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Strategic Planning Process

The benefits of strategic planning are very considerable but the process needs to be undertaken with care. There are a number of steps to follow and some critical success factors to bear in mind.

Steps to Follow

Step 1: Develop a plan / timetable

At the outset, the management committee (or organisation management) need to devise a plan for strategic planning. The plan should identify who will be involved and include a schedule of dates for key events. Strategic planning needs the involvement of a lot of people and therefore there is a need for coordination. Developing and the communicating a schedule of dates upon which important planning events occur is necessary to get people on board. Some thought should be given to obtaining the services of an independent facilitator, preferably with experience in strategic planning.

Sample process map for strategic planning

Step 2: Survey customers/members

Feedback from customers is an important input into the strategic planning process. Valuable information can be learned about the organisation's programs, services and events. A survey can draw out the views of customers as to where issues need to be fixed, and it provides an opportunity to test the popularity of proposed changes to programs and services. Important factors in conducting a survey are (1) Defining the questions correctly and (2) utilising technology to analyse the surveys.

Sample results from customer survey

Step 3: Review the previous plan

Review the previous strategic plan, if one exists. The review should attempt to identify progress towards any goals and what strategies have been successful and unsuccessful. This information will be useful in strategic planning meetings. It is a good idea to create a one page summary of the previous plan's successes/failures and to provide the document to those who will be involved in the planning process.

Step 4: Conduct SWOT meeting

In this model of a strategic planning process, there are TWO strategic planning meetings. The first meeting is the "SWOT" meeting in which persons gathered attempt to identify the organisation's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Here the impartiality of an independent facilitator is most useful. The meeting duration will be approximately 3 hours with a 20 minute break with refreshments served.

The issues and ideas raised by meeting participants need to be documented using a laptop by someone who can type reasonably fast. This record of the meeting can then be sent to those who attended, and any others who may be attending the next meeting. The facilitator can be very useful in two ways. Firstly they can prompt and assist the meeting documenter/note taker on what to record and secondly they can assist the meeting work towards defining goals.

Sample SWOT meeting agenda

Sample results from a SWOT meeting

Step 5: Prepare for Strategic Planning Meeting

Using the record of the SWOT meeting, the independent facilitator prepares an additional document that will assist in the process of formulating the goals, objectives and strategies in the next meeting. This document should list many possible strategies, which in the view of the facilitator, could achieve progress towards fixing an identified issue or achieving and identified goal.

Sample of proposed goals and strategies

What to consider when setting objectives

Step 5: Conduct Strategic Planning Meeting

The objective of this meeting is to find consensus on (a) 6-8 goals and (b) the strategies to be adopted to pursue those 6-8 goals. It is not recommended to set too many goals as this makes the strategic plan harder to achieve.

This meeting will have a duration of 3 hours with a 20 minute break for the serving of refreshments. This meeting will be a little more difficult than the SWOT meeting. It is in this meeting that the strategic plan is mostly set. Using the document prepared in Sep 5, the meeting participants undertake the following:

  1. Look at the main issues that were raised in the SWOT meeting
  2. Agree on goals (the independent facilitator may have penciled in some goals already but there may be many blanks)
  3. Agree on strategies to be implemented to pursue the agree goals.

The facilitator needs to inform all persons present that it usually takes the implementation of many strategies to achieve a single goal. Therefore if 6-8 goals are set, then the likely total number of strategies set will be 15-20. Some strategies may cost significant amounts of money (e.g. employment of a person) whereas other strategies have have negligible costs involved.

Step 6: Prepare first draft of the Strategic Plan

Following the second meeting the independent facilitator should prepare and provide the first draft of the strategic plan to the management committee. Ideally the management committee will circulate the draft to all persons who participated in meetings and invite further comments. It is possible that the first draft may have missed important elements or there are errors in the wording. Furthermore, there may be people who want to contribute but were not able to attend either of the two meetings.

Help with wording of Goals, Objectives and Strategies

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Step 7: Prepare second draft of the Strategic Plan

After an interval of one month from the circulation of the first draft, a second draft may be published that incorporates further comments and corrections. This draft could be published on the organisation's web site with an invitation to comment. A deadline should be set for feedback.

The circulation of this second draft ensures that there opportunity for the widest possible consultation. Strategic planning is as much about being seen to do the right thing. It is important to avoid criticism that the strategic planning process lacked due consultation.

See more information on Writing the Strategic Plan

Step 8: Implement the Plan

It is not necessary that the plan be implemented immediately after publication but may be implemented on a defined date e.g. 1 January.

The strategies contained within the plan are put into operation. Work is carried out according to the plan and the organisation begins to move in the direction of the desired change.

The implementation of the plan continues until either all goals and objectives have been achieved or until the organisation sets a new plan. Typically a strategic plan has a duration of 3 to 5 years. However strategic plans of greater or smaller duration may be warranted from time to time.

Step 9: Monitoring of Plan Progress

It is necessary to continually gather and monitor data in accordance with set Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Keeping a membership database and continually monitoring the number of members is an example.

Data on whether the organisation is making progress to Key Performance Indicators should be reported at management committee meetings.

The continual monitoring of this data, over the lifetime of the plan, enables management to determine whether the strategic plan is being properly implemented, the level of success being achieved and whether the plan requires and modification.

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