What is a Strategic Plan?

I had a heated discussion with a colleague of mine this week. You might have called it an argument, except we both agreed with each other. We were discussing “strategic plans”. My colleague pointed out that the term strategic plans is heavily loaded, and carries a history with it of things that are:

  1. at least 20 pages long
  2. are written by subordinates for supervisors
  3. are re-written the following year upon demand
  4. have no impact on the funding received by the writer
  5. have no impact upon the work that will be carried out by the writer.

However, personally, I don’t recall ever having written a plan like that. I may have written some, but the fact that I don’t recall ever doing so is indicative that any like that written by me were never owned by me.

I have written many plans that I recall. These plans were all written by me to enable me to clarify my thoughts of what I needed to do, and then to help me through the process of doing them.

I can’t remember ever having to do so, but if I had been asked to define what the term strategic plan was I would have probably come up with something like:

“A description of what we need to do to best meet the customer’s requirements using the capabilities of our organization in a way that provides competitive advantage.”

I would have based this definition upon the premise that there are three sources of ideas for products and processes (the three “C”s):

  1. CUSTOMER – The customer’s ideas of what they want.
  2. COMPETITION – Improving upon what the competition is doing.
  3. CAPABILITY – The engineers dreaming up what they think that we can do.

These three domains of ideas intersect with a product or process concept that meets some of the customer’s ideas, while dodging around the competition in a way that uniquely builds upon the capabilities of our internal resources.

I would have said that the strategic plan was the actions that need to be taken to implement something in this sweet spot of intersection of the three domains of ideas.

In Christian ministry we do not have the same concept of competition as we did in the telecom industry. Our “competition” is spiritual. However, there are other ministries doing God’s work, and rather than provide competitive advantage, for the sake of macro level stewardship, we avoid directly doing what another ministry is doing. The principle of the definition of the strategic plan has a strong parallel with that which I would have given in my old role:

“A description of what we need to do to most effectively move towards the Vision of the organization using the unique capabilities of our organization.”

This description might be hundreds of pages, or it might be one page. The length depends upon the complexity of the problem being solved and the personal need of the implementors to have written guidelines to which they can refer during the execution of the plan.

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