Tag Archives: strategic planning

Good Summary Presentation on Strategic Planning and Management

Please see here a presentation made through the Association for Strategic Planning  yesterday.

This is the best summary presentation on strategic planning management tools and techniques that I have seen to date. It covers all of the key tools and theories from the last 30 years. Please note that this is strategic planning and management, not strategic leadership. Despite this difference, I think that this is a really useful summary of key tools for those practicing strategic leadership.

The good news is that nearly all of the key things mentioned in this presentation are available in our organization. Note my choice of words there 🙂

This presentation is reproduced here with kind permission from the presenter, Randy Rollinson, who you can contact at:

Randall Rollinson, President, LBL Strategies, Ltd.

www.lblstrategies.com, www.strategyprocenter.com


Creating Personas to Help Define Strategy

Do you know who the consumer is that your strategy is trying to serve? Is your strategy defined around your history, or the anticipated needs of the person you want to serve?

During the last couple of weeks I have been helping some of my colleagues who lead digital strategies to develop their personas. What is a persona?

  • In digital tool development a persona is a fictional character that communicates the primary characteristics of a group of users who use your website, social media feed or application.
  • Personas help software development teams understand their audience. They provide insights about the attitudes, behaviors, thought processes, challenges and desires of those being reached and served.
  • Personas inform what kind of content the developers need to create and where they publish it. They also give insight and direction for wording, images, tone and design.

When developing a digital tool personas are needed because:

  • if the customer is always right, you need to know who your customer is, and
  • you need to be constantly thinking about who is visiting your website, social media feed or application so that you design and use the tool to best meet the needs of the user.

We started discussing when in the development process someone would create their personas. There are parts of developing strategy for a digital program that have to be done prior to developing personas, e.g. basic market segmentation. However, if personas are developed as soon as the market has been segmented, then personas can really help develop the whole of the rest of the strategy.

The realization was that developing personas should not just apply to software development. Personas can significantly help develop corporate and departmental strategies. Thinking things through from the point of view of the customer can really help determine what your response could be to meeting a customer’s need, and how to differentiate that response. If that is not development of a strategy, then what is?

This applies in the organization in which I work as well as commercial corporate organizations. How often do we develop strategy from our point of view (typically what can we do to increase the amount of what we did last year?), rather than think afresh of the people we are trying to reach or serve, and developing new strategies to reach / serve them from their point of view?

What Is a Good Strategic Plan?

I was asked this by one of my colleagues in Poland. They really wanted to know precisely what format plan to use. The answer was: A plan that is used.

I was put on the spot, and as I scrambled for an answer it occurred to me that the best plans that I have written came in different formats. It didn’t matter if the plan was an eighty page document, a one page text description, a 100 line formally completed GANTT chart or a simple time-line on a PowerPoint slide with six milestones spread over 3 years, the plans that were the best were those which were successfully implemented. If my plans used the best tools but they were not implemented then they were not good plans.

So, don’t about the template, think about the practicality, and the ability of the “plan” to motivate a group of people to execute.


“Simplify” has been the theme of the week that I have just spent with some of my colleagues in the Far East. Ten regional management teams, each of about seven people, have been developing strategic plans for the next year.

Each regional leadership team used a process as follows:

  1. The whole group review the Vision and Mission of the organization.
  2. Each person review the purpose of the team in which they work.
  3. Each person individually review their job description.
  4. As a team, review where their part of the organization is now, and what the Vision is for the organization. Determine what new “Wildly Important Goal(s)” they might want in their region for the coming year.
  5. Agree as a team what each person’s contribution needs to be towards the Wildly Important Goal(s) for the coming year.
  6. As a team, merge the new goal and the resulting actions for the team into the team’s tactical and ongoing strategic plan.
  7. Each person determines what actions they need to take in the coming year to execute their job description to achieve the goals (including the Wildly Important Goal(s)) for the team. For each proposed action, the number of working days to implement the action over the coming year is determined.
  8. Each person individually ranks their proposed actions in order of priority.
  9. Each person briefly explains their proposed actions to the rest of their team. Each explanation can take a maximum of 30 seconds per action.
  10. All of the proposed actions from each team member are collected into one list that everyone in the team can see.
  11. All of the team discusses and votes on the relative importance of all of the proposed actions for the team. Everyone has a certain number of votes (e.g. 10 votes), but they are not allowed to vote on their own actions. Discussion, even heated discussion, is allowed at this point.
  12. The team maps onto a yearly calendar the time taken to implement the agreed highest priority 30 actions. If the calendar says that the team has time to implement more actions, then the next highest batch of actions are mapped onto the calendar. This is continued as far as the practical amount of time on the calendar allows.
  13. Each action on the plan is costed out for the team budget.
  14. Funding plans and funding justifications are developed for each new key initiative in the plan.

This process is taking about 20 working hours, in our case, spread over 5 days.

There are several things that I like about this process. Hence I’m putting it out here for you to see.

I like the focus on prioritization at the team level, and mapping the reality of the workload impact on the team into a calendar. This forces a realistic view on what the team can handle, and stops the team from being overly optimistic on new initiatives it is trying to adopt.

The bigger thing that I like is the voting to weed out of actions taken out by the team that really do not add value to achieving the Vision of the organization. This is the part where simplification really comes into the process. This also echoes ideas behind lean management that are described in this McKinsey article.

However, if there was one thing that I would change, it would be to include heavy direct input from the local staff and our volunteer associates into the idea pool of possible initiatives that could be taken over the coming year. Maybe in next year’s planning process……

Strategic Leadership Professional Associations

Here are a few links to professional associations that can give you more ideas on strategic leadership.

Association for Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning Society

If you want to get new ideas and develop your strategic leadership techniques, these two organizations might help.

If social networks are your thing, then you could check out the following discussions on LinkedIn:

Strategy Consulting Network

Business Strategy & Competitive Strategy Forum

Using a SWOT Analysis in Developing a Strategic Plan

A SWOT analysis can be used to help determine what actions should be taken to meet a goal. This should be clear in the items identified in the SWOT, and the actions taken as a result.

The first thing to do is state the goal to be achieved. This could be an organization Vision statement, a Direction statement or a team objective. You can’t develop a strategy using a SWOT analysis if you do not know what goal you want to achieve.

The purpose of completing a SWOT chart is to identify the most important things upon which to build, avoid, make the most of, and counter (respectively) through the actions in the plan in order to achieve the goal. The items in the SWOT analysis should clearly relate to the achievement of the goal.

Similarly, the actions identified after completing the SWOT should clearly relate to the items identified in the SWOT. Otherwise, there was no point in doing the SWOT analysis in the first place.

Let’s work through an example.

Say that an organizational goal is: “To motivate 100 volunteers to do something specific with a product developed by your organization by the end of this calendar year.”

The strengths of your organization, weaknesses of your organization, opportunities coming up in your environment, and the external threats to succeeding in your goal can be listed in a SWOT chart as follows:


  • We have a working prototype of the tool already developed.
  • The tool is easy to use, so training of volunteers should be quick.


  • We don’t currently know 100 volunteers.


  • There’s an industry conference in May that many of our volunteers could attend.
  • An existing donor to our organization has said that they will provide the funds to use tools like the one that we have developed.
  • The volunteers we know respect us and like to refer other people to us.


  • The best time of year for volunteers to use this tool is September, and it is already February.

Notice that the wording of the SWOT items specifically relate to the wording in the objective.

The action plan to achieve the objective could then directly relate to the items in the SWOT analysis as follows:

  1. Fred to contact all known volunteers by March 31st to invite them to the May conference.
  2. Jane to produce demonstration kits and promotional material by May 1st for volunteers to recruit further volunteers.
  3. Arthur to contact the donor by February 28th to see if they will fund production of 100 tool kits by August 31st.
  4. Algernon to build a Facebook page by March 31st describing the tool to allow known volunteers to share the idea with other potential volunteers.

Notice that the words in the actions directly relate back to the items identified in the SWOT analysis, which in turn relate directly to the goal.

Review Plans During The Year

I was impressed by the strategic plan for the coming year from my colleagues in Ghana. The plan included a summary of the objectives from last year’s plan and a summary of the achievements of this past year.

What was impressive was that what the team said a year ago that they would do is exactly what they did. Incredible!! I asked how this happened. The team leader explained matter of factly that they reviewed their progress against the original plan during the year. Again, incredible!!

The results spoke for themselves. We know the theory. Do we practice it? They did in Ghana last year. This is not rocket science is it?

‘nuf said.

Rich Howarth’s view on Annual vs. Continuous Strategy Assessment

Strategic leadership is a continuous approach to leadership. It is not annual strategic planning. In his book “Deep Dive” Rich Howarth describes the pitfalls of purely annual strategy reviews.

He puts it like this:

The inability to understand context is at the heart of numerous failures. There are three pitfalls of context to avoid if you are to be successful: (1) annual assessment, (2) relative versus absolute performance, and (3) prescription without diagnosis.

He then says the following about annual assessments:

From a business-planning perspective, context is often expressed as the “situational analysis.” The problem with this is that business planning generally happens once a year in most organizations, if that (nearly 40 percent of organizations have no formal business-planning process). This means that the majority of managers don’t have a solid understanding of the context of their business. This is like attempting to map out driving directions to a destination without knowing whence the car is leaving. It’s the “You Are Here” map at the museum minus the big red dot to indicate where you are. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote the following in The Prince: “I have often reflected that the causes of the successes or failures of men are dependent on their ability to suit their manner to the times.” And, as they say, “The times, they are a-changing”— usually more than once a year.

Howarth goes on to describe three tools that we can use to ensure that we remain connected to the context in which we are trying to set and implement a strategy. The first he describes as follows:

Strategy Tune-up Sessions Those who drive a car every day wouldn’t dream of going an entire year without a tune-up to check fluid levels, gauge tire pressure, change the oil, replace filters, etc. Nevertheless, while we regularly check our $ 35,000 automobiles, we wait a full year (and sometimes longer) to do a diagnostic check on our multimillion- or multibillion-dollar businesses. Now that makes sense! A simple solution is to conduct periodic (weekly, monthly, or quarterly) strategy tune-ups to check on the context of the business. The focus of these sessions isn’t to arrive at new conclusions; rather, it’s to openly discuss the four areas that constitute the context of the business: market, customers, competitors, and the company. The goal is to find changes in the context of the business and use the resulting insights to leverage opportunities and to blunt threats in a timely manner. Honda has used this technique (called “Nimawashi sessions” in Japan) with great success as one of the pillars of its strategic action plans.

Horwath, Rich (2009-08-01). Deep Dive: The Proven Method for Building Strategy, Focusing Your Resources, and Taking Smart Action. Greenleaf Book Group Press.

Do you disagree with him? If so, then leave a message and tell us all.

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.

Measuring Execution of Plans

One of the key elements of strategic leadership is management of execution of the creatively thought through plan.

I don’t think that it is possible to manage the execution of a strategic plan without measuring the results of implementing the plan. If the definition of a strategic plan is that it makes most effective progress towards accomplishing the vision, then it is not possible to execute it without measuring:

  1. the status of achievement of the vision before the strategic plan is executed, and
  2. the status of achievement of the vision after the strategic plan is executed.

This in turn means that the status of achievement of the vision needs to be measured, and the key success criteria for completion of the execution of the plan must be in terms of improvement of status of achievement of the vision.

To use Sean Covey and Chris McChesney’s language, the overarching lag measurement of a strategic plan is the increase in progress towards achieving the vision.

Therefore, management of execution of strategic plans can only be accomplished if the vision towards which the plan makes progress is measured and tracked throughout the plan’s implementation.

How do you measure your vision, and how do you track your progress towards vision?