Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance: Strategic Plan Template | Elements to Include
February 7, 2023
12 min read
The 7 Ps is a British Army adage for Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Cheeky Brits. But the meaning is crucial. Planning is a key part of launching and growing a successful business.
Strategic planning uncovers critical issues driving a business. These issues can be problems, opportunities, market changes, resource adjustments and anything else that requires a solution or decision.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Having a strategy and an effective plan for carrying it out, doesn’t just apply to business. It is a critical part of leading a successful life. As Ryan Holiday has said,
The hard things in life are not achieved through simple effort and energy. If they were, a lot of people would do them. It’s insight that illuminates the path. It’s strategy that gets us there.
As part of the strategic planning process, question everything. Challenge all the assumptions upon which the past strategic initiatives have been based. And question the strategic implementation:
· What needs to be addressed?
· What are we doing now that we shouldn’t be doing?
· What should we do differently?
· Is there a better way to do something?
These are some of the types of questions that strategic leaders ask to jump-start the process.
A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there.
H. Stanley Judd
A strategic plan is a roadmap to launch and grow your business. It’s your map of how to do more with less. Remember a map is not the territory and your plan is not a static document but subject to continuous revision as you confront events and the world.
All plans and maps by their nature, reduce and abstract and by doing so, eliminate information that can prove important. The most accurate plan would include everything.
The best material model of a cat is another, or preferably the same, cat.
This partial information coupled with uncertainty about future events means a plan is not a perfect document to act upon and must be open to revision as new information becomes available.
As the great Prussian military genius Field Marshall Von Moltke said:
“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
A strategic plan is not a blueprint but merely a set of guesses to be tested in the marketplace. Most plans are hallucinations. No plan survives contact with customers and competitors intact.
Plans are Useless, Planning is Invaluable
In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
The reason for the military references is that strategic thinking and planning come out of a military background and was appropriated by business.
When it comes to strategic planning, process is more important than the product. It’s not the plan document, but the planning process that is valuable and also your ability to course correct in the face of new information. It is important to remain flexible and adaptive and have contingency plans in place to address various possible futures.
Think of strategic planning as having four main interlocking and iterative stages:
· Analysis and Assessment
· Strategy Development
· Strategy Execution
· Evaluation and Refinement
This provides a context for thinking about the strategic plan, not as a fixed static document, but as part of an ongoing organic process.
The strategic planning process and plan address what we trying to fix, accomplish or avoid. Communicating your strategy aligns stakeholders around your priorities. It engages, motivates, and retains both internal and external audiences.
The goal is to answer the question: how will we succeed? Strategies are the methods you intend to implement to achieve your vision. Strategy determines what you want to achieve and why and most important, it answers the question “how”. The strategic plan aligns your mission, programs, and capacity.
Elements to Include in Your Strategic Plan
The information below outlines the key elements to cover in your plan.
Table of Contents
Here is an outline. Your table of contents should look something like below. Feel free to change the order so the flow fits your thinking.
Here is a detailed look at each element.
The Executive Summary should be first in the document but completed last. Like the name says, it summarizes the other sections of your plan so you need to spend the time crafting the other parts first.
The Executive Summary is critical. Keep it to one page. It should succinctly convey the future direction, priorities and their impact. Its about vision and execution. You want to be doing the right things and creating a roadmap for doing things right.
The discipline of creating a concise crisp distillation of your strategy is well worth the effort. Many of your key constituents will only read the summary and you want them to understand where you intend to go and to be engaged in the execution.
When Harry Truman suddenly became president after the death of FDR, General Leslie Groves met with him to brief him on the Manhattan Project. Groves brought volumes of material to leave with the new president. Truman ordered Groves to come back with a one-page summary. Groves said he couldn’t possibly reduce such a complicated program to a single page. Truman told him that he didn’t really understand the program until he could put it on one page. Groves then went and did it. This is great advice to all of us. Keep it in mind as you write your summary.
An elevator pitch is a brief description of your business. It got its name as the challenge of having a description your business prepared that you can deliver in the course of an elevator ride. Included it early in your strategic plan because it is a distillation of what is important and unique about your business.
The clarity of your elevator pitch is key to your business’ success. Customers and investors need to understand it. It’s the essence of your recruitment. Everyone in the organization needs to be able to clearly and concisely articulate the business.
Mission, Vision, and Values
Here is where you state your purpose and why what your are doing represents meaningful work.
The Mission Statement Answers the following:
What is our purpose?
Why do we exist?
What do we do?
Your mission statement explains what your business is trying to achieve. It provides the criteria that guide managers and employees to make decisions that are aligned with the company’s goals.
Your mission statement is what defines the guardrails of what your business is and isn’t. It defines why what the company is doing represents meaningful work. Contributing to meaningful work is what motivates employees.
It is also the main message delivered to external stakeholders, such as investors, partners, potential employees, and customers. It should inspire them to take the actions you want.
You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.
Every project starts as a vision in the imagination. A Vision Statement defines that desired future state and provides direction for an organization.
The vision statement addresses the question: where are we going? And as Yogi Berra said,
“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
It is critical to articulate a vision that all the stakeholders agree to and are inspired by. It is fruitless to expect people to enthusiastically act upon strategies and tactics if they don’t believe in the ultimate goals and vision.
The bulk of the strategic plan is devoted to addressing how we will get there.
This general heading includes objectives, goals and action items, and how you are going to measure them. This section attempts to balance the aspirational and forward looking with the specific and tangible.
The greater danger for most of us isn’t that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.
This is where we set priorities. What are the major things we must focus on to reach our vision? What are the “big rocks” that we need to put in place first and foremost?
Address key objectives for all areas of your organization including financial, customer, marketing, operations, and human resources.
A goal is a dream with a deadline.
Goals express a result. Goals allow us to focus on the most important actions to reach our strategic objectives. Goals can be formatted using the SMART template: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time bound.
A goal properly set is halfway reached.
Strategic planning is all about setting and achieving goals. The ability to execute is the hallmark of successful companies.
Identify your long-term goals. Then, identify interim milestone goals that you must achieve in order to maintain the pace and path to achieving your long-term goals.
Work backwards to create more granular goals for the next months and quarter. Boeing is legendary for the granularity of their plan. They break five-year plans into day-by-day goals and milestones. There are no long-term results without short-term results. When it comes to implementation, take care of the short-term and the long-term will take care of itself.
Revisit you plan regularly, update your progress and revise as necessary. Strategy is an iterative process.
You plan your work, and then you work your plan.
This is how you make strategy work. These are essentially assigned and accountable tactics. Who will do what by when?
These are functional items that are aligned with, and support, the accomplishment of the objectives and goals.
“What gets measured, gets managed.”
How will we measure success? OKRs and KPIs are ways to organize measuring performance.
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)
Objectives and key results is a framework for defining and tracking objectives and their outcomes. Major Silicon Valley companies including Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Uber use the framework. The legendary venture capitalist John Doerr has written and excellent book on OKRs called Measure What Matters. He names Andy Grove, of Intel fame, the “Father of OKRs”.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
KPIs are the metrics that will have the most impact in moving your organization forward. Measuring the KPIs, and acting upon the feedback, are how you course correct. Guide your organization with measures that matter.
Tracking your KPIs. Businesses leaders intimately understand and are obsessive in measuring their metrics and KPIs. This is how you know how your business is performing so you can adjust as needed.
A basic KPI such as Total Sales is critical for understanding if the company is performing well. Understanding and measuring the drivers of sales is also critical so you can anticipate and address issues quickly. KPIs help a company be responsive to changes in the environment in which they operate.
List the KPIs you will track in your business.
How do your strategic initiatives impact and enhance your brand?
Your marketing plan describes who your customer segments are and how you will move them through your sales funnel. It talks about customer acquisition costs (CAC) and maximizing lifetime value (LTV). Remember CAC<LTV.
Include a detailed summary of your marketing plan in your strategic plan. Emphasize and prioritize the critical elements.
This section of your strategic plan is for identifying your target customer clusters. Use marketing templates like STP: Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning to help organize this planning.
It’s important to focus your marketing efforts to be effective and efficient in reaching and addressing potential customers. Hone your messaging and ensure it speaks to your target customer wants and needs.
This is where you analyze your organization’s position in the larger context of outside influences and competitors. You can use PEST and SWOT formats for clearly organizing this information.
PEST stands for political, economic, social, technological factors that affect your organization’s mission and approach.
SWOT is a template that stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis is an exercise for examining your organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses in relation to the external opportunities and threats. It is a quick way to assess and describe your competitive position.
Its importance in the Strategic Plan is to rank and determine the best opportunities to pursue relative to achieving your goals.
Use it to identify which strengths and core competencies to allocate resources toward in order to improve your company.
My friend Brenner Adams, a brilliant marketer and strategist, didn’t think SWOT was stacked right. So he came up with So What: SWOT.
SOWT is more than an arbitrary list of strengths, weakness, threats and opportunities; it’s a formula for action. To complete a SOWT analysis, strengths are aligned with opportunities, and weaknesses are aligned with threats horizontally. Matching strengths to a market or consumer opportunity, for example, leads to insights, which drive quicker and more effective decision-making.
Weaknesses and threats are evaluated the same way: a company will list out the weaknesses they determine internally based on the market, the product or the team. Then, they can compare that list to one of the threats faced, whether from competing products or market risks, and leverage the resulting insight to prioritize the challenges in order to draw actionable conclusions and build plans to mitigate those external factors.
Once you align your strengths and your opportunities, you can get insights. Weakness and strengths determine what actions you need to take to prevent getting surprised and ambushed. You’re not going to have every answer, but you become aware what some of the blind spots could be.
SOWT drives initial strategic prioritization and thinking.
You want to understand your industry and ensure your addressable market size is expanding. If it is not, consider diversification. Analyzing the structure and dynamics of your industry will help uncover new opportunities for growth.
Competitive Analysis & Advantage
What are we best at? What are our core competencies?
What characteristics of our organization enable us to meet our customer’s needs better than our competition can? What are we best at in our market and in the eyes of our customers?
Identify your key competitors and substitute products and do a SWOT analysis on each one.
Use this analysis to determine your competitive advantages and strategies to enhance and strengthen them.
Do you have the capacity and competencies to achieve your goals? Identify the skill sets needed to execute on the opportunities you’ve identified and to achieve the goals you have established. Do you have the human resources required to execute on your plan?
List your current team members and identify the skills sets you need to hire to achieve your goals. Include a timeline for on boarding.
Operations are what transform your goals and opportunities into reality. Identify the individual projects that comprise your larger goals and how these projects will be executed. Use project management tools Gantt and PERT charts to detail each initiative. Know when each project will start, what the budgets are, what the critical paths are, and who will lead them and be responsible for execution and completion.
The financial projections need to align with your aspirations. This is where each element is quantified, budgets created, and timelines established.
Use a financial model spreadsheet and NPV and IRR to assess the potential results for each opportunity you consider pursuing. These are your decision-making tools.
The financial projections map out the tactics in detail. This is the road map to implementation and execution.
Now you are ready to write your Executive Summary.
Review and revise your strategic plan during an annual planning session solely dedicated to focusing on this work. Update it regularly as results are gathered and you gain more clarity. You will not achieve the precise goals established in your strategic plan. The art is in making those goals aggressive but achievable. Research shows that you’ll come much closer to them versus if you didn’t plan at all. Its not about the plan, its about the planning.
Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.
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