiveness of its implementation in each community. It's important to remember that this isn't meant to be planning for planning sake. It's meant to be planning with the purpose of getting something done, and getting things done depends upon understanding the nuances and nature of the community's:

  • Complexity of the environment
  • Culture
  • Expertise of planners
  • Leadership
  • Resources
  • Size of the community
  • Etc.

That's why you can find such a variety of strategic planning models, from goals-based to scenario-based. Each one has diagnostic and prescriptive characteristics that have to fit within a range of community contexts. In the end, whatever works best for each community is what's best.

Goals-Based Planning

Goals-based planning is probably the most common practice, and it starts with a focus on the organization's mission, vision, and values. From that basis goals are set in place to accomplish the mission, and then strategies are identified to achieve the goals. And finally, action plans (who will do what and by when) are laid out to implement the strategies that will achieve the goals and fulfill the mission.

Issues-Based Planning

Issues-based is an alternative strategic planning process that starts by examining issues facing the organization, then selecting strategies to address those issues, and once again outlining action plans to resolve implement the strategy. Organic strategic planning might start by articulating the organization's vision and values, and then action plans are developed to achieve the vision with a strong value centered approach. Some plans are scoped to one year, many to three years, and some to five to ten years into the future. Some plans include only top-level information and no action plans. Some plans are five to eight pages long, while others can be considerably longer.

Strategy Components

While each community needs to adapt strategy outcomes to their unique circumstances there are still some fundamental components that are helpful to use. How they are used and the level of effort exerted may vary, but typically strategic planning involves some degree of:

  1. Strategic Analysis
  2. Strategic Direction
  3. Action Planning