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Strategic planning — what it is and how to do it well

It can be difficult to reach your business goals and ambitions, regardless of what preparation you’ve done. But if you have a strategic plan in place, you’ll be more likely to achieve a favorable outcome.

This post will explain the importance of strategic planning, when and how to make a strategic plan, and how to manage it and stay on course. It will allow the audience to move forward with their planning efforts.

Read on to learn:

  • What strategic planning is

  • Benefits of strategic planning

  • When you should do strategic planning

  • Steps in strategic planning

  • What strategic management is

  • Strategic mapping

What is strategic planning?

Strategic planning is the process of defining your business’s direction and outlining a path toward a preferred future. The goal of a strategic plan is to capture an organization’s mission and core principles — to envision the fulfillment of these ideals. Strategic planning is both conceptual and practical, as it presents both high-level goals and specific approaches to achieve them.

A strategic plan needs to answer the following questions:

  • Where are we now?

  • Where are we going?

  • How do we get there?

Strategic planning helps businesses set and maintain a clear vision and ensure they’re moving in the right direction. Once the plan has been put in place, it helps maintain alignment between various stakeholders and teams within your business. This plan can make resource allocation simpler — by determining if certain resources are being used in ways that don’t align with the broader strategic plan.

Benefits of strategic planning

Running a business without a strategic plan is like planning a vacation with no destination in mind. How will you get there? What do you need to bring with you? The same applies to planning for your business. Strategic planning:

  • Gives a sense of purpose and direction. A strategic plan provides a clear goal and end result so all other business functions can work to get you closer to that outcome. This clarity helps keep employees aligned on their efforts, make better decisions, and work towards a shared goal.

  • Makes you aware of opportunities for success. Tying your plans to strategy helps your organization identify opportunities that you discover along your journey. If you find an opportunity that aligns with your strategy — and desired outcomes — you can more easily adapt to take advantage of the situation.

  • Alerts you to risks to avoid. Part of the strategic planning process is scanning the external environment and competitive landscape, which allows you to identify potential roadblocks you may encounter.

  • Helps you understand what resources you will need. When you have a strategic plan in place, you can more effectively allocate your resources. By aligning resources with strategic goals, businesses can focus on the initiatives, projects, and investments that maximize their ROI.

  • Helps prioritize critical tasks. When deciding which tasks are most important and which can be put on hold, a strategic plan streamlines that decision-making. Tasks that don’t contribute to your mission can wait, while mission-critical tasks get prioritized.

  • Fosters teamwork and communication. Without a strategic plan, team members can feel isolated and siloed. However, when that strategic plan is clearly communicated to everyone, your team will feel more connected as they work towards a common goal.

  • Increases motivation. And when your team understands the desired outcomes and bigger goals behind their daily tasks, they’ll be more motivated to do high-quality work in a timely manner.

  • Helps measure and evaluate results. Because you’ve likely identified key performance indicators (KPIs) in your planning process, you’ll have an easier time tracking your progress. When you measure your progress, you can more easily identify areas for improvement and make changes on the fly.

When should you do strategic planning?

When and how often your business does strategic planning depends on the size and stage of your company, the speed of your business, and the scope of the projects you’re working on. Strategic planning should not be a one-time event. It should be an iterative process with continuous monitoring, evaluation, and adjustment.

If you’re a new business, you’ll want to create a business plan first, before you move into strategic planning. Once your business is established you can then set a strategic plan to outline your goals and manage your business’s strategic direction. For planning more short-term projects, use a project plan.

Once you’ve created a strategic plan, you should review it regularly — quarterly and yearly, for example — to make sure it is still aligned with your business’s goals and industry landscape. Generally, you should create a new strategic plan every 3–5 years. However, newer or faster-moving companies may need to create a new strategic plan every 1–2 years. Another scenario when you should rework your strategic plan is when you’re preparing to make a major pivot in your business.

How to write a strategic plan for a project Learn how to write a strategic plan, why you need to create one, and the topics it should cover. Read more >

Steps in strategic planning

While every strategic plan might look a little different depending on the organization, industry, and other context, there is still a general outline of the process that you can follow to get you started.

Before you get started, there are a few preliminary steps you can take to make sure your planning process goes smoothly. You need to decide who is involved in the process and what documentation they’ll need. You’ll also want to revisit your company’s vision and mission statements which define where your business is aiming to go.

These are the steps you can take to create a strategic plan for your business:

1. Identify and assess your current position

To understand where you’re headed, you first need to look at where you are now. In this stage, you should:

  • Collect customer and employee feedback to understand what is working well for you and what could use improvement.

  • Perform a needs assessment or SWOT analysis to understand more about the current state of your business.

  • Assess your available resources so you can understand what you have enough of and what you may need to reach your goals.

2. Set goals

Next, you can set goals that you’d like your business to achieve over the short and long term. It’s important to choose goals that align with your company's mission and vision. You can use marketing and sales forecasts to give you an idea of what types of goals are realistic. In this phase you’ll also want to prioritize the goals you set — so you know which to choose if conflicts arise.

When setting goals, remember to set SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

3. Develop your plan

In this phase, it’s time to put your plan together and map out a project roadmap. This is where your plan becomes clearer both to your planning committee and to your team members who will execute based on the plan.

You want to make sure that your plan is achievable with your current resources — so that you aren’t setting yourself up for failure. You’ll also want to set measurable milestones so you can track your progress along the way. You also need to set KPIs so you have objective numbers to determine if you’re heading in the right direction.

When developing your plan, you should make sure that any short-term action items align with long-term goals. And finally, you’ll need to get approval from leadership and stakeholders.

4. Implement your plan

Now that you’ve created your strategic plan it’s time to act. In fact, the first step of implementation is creating a strategic action plan. Your action plan will outline the specific tactics you’ll use to execute your strategic plan.

In this phase, you’ll also assign tasks to your team members so everyone knows what they are responsible for and what they will be contributing to your mission. It’s important to distribute and communicate your plan across your organization. This helps encourage transparency and will drive buy-in from everyone on your team.

As you are executing on your plan, you should rely on metrics and KPIs to track your performance.

5. Revise your plan as necessary

Next, you’ll want to revise your plan as you encounter roadblocks or market changes. Even the best strategic plans will change as you gather more data or feedback. Using tools — like a project management solution — can help you monitor the progress your team is making. You should schedule periodic evaluations to see which parts of the plan are going well and which need to be revised or reevaluated.

You can conduct reviews on a quarterly basis, so you have information at the end of the year to revise your plan if needed. Even if things are going well, you should make minor adjustments every year to keep your teams aligned and your strategy up to date. Any major revisions you make will require a new planning process — because a major adjustment could derail the rest of your strategic plan.

What is strategic management?

Strategic management is the process of formulating, implementing, and evaluating strategies to achieve the larger goals and objectives of an organization. It can sometimes be used interchangeably with the term strategic planning — but within strategic planning, strategic management means managing the plan being put into action.

Part of strategic management is being adaptive and adjusting to headwinds or organizational changes. You’ll also need to maintain a strong team culture, so your plan stays on track and team members stay engaged.

There are several models that strategic management can follow. Each takes a different approach to the management process, and how it solves problems that may arise.

One of these frameworks is the balanced scorecard method. This method looks at the strategic measures of a business beyond just financial metrics to get a more “balanced” look at performance. The phrase “balanced scorecard” refers to the management report that leaders may use to drive decision-making within the business, since this approach looks at more than just numbers, it provides a more holistic view of a business.

Strategic mapping

A strategic map is a visual representation of a business’s strategic objectives and the cause-and-effect relationships between each objective. This diagram helps visualize the strategic plan and understand which tasks are dependent on others. This map should be drawn during the development of the strategic plan to get a better understanding of how things should get done and in what order.

Strategic mapping can turn complex strategic plans into easily understandable visual representations. These can be helpful tools for communicating your strategy more clearly to team members and stakeholders within your organization. Strategic maps also help organizations identify success factors, prioritize initiatives, allocate resources, and monitor progress.

A strategic map can be designed in several ways, but needs to address the four main facets of business:

  • Financial. This section of the map should identify how the strategy helps meet the financial goals of the business.

  • Customer. This section should address the benefits that the customer will see from the specific strategy.

  • Internal business processes (IBPs). This section shares the benefits of the strategy to the processes of the business and their efficiency.

  • Learning and growth. This section will address how the business’s capabilities and knowledge will improve by using a given strategy.

Getting started with strategic planning

Strategic planning is a helpful tool for aligning everyone in your organization with your objectives and long-term goals. It can also help you gain a better understanding of your place in the market and how you can improve your business outcomes.

When you’re ready to get started, assemble your leadership team, draft your mission and vision statements, and begin by assessing the current state of your business. But you can’t get the most out of your strategic plan without a platform to drive the process forward.

That’s where Adobe Workfront can help. Workfront is an enterprise work management tool that connects work to strategy and drives better collaboration to deliver measurable business outcomes. It integrates people, data, processes, and technology across an organization so you can manage the entire lifecycle of projects from start to finish. By centralizing digital projects, cross-functional teams can connect, collaborate, and execute from anywhere to help them do their best work.

Take a product tour or watch an overview video to see how Workfront can help you execute on your strategic plan to improve your business outcomes.

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