Business Planning Papers:
Developing a Strategic Plan
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1. Introduction to Strategic Planning
If you don’t know where your business is going, any road will get you there.
What is a Strategic Plan?
Entrepreneurs and business managers are often so preoccupied with immediate issues that they lose sight of their ultimate objectives. That’s why a business review or preparation of a strategic plan is a virtual necessity. This may not be a recipe for success, but without it a business is much more likely to fail. A sound plan should:
- Serve as a framework for decisions or for securing support/approval.
- Provide a basis for more detailed planning.
- Explain the business to others in order to inform, motivate involve.
- Assist benchmarking performance monitoring.
- Stimulate change and become building block for next plan.
For inspiration (and a few smiles), have a look at some of the quotations and examples of bad advice included in other pages!
A strategic plan should not be confused with a business plan. The former is likely to be a (very) short document whereas a business plan is usually a much more substantial and detailed document. A strategic plan can provide the foundation and frame work for a business plan. For more information about business plans, refer to How to Write a Business Plan, Insights into Business Planning and Free-Plan: Business Plan Guide Template.
A strategic plan is not the same thing as an operational plan. The former should be visionary, conceptual and directional in contrast to an operational plan which is likely to be shorter term, tactical, focused, implementable and measurable. As an example, compare the process of planning a vacation (where, when, duration, budget, who goes, how travel are all strategic issues) with the final preparations (tasks, deadlines, funding, weather, packing, transport and so on are all operational matters).
A satisfactory strategic plan must be realistic and attainable so as to allow managers and entrepreneurs to think strategically and act operationally – see Devising Business Strategies for further insights.
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See a sample strategic plan – use the back button on your browser to return to this page.
Basic Approach to Strategic Planning
A critical review of past performance by the owners and management of a business and the preparation of a plan beyond normal budgetary horizons require a certain attitude of mind and predisposition. Some essential points which should to be observed during the review and planning process include the following:
- Relate to the medium term i.e. 2/4 years
- Be undertaken by owners/directors
- Focus on matters of strategic importance
- Be separated from day-to-day work
- Be realistic, detached and critical
- Distinguish between cause and effect
- Be reviewed periodically
- Be written down.
As the precursor to developing a strategic plan, it is desirable to clearly identify the current status, objectives and strategies of an existing business or the latest thinking in respect of a new venture. Correctly defined, these can be used as the basis for a critical examination to probe existing or perceived Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats and Opportunities. This then leads to strategy development covering the following issues discussed in more detail below:
2. Key Steps towards a Strategic Plan
The first step is to develop a realistic Vision for the business. This should be presented as a pen picture of the business in three or more years time in terms of its likely physical appearance, size, activities, structure, scale offerings etc. Answer the question: “if someone from Mars visited the business, what would they see (or sense)?” Consider its future products, markets, customers, processes, location, staffing etc. Here is a great example of a vision:
I will come to America, which is the country for me. Once there, I will become the greatest bodybuilder in history. I will go into movies as an actor, producer and eventually director. By the time I am 30 I will have starred in first movie and I will be a millionaire. I will collect houses, art and automobiles. I will marry a glamorous and intelligent wife. By 32, I will have been invited to the White House. Attributed to Arnold Schwarzenegger who was elected Governor of the State of California in 2003.
The nature of a business is often expressed in terms of its Mission which indicates in a factual way the purpose and activities of the business in terms of operations, (unique) characteristics, functions, customers, offerings, sectors/segments, scale/scope/penetration, methodologies, technologies, resources etc. Just answer the questions as to what the business really is and does in qualitative terms. If planning for a startup, base the mission statement on the business as it would be once operational – be realistic and practical rather than aspirational.
For example, “to design, develop, manufacture and market specific product lines for sale on the basis of certain features to meet the identified needs of specified customer groups via certain distribution channels in particular geographic areas”. A statement along these lines indicates what the business is about and is infinitely clearer than saying, for instance, “we’re in electronics” or worse still, “we are in business to make money” (assuming that the business is not a mint !).
Also, some people confuse mission statements with value statements (see below) – the former should be very hard-nosed while the latter can deal with ‘softer’ issues surrounding the business. The following table contrasts hard and soft mission statements.