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HOW TO PRODUCE

A STRATEGIC PLAN

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)


Why bother planning?

  • It enables one to review past performance in a systematic manner, celebrating achievements and learning from mistakes.

  • It enables one to prioritise future objectives, deciding what most needs to be done and how this will be achieved.

  • It encourages a better use of resources, whether these are human, financial or equipment and materials.

  • It encourages one to be more proactive and in control and less reactive and simply carried along by events.

  • The very process of planning encourages involvement by all in the organisation and accountability by those leading the organisation.

    In producing a plan, the process is as important as the product.

  • One is compelled to consider where one is, where one wants to be, and how one is going to get there.

  • One is encouraged to examine how currently one is allocating available resources, whether one should reallocate them in any way, and how to manage that transition.

  • One has a template against which to assess one actions and outcomes over the planning period and to remind one of the agreed priorities.

    Who should plan?

  • Each organisation - All companies have a strategic plan, althought they might call it a business plan or a corporate plan. But all organisations - whether trade unions, charities, voluntary associations, clubs or societies - can benefit from having a plan and from the actual process of planning.

  • Each unit - Once the overall organisation has a strategic plan, each unit - the department of a company or the branch of a union - should have its own strategic plan which is consistent with and supportive of the main plan.

  • Each individual - Once the overall organisation and the particular unit of the organisation has a plan, there is great benefit in each individual having some sort of personal plan which sets out what is expected of him or her and how he or she can contribute to the objectives of the unit and the organisation. If there is an assessment or performance review process in the organisation, the personal plan will be a very useful feature of that. If there is a training budget in the organisation, the personal plan may well be useful in identifying training needs.

  • If a particular organisation has a corporate plan, department plans and individual plans, these should be co-ordinated and integrated into an overall process, so that they are mutually consistent ands supportive.

  • Of course, you may choose to draft a plan that is entirely personal and private to you to promote your career objectives or self-improvment or use of time, in which case the same planning principles will be useful.

    All those affected by the plan should be involved in the planning process.

  • At the very beginning of the exercise, the planning process should be be explained to everyone affected, so that they understand the reasons for the plan and the uses that will be made of it and so that they can raise any concerns or questions.

  • At an early stage, there needs to be a collective discussion about and agreement on the main priorities on which the plan will focus. This might be the toughest part of the planning process, especially where the organisation is in a state of change or facing particular challenges and the way forward is not obvious.

  • Each draft of the plan should be circulated to everyone affected to seek agreement and suggestions.

  • Once the plan is finalised, it should be made available in some form to everyone covered by it. This might be in a booklet or leaflet or in an e-mail or on an intranet.

  • To make the planning process effective, the plan needs to be revisited regularly - every month or every quarter for an annual plan - to see to what extent the objectives are being achieved and, where they are not being achieved, what corrective action or change to the plan is desirable.

    How does one produce a plan?

  • One starts by reviewing the experience of the last planning period and the content of the last plan. Are the priorities agreed then still relevant or do they need to be changed? Have the specific objectives set then been achieved or do some of them need to be carried forward?

  • Then one needs to assess the relevant developments in the next planning period that will have consequnces for the plan. A company might be planning to launch a new product. A union might be holding a special conference. A charity might be launching a new campaign. An individual might be intending to have a period of special leave.

  • In the light of the review of the last planning period and the assessment of the next planning period, one needs to determine tha priority activities for the coming planning period. For instance, a trade union branch might decide that revitalising the branch meeting, increasing the membership, and sorting out the branch's finances need to be the priority areas for the next 12 months.

  • Next, for each area identified as a priority, one needs to formulate carefully the aim for that activity in the coming planning period. For example, having deciding that the branch's finances must be a priority area, one might set out the aim of increasing income by 10% and reducing costs by 20% in order to break even this year and achieve a modest surplus next year.

  • Finally and crucially, for each priority activity one needs to set out specific objectives designed to achieve the fulfilment of the aim. For instance, in the case of the branch finances, there should be objectives in relation to each major area of income and each major area of expenditure.

    What sort of objectives should be in the plan?

    All objectives should be action-orientated and SMART:

  • Specific - So, not "We will increase our revenues", but "We will increase revenues from products A, B and C".
  • Measurable - So, not "We will boost use of our web site", but "We will increase the number of visitors to the site by 30%".
  • Achievable - Objectives should be challenging but realistic, so they are likely to be built on past performance.
  • Resourced - Objectives should not be set without committing the necessary resources whether that is financial, human, or whatever. If the resources are not available, there is no point in setting the objective.
  • Timed - So, not "We will launch a Branch magazine", but "We will introduce a Branch magazine by June and thereafter publish the magazine every month".

    Finally, each objective should be owned by a named individual who can make it happen. In many cases, many people will be involved in the implementation of an objective - for instance, the organisation of a conference - but one person needs to be in overall charge and seen to be so.

    So, why don't people plan then?

    If planning is such a good idea, why doesn't everybody do it? Some of the major excuses - and that is precisely what they are - are as follows:

  • There's no need.
    Strange then, that all the most successful organisations practice strategic planning. However successful your organisation, almost certainly it can become more effective through sensible planning. Furthermore, remember than the process is as important as the product and, even if planning does not improve the use of resources (unlikely), done well it will increase the sense of involvement and morale of members or staff.

  • There's no time.
    Strange then, that the busiest people in life often practice planning at both an orgainsational and personal level. People often have time for all sorts of relatively unimportant matters, but planning is essential to determine priorites and, if well done, may well lead to the abandonment of time-wasting tasks.The first planning cycle is likely to be the hardest - then it should become routine.

  • People are frightened of the transparency involved in the planning process.
    Some people fear that, if we have plans and objectives, they will be required to deliver and challenged if they don't. At one level, this is true - but we are all in organisations to deliver and we should all want to do the best for our customers, members, or users. However, planning is not about apportioning blame for objectives not fulfilled; it is about identifying what needs to be done to achieve the objective or revising that objective.

  • It's impossible to get the plan completely right.
    Of course, it is - that's life. We rarely have all the information or time we would like to make a fully-informed or fully-considered decision, but we still have to make it and our competitors are going to make similar decisions in similar circumstances. As the Second World War General George S Patton put it: "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week". As David McNally points out in "Even Eagles Need A Push": "There is no guarantee of reaching a goal at a certain time, but there is a guarantee of never attaining goals that are never set".

    ROGER DARLINGTON

    Last modified on 2 January 2004

    If you have some ideas of your own e-mail me

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