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Strategic planning.


This checklist is for managers involved in considering the strategic position and direction of their organisation for the first time. It provides a framework of practice to draw on and encourages strategic thinking rather than imposing a sequence of steps to follow.

At the beginning of the 21st century, such is the pace of change, the growth of uncertainty and the diversity of customer expectations that the major risk to survival and success is in not planning. Strategic planning helps you manage the future; if you don't manage the future, the future will manage you.

There are no magic formulas; each organisation will be different. So getting the questions right is crucial to success. This checklist details the questions to address in the strategic planning process and should be read in conjunction with the checklists: Developing a strategy for world class business (009) and, Producing a corporate mission (067).

Strategic planning will provide the organisation with a framework for:

1. understanding the organisation's position in the marketplace

2. moving forward with a sense of direction and purpose

3. focusing on key issues such as quality, productivity and customers

4. better motivation and communication throughout the organisation

5. changing the organisation to deliver required results and profitability.

National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership

This checklist has relevance to the following standards: B: Providing direction, units 1, 3


Strategic planning goes to the heart of what an organisation should do, why and how it should do it, and where it is going in the future. It is "a total concept of the whole business involving a framework and process that guides its future" (Napuk). Strategic planning addresses a number of basic questions:

* where are you now?

* how did you get there?

* what business are you in, or should you be in?

* where do you want to be in the future?

* how are you going to get there?

Requirements of strategic plans

By failing to plan, the organisation will be reactive, vulnerable to threats and closed to opportunities. The strategic plan needs to be:

1. flexible--adaptable to change, but not to the extent that you lose the sense of direction

2. responsive--taking account of the market, economic and environmental conditions

3. creative--to inspire commitment and make the organisation stand out from the crowd

4. challenging--but realistic so that people can get to grips with it

5. focused--clear, defined and understandable to staff and customers.

Action checklist

1. Involve all stakeholders

The planning process should not be restricted merely to contributions from senior representatives; all parts of the organisation should play a part, and all staff will have a contribution to make, as well as customers, shareholders and partners.

2. Where are you now?

This involves an analysis of recent performance to identify the current position of the organisation in relation to its market and industry sector. Questions include:

* what is your current market position in relation to competitors?

* how do customers see you?

* what is your market share?

* what are your strengths (weaknesses) in relation to your competitors?

* are you on an upward or downward curve?

3. How did you get there?

Now assess the reasons and factors which created this situation, for example:

* what did you do right (wrong) to get there?

* what did you do well (badly)?

* were you in the right place at the right time?

* what was down to market circumstances?

* what was down to good planning, bad planning, or no planning?

4. Examine your corporate identity

Try to gain a clear sense of identity by asking:

* what kind of people are you?

* what kind of values do you have?

* what people strengths (weaknesses) do you have?

* what kind of leadership do you have?

* what kind of morale is present?

A balanced view of the organisation is important, not just the rosy side. Do not believe in what you choose to--seek evidence for it; base your future planning on realism, and the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

5. Carry out a SWOT analysis

Summarise your findings from the external and internal audits conducted in steps 2-4 above under the headings of (internal) Strengths and Weaknesses, and (external) Opportunities and Threats.

6. What business are you in?

Look at your own marketing literature and organisation mission statement. Do they convey the purposes and promises of your organisation? Think of the focus of your organization--why it is there and what it is there to do. There is a risk of limiting scope too much in an age of increasing specialisation; equally there is a risk of broadening too far in an age which requires increasing diversification. Don't have such a narrow perspective that you lose opportunities, but be wary of too broad an approach, which might lose focus and appeal.

7. Where do you want to go?

Do you want to stay in the same business? Where do you want to be in the future? This involves a vision for the future with objectives whose achievement will lead to attaining that vision. Do you want to expand into new areas? Why? Or give priority to your "core" area? What is it? Working out where you want the organisation to be in the future means identifying a target destination which will shape planning and decisions. Destination is usually expressed in terms of a vision statement.

Examples of vision statements might include:

* to be the biggest car maker in the world

* to be the company of choice for managers

* to gain market dominance in .......

There is some confusion and a good deal of overlap between mission and vision statements. Whatever distinctions are drawn, it is down to senior management to make a clear statement of what business the organisation is in, where the organisation is going, and how it is going to get there. The statement should:

* constitute a clear message to all stakeholders and to the market

* be inspirational but realistic

* be motivating but believable

* be challenging but attainable.

Carry out a reality-check against the picture which emerged from steps 2-6.

8. Establish time-frames

Visions are usually long- rather than short-term. Although an organisation needs time to change thinking and shift resources, ever tighter time frames are being set for targets. As a general guide, visions may well take up to 4-6 years to achieve, but the strategic planning process should generate a business plan with objectives or targets which are achievable within 1-3 years.

9. Set objectives

Direction and destination must be clarified, communicated and agreed upon, and be firm without being so rigid that modification causes failure. Objectives are set by asking what needs to be done to contribute to the realisation of the vision and need to cover aspects of:

* profitability and return on investment

* market share and meeting market needs

* product/service quality and customer service

* growth and public responsibility

* people participation and commitment.

Your objectives may involve some or all of these elements, should lead towards attaining the vision, and should be measurable.

10. How do you get there?

Strategies must account for the organisation's weaknesses and provide the framework to put them right. The focus of the strategy however is on the outside world. Think of levels of empowerment and employee development; take account of plant and equipment and the investment needed; think of flexible control systems and the information that you have available (or not) to make decisions. The SWOT analysis above related to the past and the present; now it is time to apply such questions to the future, both outside the organisation:

* what changes are happening in today's markets?

* what is happening to customers' attitudes and demands?

* what is happening to technology?

* in which market areas will you have the best chance of success?

* what will customers want in the future?

* how will you tackle competitors?

* and inside:

* what people skills do you need to develop?

* how can you improve your product(s) or service(s)?

* how can performance be improved to meet demand?

* what critical success factors do you have?

* how will you generate the resources to do all this?

11. Communicate and seek feedback

Communicate details of the emerging plan throughout the organisation. Consultation and feedback are vital to widespread understanding and commitment as well as for hearing of threats and opportunities from those who actually do the jobs. Depending on the size of the organisation, the plan must be translated into business / operational plans, marketing plans, financial plans (budgets), project plans and personal development plans.

12. Measure, adapt and renew

The end point of strategic action is the combination of product(s), staff, customers and technologies that produce results. The one constant is to stay close to the market--that means continuous change for the organisation and continuous measurement of progress against the plan. Measurement is a key process which can indicate the levels of change and modification needed as the plan adapts to changing technologies and market forces and evolves to embrace new opportunities. Strategic plans need to be rolling plans; 5-year plans need rolling over every 3 years, 3-year plans every 2 years.

How not to manage


* fail to look at other organisations' strategic plans for ideas and insights

* forget to spend time getting to know your industry/market sector

* lose your awareness of your core strengths and critical factors

* fail to consider how close you are to your customers.

Additional resources


Strategic management and business policy: concepts, 10th ed Thomas L Wheelen and J David Hunger

Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006

Corporate strategy textbook, 4th ed, Richard Lynch

Harlow: Pearson Education, 2006

Strategic business planning: a dynamic system for improving performance and competitive advantage, 2nd ed, Clive Reading

London: Kogan Page, 2004

This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at:

Related checklists

Developing a strategy for world class business (009) Producing a corporate mission (067)

Internet resources

The strategy guide published by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an example of the comprehensive approach to formal strategic planning undertaken by a large government agency. Working through the guide will enable you to develop an understanding of how to pursue a formal strategy process. The usefulness of the site is limited by its US, public sector organisation context, but is nevertheless an essential strategy resource. In particular, the sections within the Strategic Planning section are recommended:

NASA Strategic Plan:


Strategic Planning Society, 17 Portland Place, London W1N 3AF

Tel: 020 7636 7737
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Title Annotation:Checklist 064
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Marketing Strategy
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Previous Article:Fund raising.
Next Article:Producing a corporate mission.

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