Continuous Strategic Leadership vs. Periodic Strategic Planning

Basically, I am against annual planning. Annual planning implies that once a year we sit down and draw up our plans of what we are going to do that year. However, on the ground, nearly all the work we do is project based. Our projects could be product developments, outreach campaigns, events or other tasks. So, our annual plans are really a summary of plans for the combination of projects that we will progress during the next planning cycle period to most effectively move ourselves towards our vision.

Some projects in the year take longer than a year, and some take less than a year. Let’s say that the planning cycle runs January to December. What happens if a brilliant opportunity for a 6 month project to most effectively make progress towards our vision appears in March? Where does it fit in the strategic plan?

What happens if we think of the strategic planning process as the ongoing assessment and management of implementation of the projects that would jointly help us to most effectively achieve the vision? When we do this, then the planning cycle need no longer exist at that project level. However, most of us lead departments or parts of a larger organization and our projects are sub projects to a wider program, or at least contribute towards a wider program. At the program (or higher level) there may be a desire to periodically (either calendar initiated or program phase initiated) review strategy and progress of our projects. When this happens all that needs to be done at the project level is provide descriptions of the current strategy and status of our projects to those looking at a wider picture.

In other words, the our strategic plans should not be driven by the cycle or reporting needs of the wider picture, but driven by the cycles of our own projects and shared with those who might need the same information for other needs at other levels in other cycles.

If the only planning that we do is annual and driven by wider needs then there is a strong possibility that we are not being strategic with the use of all of the resources that we have at our disposal in our domain of influence.

Let me give an example. At ADC Telecom there might have been 100 projects (product developments) across the company at any one time. Each of these projects was reviewed throughout the product life-cycle for most effective implementation, and for most effective use of the overall company’s resources. However, once a year the corporation had its reporting cycle based around the SEC reporting requirements, In addition the board needed to show the shareholders good value in use of the shareholder’s resources at the annual shareholder meeting.

The annual cycle of the board did not drive the strategic planning at the divisional and product line level. At the divisional and product line level strategic planning was continuous, driven by the product life cycles. However, annual reviews at the divisional and board level just collected the current views and data sets from all of the product lines and reviewed them en-masse.

The strategic planning cycle was dead, but long lived strategic planning as part of day to day strategic leadership.

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