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An Accelerated Strategic Planning Process

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285px-Wikimedia_Strategic_planning_09.svgWhat if you don’t have 3 days to complete a full strategic plan? How can you still get a good quality strategic plan when you only have a day or a day and half for planning? The planning process I’m presenting here will get you a great plan in half the time. This process is great for associations and smaller organizations. It’s also a wonderful process for departments within an organization.

My preference is to start the evening before and follow with a full day planning session the next day.

The Accelerated Strategic Planning Process

This engaging process incorporates three key elements into the strategic planning process. It starts with a situational analysis that we refer to as “The Present.” It follows with a visioning process to create “The Future,” which then leads to the process of creating “The Strategies.”

Each of these three elements includes a number of steps and actions for the management team to undertake. The entire process concludes with a clear strategic and operational plan, ready for execution.

The Present Situation

“The Present” consists of five steps with the goal of describing the present situation for the business.  The five (5) steps are:

1.    Identify the driving forces for change.

  • The management team will brainstorm all of the driving forces for change. Each team member will record, individually, these driving forces onto post-it notes.
  • Driving forces are changes in how the organization has managed in the past and is now managing in the present.
  • Driving forces are also major sources of change that will impact the organization’s future and are therefore drivers for change and growth.
  • The management team should include any factors that are driving them towards a different future than what they are currently experiencing and think about lessons learned for the organization.
  • By reviewing lessons learned they can reflect on what has gone well and should continue and what hasn’t gone well and should be changed.
  • The management team will then post all of their driving forces onto flip charts. They will organize them into groups of similar, related driving forces and give each similar group a “category” title.
  • The management team will then identify, individually, on post-it notes, the outcomes for each group of driving forces. They will then post them beside the relevant category of driving forces.
  • These outcomes can be positive or negative. For example, the driving force of “increased competition” can be perceived as a negative driving force if we don’t manage it. The Management Team will consider the outcomes resulting from limited budgets, resource constraints, changing environments, changing member requirements and so on.
  • The management team will discuss and post what they agree are the critical uncertainties within each group of driving force categories. These are the variables. They identify what might happen given a known set of circumstances but could change, if these circumstances (variables) change. They may have a severe impact over time (either positive or negative).
  • The management team reviews the driving force categories, their outcomes and the critical uncertainties.  Then they discuss and record, as a team, what they agree is their one strategic challenge.  For example:
  • “How to grow the organization and create value to our customers within our current environment of limited resources and budget.
  • “How to create the governance and have the right people doing the right jobs which will ensure continued sustainability.”

2.    Categorize the driving forces for change.

3.    Determine the outcomes of each driving force within each category.

4.    Identify the Critical Uncertainties

5.    Create the “Strategic Challenge”

The Future

The management team starts this discussion with a review and assessment of the driving force categories, their outcomes and the critical uncertainties. They confirm their strategic challenge. Then they’re ready to create a vision for their future.

Creating a compelling vision of and developing the strategies to achieve it is one of the management team’s most difficult challenges. In this complex and ever-changing world, anticipating the future can be very difficult. The problems of organizations are increasingly complex. There are so many ironies, polarities, dichotomies, dualities, ambivalence, paradoxes, confusions, contradictions, contraries, and messes for organizations to understand and deal with. This complexity explains why many management teams are more comfortable focusing on clear, short-term goals than on uncertain, long-term visions.

But failing to anticipate the organization’s and its customer’s future needs could put them at risk of losing business to competitors who do anticipate these needs and are able to fulfill them. The management team must understand the present needs and future considerations so that they can position their organization, through the implementation of appropriate strategies, to fulfill those needs.

The management team will create various scenarios of their “ideal vision”. This will be more than just a dream. It will be an ambitious view of the future that everyone on the team can believe in, one that offers a future that is better in important ways than what now exists. When the vision is clearly articulated, everyday decisions and actions throughout the organization will respond to current problems and challenges in ways that move the organization toward the future rather than maintain the status quo.

The vision will clarify a clear link between the present and the future. It will describe how to energize people and gain their commitment to the organization. It includes the purpose and contribution of each employee’s work and its impact on quality and the customer.

The Strategies

The management team will review their vision and create a high-level list of the differences between the present (the driving force categories, their outcomes and the critical uncertainties), their strategic challenge and the future (their vision). In our experience we find it easier to engage in a bottom-up approach to the development of strategies. This is faster than starting with a high-level view of the strategies and then creating the actions required to realize them.

The process starts with them individually brainstorming all of the actions required to close the gap between the present and the future. They’ll think about the actions they’ll have to take, areas to investigate, research to complete, analysis to undertake, communications to create and so on. These post-it notes will then be grouped into similar, related actions.

The team will then create a strategy for each group of actions. The best approach to start each strategy with an action verb such as create, implement, design, structure, identify, develop, research, train and so on. Broad based measurements can be added to each strategy by asking “why” to each strategy. The answer usually provides a qualitative measurement that can be added. For example, they might say: in order to or so that or which will result in or which will ensure, etc.

To ensure a successful execution, an operational plan will then be developed. Some of the actions, identifying “how to do a strategy” will have already been developed through the initial brainstorming. The management team will identify an “owner” for each strategy. The owner will be responsible for identifying additional actions required to ensure a successful execution. They might do this with their own employees or group. These mini-project plans will become the strategic operation plans.


When I lead these sessions I include some additional brainstorming techniques to ensure the strategies are well crafted. The process is fun and engaging. The outcome is always a strategic plan that helps define the future direction for the organization.

23-slide PowerPoint presentation
Strategic Planning is an essential tool for organizations aiming to thrive in today's dynamic business environment. It's not just about setting goals--it's also about crafting a roadmap for sustainable success. For executives, understanding and effectively implementing Strategic Planning is crucial [read more]

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About Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. He has been instrumental in helping his clients increase productivity and profits with his innovative approaches and focus on quality. For more information about this article, please contact him at mstanleigh@bia.ca or phone, 416-444-8225.

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