Types of Strategic Planning

In Strategic Planning by Geoff Burns

So you want to move your organization forward, and you think that strategic planning will make everything better. Well, if you do it right, it could. Notice I did not say it will.

Strategic planning is something that typically takes a significant amount of experience to become proficient. In many organizations, the directors may have some experience in the business world of strategic planning, but the non-profit world can be very different.

There are many differences in the approach to strategic planning. The most common ways to plan are issues, goals, holistic, and scenario planning. The issues approach is often used when there are critical issues that need addressed and the setting of goals will have to wait until later. Frequently, lack of resources and time constraints dictate a issues approach to planning.

Goal based planning is probably the most common form of strategic planning. In one way or another, everyone has done some type of goals based planning, whether it is building a business, planning for college, saving for retirement, etc. The goals based approach is focused on a desired outcome at some point in the future, ie. 1-5 years. The entire planning process is designed to ensure achievement of the set goal. Sometimes the goals come from the mission, vision, or values. Unlike issues based planning, the organization should have no real critical issues to face in the foreseen future, and the operational environment should be stable.

Holistic planning is often thought as not planning at all. Many people find it counter-intuitive to let organizations “self organize.” This approach is one of emerging systems. Traditionalists will say that planning is linear, that is, a particular sequence must be followed if we are to achieve success. The more natural or “holistic” approach which is growing in its use, is to focus on the values and the vision while not worrying about the process. This process is more open to discussions with no defined time line for achieving success. The holistic approach is particularly beneficial when working with large, highly diverse groups which are focused on the what as opposed to the how.

Scenario planning is a technique from which the Shell Oil company is credited for developing. Scenario planning is considered a negative plan since the plan is derived from a worst case scenario mind set. Scenario planning is not concerned with finding out what the best and worst case scenarios for an organization are, rather they are designed to provide swift guidance for an organization in the event that such a scenario or something similar comes to pass. This type of planning is often used when organizations struggle to create a tangible vision, or when the operational environment has become relatively unstable.

Before you start your plan, you need to find out why you are considering a strategic plan. Is it routine, or is it out of necessity. Will it be met with open ears, or will there be resistance. Why? Do you want a written plan? Anyone can come up with a plan. Successful organizations know how to select the right type of plan to best fit there needs.

For a reference on strategic planning check out this book by John Bryson. It can be a bit dry, but the information is very good especially if you couple it with the workbook.

You can also see a good description of the strategic planning process Here