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The Ins and Outs of the Strategic Planning Process

Maggie Tully
April 20, 2023

Strategic planning is an essential process that helps organizations determine their long-term strategic goals and develop a plan to achieve them. 

Without a strategic planning process in place, understanding how your team will successfully achieve its vision becomes significantly murkier. A strong planning process ensures that everyone is on the same page and understands their responsibilities. 

In this article, we'll go through the basics of strategic planning, as well as the benefits and reasons for developing a strategic plan. Plus, we’ll walk you through the 10 steps of the strategic planning process to help you ease into it.

Basics of strategic planning

In a nutshell, strategic planning is the process of creating a roadmap for the future growth and development of an organization. It involves defining the company's mission, vision, and goals, as well as analyzing its internal and external environment. This analysis helps identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that can influence the company's success. 

After this analysis, a strategic plan is developed that outlines the actions needed to achieve the company's goals. This plan can include tactics such as marketing strategies, resource allocation, and operational changes, while its success is measured by regularly tracking progress and making adjustments as necessary.

What is the strategic planning process?

As we’ve discussed, strategic planning helps to define what an organization wants to achieve and how it will allocate its resources to meet those objectives.

The process of the strategic planning cycle involves leaders and key stakeholders coming together to evaluate the current state of the business and may define or redefine the organization’s mission.

A strategic plan is usually meant to guide achieving organizational goals over a long period. All objectives should be clear and measurable so that progress can be tracked efficiently.

Additionally, successful strategic plans also outline how goals should be achieved to maximize impact. These mid- to long-term goals should focus on transformational changes rather than short-term profits.

The benefits of implementing a strategic planning process

Without a well-designed process to develop strategic plans, organizations are more likely to struggle to find long-term success and stay competitive in today's rapidly evolving business environment. 

Aside from the end result — a well-crafted and strong strategic plan — Here are three key advantages of implementing a strategic planning process:

1. Provides direction and clarity 

During the strategic planning process, organizations align their goals with their vision and mission statement. This process provides clarity on where the organization wants to go, how to get there, and what to prioritize, thereby creating a clear roadmap for all stakeholders.

2. Enhances team collaboration

The process of strategic planning involves gathering input from various stakeholders, including customers, employees, shareholders, and partners. Having a clear, organization-wide vision paves the way for enhanced collaboration and communication

3. Improves adaptability and resilience

When you plan strategically, you can factor in any uncertainty by identifying potential threats and opportunities, trends, and emerging technologies that could impact the organization. This enables businesses to be more adaptable and resilient to change, while also being able to respond quickly to unexpected challenges.

In summary, strategic planning plays a vital role in defining the goals and objectives of an organization. This kind of forward-thinking makes it easier for team leaders to create a roadmap to success and assign tasks that contribute to this goal. 

Why do I need a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is fundamental for any organization to stay competitive and adapt to changing market conditions. Without a clear vision forward, your organization might struggle with confusion, missed opportunities, and even business failure. 

A clearly defined strategic plan helps get everyone on the same page regarding crucial decisions that impact the company’s growth and success and helps prepare for potential obstacles that might cause roadblocks. This way, you’re able to allocate resources in the right areas ahead of time.

When should I create a strategic plan?

The perfect time to develop a strategic plan is when a company is experiencing growth, change, or is considering expanding into new products, services, or markets. 

Having a strategic plan helps guide organizations through challenging times, as it gives a company’s senior leadership a clear mission statement and strategic objectives to stick to — another reason why you’ll want to put a plan together before times of change and uncertainty. 

Related: 13 Best Practices for Successful Change Management

Tips for successful strategic planning

Yes, successful strategic planning requires careful consideration and attention to detail. Here are some tips to help ensure that your organization's strategic planning process is effective:

  • Involve stakeholders: Engaging stakeholders, including employees, customers, vendors, and other key partners, is critical to the success of the strategic planning process. By involving stakeholders, the organization can gain valuable insights, identify potential roadblocks, and build buy-in for the strategies it develops.
  • Remain flexible: The strategic planning process should be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances. This means that the organization should be open to tweaking approaches, adjusting timelines, and reallocating resources as necessary to ensure that everything remains on track.
  • Assign clear roles and responsibilities: Assigning clear roles and responsibilities to team members helps to ensure that everyone knows what they need to do to achieve the organization's goals and objectives. Clear assignments minimize confusion and duplication of effort and help to ensure that everyone is working toward a common goal.
  • Use data to drive decision-making: Data is a critical component of effective strategic planning. Organizations should use data to inform decision-making, track progress, and identify areas of opportunity for improvement. Data-driven decision-making helps to ensure that strategies are based on facts and evidence, rather than assumptions or guesswork.

Mistakes to avoid in strategic planning

Because strategic planning is an involved and complex process, there are several (avoidable) common mistakes that organizations can make. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:

  • Focusing solely on short-term goals: Organizations risk limiting their long-term success by focusing solely on short-term goals. While short-term objectives are important, it's critical to keep the big picture in mind and ensure that the organization's strategies align with its long-term vision.
  • Not involving the right people: Strategic planning is not just for top-level executives. For the planning process to be effective, organizations must involve people at all levels of the organization, including those on the front lines who have unique insights into the company's operations and customers.
  • Failing to monitor and evaluate progress: Once the strategic plan is in place, many organizations fail to monitor and evaluate their progress regularly. Without regular monitoring and evaluation, the organization cannot determine if it is on track, identify where improvements are needed, or make necessary adjustments to stay on target.

Pro tip: Utilizing project management charts is a great way to monitor your team's progress as the project unfolds. 

10 steps in the strategic planning process

When it comes to ensuring the success and growth of your business, having a strategic plan in place is crucial. If you're not quite sure where to start, don't worry. We're here to make the process approachable with these 10 steps to get you started.

1. Start by defining the mission and vision

Mission and vision statements articulate the core ideology of a company. The mission statement defines the business's purpose and main objectives, while the vision statement outlines the future direction the company envisions for itself.

For example, Amazon’s mission and vision statements are as follows: 

Mission: “To serve consumers through online and physical stores and focus on selection, price, and convenience.”

Vision: “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online at the lowest possible prices.” 

As you can see above, a company’s mission and vision are not the same. That said, both play an important foundational role in strategic planning. 

2. Conduct a comprehensive assessment

Before you can determine where the company should go, you’ll need to take a look at your organization’s current status. This includes factors like your current strengths and weaknesses, the competitive landscape, and customer and market trends. 

Curating a comprehensive assessment report helps your organization prioritize areas that need attention and identify areas with the most potential for growth. This type of research should be done before any decisions are made on future strategies. 

This assessment can look a few different ways. A SWOT analysis, for instance, involves a deep dive into your organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, which can help you identify internal and external factors that impact your business’s ability to reach its goals. 

You can also use other strategic planning modalities like Porter's Five Forces, the PEST Model, or VRIO Framework to gain insight into your organization's current situation.

This information can be really informative. For example, while creating a strategic marketing plan, a small marketing agency may discover that its strengths are its team's expertise in digital marketing, its strong relationships with clients, and its emphasis on creativity. In contrast, the agency may discover that its weaknesses lie in its lack of financial resources and limited brand awareness.

3. Forecast

Conducting a forward-looking analysis to anticipate changes and future trends that may affect the business is a key step in strategic planning. It enables businesses to proactively identify opportunities and challenges that may arise.

Obviously, what’s included in your forecast will widely vary depending on the nature of your business. If your organization sells a product or service, your forecast might be focused on sales and revenue projections, whereas an agency that does creative project work might focus its forecasts on profitability. 

4. Set the organizational direction of the business

Now that you’ve examined your organization’s current standings and future projections, it’s time for your leadership team to determine the overall direction of the business. This might include decisions to focus on a particular product line or only take on projects in a particular industry. 

5. Create strategic objectives

At this step, you should be considering how you can turn your newfound direction into specific and measurable objectives. These strategic objectives should align with the company's mission and vision statements. 

Consider what your organization is hoping to achieve in the short term, and how those short-term goals still contribute to larger, long-term strategic goals. For example, your long-term objective might be to own a majority of the market share for a product, and releasing more robust features is a short-term goal that sufficiently contributes to that.

6. Align with key stakeholders

Include a variety of team members and stakeholders in the strategic planning conversation to ensure that their interests and agendas are aligned with the company's strategic plan.

After all, 30% of people surveyed cited failure to coordinate across units as the main challenge to executing their company’s strategy. Including stakeholders and employees in your strategic planning process can help better facilitate this coordination. 

As we’ve already mentioned, it’s important to consider input from employees at all levels before deciding on a strategy. Oftentimes, lower-level team members are left out of strategic planning, when they’re actually the ones who receive the most customer and client feedback that should be incorporated.

7. Begin strategy mapping

Once everyone is in agreement on the organization’s long-term strategic goals, it’s a good idea to develop a visual representation of how the various elements of the strategic plan will work together to further your mission and vision statement. The best way to do this is with a strategy map, which graphically depicts the cause-and-effect relationship between your strategic objectives. 

Typically, strategy maps are broken down into four areas – also known as perspectives – that your organization must excel in to successfully execute its strategic plan. These perspectives are often finance, customer, internal processes, and learning/growth. 

With the help of a strategy map, your team is able to better understand how all of your strategy components are interconnected. 

Strategy map overview

8. Determine strategic initiatives

By this point, your high-level strategy has been solidified, and it’s time to develop a plan of action by identifying specific programs and initiatives that will help the business meet its objectives.

For instance, if one of your growth objectives is to increase employee expertise or retention, you may want to consider launching an initiative focused on employee training and development to improve both employee expertise and job satisfaction. 

9. Benchmark performance measures and analysis

The only way to check that your strategic plan is on track is by establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) or another goal-setting framework — such as OKRs — to measure progress and gauge success. This way, your expectations for progress are set in stone, and your team is able to quickly identify issues and make adjustments if they fall behind on those goals.

Professionals in creative industries that rely on fewer numerical metrics may want to turn to SMART goals instead. In other words, these goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART).

Related: Performance Reporting Tools for Project Management 

10. Performance evaluation

Using the performance metrics you gathered in the previous step, as well as the overall outcomes of the team’s efforts, you’ll be able to assess how well everyone executed the planned initiatives. You may need to create a report to clue stakeholders on the progress as well. 

Since strategic planning is an ongoing long-term process, evaluating performance is critical as it allows you to make adjustments before entering the next execution phase. Adjustments are completely normal, as it’s more than likely that you’ll need to revisit your strategic plan at some point along the way. 

Ways to improve strategic planning

We’ve looked at the different types of strategic plans and the broad steps involved in executing most plans. But what about improving your strategic planning? Here are a few key tips to consider:

1. Test your assumptions 

When you’re in the process of deciding on your long-term objectives and strategic initiatives, you’re likely making some of your decisions based on gut feeling rather than concrete data. 

For instance, does investing in employee training actually improve retention? To find out, you could conduct an experiment a quarter into your initiative to assess the relationship between training and employee satisfaction, and if the results aren’t positive, you know to pivot to a different strategic objective. 

2. Foster collaboration among teams

To give your organization the best chance of success when implementing your strategic plans, it’s important to encourage close collaboration between teams. 

Just one look at your strategy map demonstrates how interconnected your strategic planning is between different parts of your organization. Without collaboration, you won’t be able to meet your strategic goals. 

3. Recognize team members’ contributions 

Strategic planning requires an immense amount of teamwork. It’s important to keep team morale high to keep team members driven — which you can do by properly recognizing everyone’s achievements and contributions. Simply giving employees the credit they deserve during meetings can go a long way. 

Team achievement

Organize your strategic planning with Rodeo Drive

Once your strategic plan is finalized, you’ll have to start juggling many different moving pieces. This is where a project management software tool can come in handy, as it provides you with one centralized place to store project information and monitor progress.

This is exactly why we built Rodeo Drive — an all-in-one project management solution optimized for the needs of creative professionals. Rodeo Drive offers all of the features you need to manage your strategic projects in one app, meaning you won’t need to purchase and integrate additional third-party tools to get your work done. 

Here’s an overview of Rodeo Drive’s feature offerings that can support your strategic planning process: 

Detailed budgeting in phases 

Executing your strategic plans comes at a cost, and you want to prevent your costs from spiraling out of control any way you can. The best way to do so is with detailed budgeting, which Rodeo Drive helps you do by adopting a phased approach to building budgets. 

This means you’ll break each of your projects down into stages and estimate the time and activity expenses associated with each phase before your project kicks off. Rodeo Drive will generate the total of all of your estimated costs, and your budget is complete. 

The best part is, all of Rodeo Drive’s features are interconnected, meaning your budget will update in real-time as you spend on time activities and tasks. 

Rodeo Drive's budgeting page

Project task planning made easy

It can be difficult to keep track of what each team member is working on, which is why Rodeo Drive’s planning feature allows you to quickly assign tasks, rearrange task duration, and drag and drop planned tasks to modify their deadline. 

Rodeo Drive's planner quick add feature

Reports with insights on time registration and employee productivity

As previously discussed, tracking your team’s performance is a key part of strategic planning. Rodeo Drive compiles all of the time recorded in the platform, tasks completed, and budget activity to bring you in-depth reports on your team’s performance. 

Rodeo Drive's productivity report

These reports allow you to see how much time each team member is spending on each project, and whether they’re utilizing all of their working hours. Plus, you’ll be able to see metrics on in-progress projects and closed projects, including project profitability. 

Ready to give it a try? Start Rodeo Drive for free today.