Five Steps to Strategic Planning
Strategic planning involves the following five steps:
Here is a brief description of each of the five steps. We will explore each of the steps in more detail further in the module.
Step 1: Assessment
During the assessment phase, you are going to gather together all the information you need in order to think through the important issues and come to informed decisions for the future. In the next section, we’ll provide more information about the data you need to gather. Step 1 will take the most time and demand the greatest effort. Being aware of that right from the start, however, should keep you from feeling overwhelmed as you look at the scope of information-gathering that is required. Be assured that once the assessment process is complete, all the other tasks will be easier. Altogether, the remaining steps will take less than half the time spent on assessment.
In short, what you want to accomplish through Step 1 is a complete description on paper of:
- Who you are and what you are about
- The strengths and weaknesses of your agency’s internal environment
- The opportunities and threats you face, given your agency’s external environment
Once the information-gathering phase is complete, you are ready to begin the very interesting work of determining what all the assessment data means for your agency. This is the task of Step 2, Evaluation.
STEP 2: Evaluation
In Step 2, Evaluation, you are going to take a close look at the information you gathered in the Assessment phase and rate the significance or importance of your findings. Based on the information gathered in Step 1 (your assessment of your internal agency environment) you can build on your areas of greatest organizational strength. You will also identify areas of organizational weakness, and you may want to take action to improve those areas. As well, based on the findings from Step 1 about your external environment, you can now identify your greatest opportunities and greatest threats.
In carrying out an evaluation of your assessment data, you will:
- sort and organize the information
- analyze and draw conclusions about what the findings tell you; and
- apply a rating system to identify the highs and lows, the best and worst
Having assessment data that is well-organized will make this a simple task; it can also make a big difference if you have to go back to the research in order to verify findings or to answer questions about what your research says.
STEP 3: Decision-making
As evaluation comes to an end you will find yourself naturally at the point of decision-making. In Step 3, you are going to decide in light of all that you now know from assessment and evaluation, which issues are most important for your agency, which gaps or weaknesses need to receive immediate attention, and what new initiatives (if any) your agency will take on. This is the time when you will set the goals the agency will work toward, prioritize actions to be taken and order events and/or action items over the short- and long-term. The trick at this stage is to ensure that outcomes are realistic, doable and measurable. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew but at the same time you want to get the most out of the resources and opportunities that are before you. If you suspect that you are being a little overambitious, you can divide the action plan into appropriate-sized pieces and phase them in over two or three years. For example, you can decide: we will do this part now; this other part can wait until next year; and this last piece can wait for two years. This decision-making process will help you to clarify your agency’s priorities and best choices for the future.
Step 4: Implementation
To ensure that all of the agency’s good intentions get off the paper and put into action, an implementation plan is needed. The implementation plan is your map to success because it lays out in detail the small, specific, measurable steps that you will take in order to accomplish each objective you have identified. If the steps are concrete in nature, as they should be, they can act as a checklist for the agency to follow and provide a way to easily keep track of the agency’s progress. At the same time, you will determine who will take on various responsibilities and when the actions will take place.
Step 5: Monitoring
Finally, to bring the process full circle, you will want to include Step 5, Monitoring. Monitoring ensures that you did what you said you would do in your implementation plan. You can regularly update your implementation plan with the steps you and others have taken to move your plan forward. This will give you a running record of action taken and how successful it was. This living document of performance will be invaluable when you want to provide evidence of continuous improvement or when you want to plan next steps for improvements in the future.
Monitoring also lets you know if you are on track towards achieving your outcomes. By doing regular check-ins, you can adjust your activities or goals based on your progress to date. Perhaps you are ahead of schedule and you might want to revise your goal expectations upwards. Or perhaps you are behind schedule so you might need to revise your actions to ensure you meet your outcomes.
Strategic Planning and CIPMS
You have probably noticed that the five steps are very similar to the process called “Agency Assessment” that is part of the Continuous Improvement Performance Management System (CIPMS) being introduced to Literacy and Basic Skills agencies. That is because strategic planning is central to CIPMS. The plan that you develop through the strategic planning process, including the ongoing monitoring and documentation of your actions and results, can be used for CIPMS purposes.
You do not need two separate plans provided your strategic plan shows how you will make progress towards achieving your objectives, it includes direct consultation of key stakeholders through both the internal and external assessment stages, and that you have identified at least one area of strength and two areas for development and/or improvement.
End of a bird’s eye view
This now wraps up the bird’s eye view of strategic planning. The following sections look closely at each of the five steps and provide a range of specific tools, tips and methods that can help you carry out successful strategic planning.
More Online Resources
For valuable information about strategic planning, please go towww.allianceonline.org/content/index.php?pid=172.
Here is another good online resource called “Ten Keys to Successful Strategic Planning”: www.tccgrp.com/pdfs/per_brief_tenkeys.pdf.
Questions and Activities for Reflection
- Which of the five steps do you think will be easiest for your agency and why?
- Which of the five steps do you think will be most problematic for your agency and why?
- What can you do throughout the process to maximize and build on your agency’s inherent strengths and successes during the strategic planning process?