Sue King
Independent Consultant

This is the second article describing the Strategic Planning Process—a simple, effective method to keep the future in the forefront. This article describes the basic method of evaluating various entities against the Strategic Framework (described in the first article) and various benefits your organization can derive from using this process.

As you may recall from the first article, the Strategic Framework consists of (1) a vision, (2) a mission, (3) defined “short term” and “long term” strategic timeframes, (4) 5–7strategic objectives, and (5) 3–5 optional key characteristics of the organization. The strategic objectives and key characteristics are derived from the vision, the mission, and essential characteristics you deem crucial to the organization. You use the strategic objectives and the key characteristics to assess various entities in each of the strategic timeframes.

Once the Strategic Framework is established, it is a relatively simple matter to assess the work activities of the organization against the framework and determine what, if any, changes need to be made to the current work portfolio. Each significant work initiative/project, either product or process, should be assessed periodically against all of the strategic initiatives and key characteristics. The purpose of the assessment is to determine how the work initiative aligns with each strategic objective and key characteristic, not to assess the progress toward completion of the work initiative.

Choose a numerical scoring range that allows you to see the differences in positive and negative results and different levels of progress. An example of a scoring scale is shown below.

+5   much, much easier (to achieve the objective/maintain the characteristic)
+3   substantially easier…
+1   a little easier…
  0    no effect
 -1   a little more difficult (to achieve the objective/maintain the characteristic)
 -3   substantially harder…
 -5   much, much more difficult…

Score each initiative against each strategic objective by asking the question “Does the initiative make it easier or harder to achieve the objective in the short/long term?” You may or may not get different scores for the different timeframes.

Score each initiative against each key characteristic by asking the question “Does the initiative make it easier or harder to maintain the characteristic in the short/long term?”

Use a spreadsheet to aggregate the results. Place the strategic objectives and key characteristics as the column headers and use the individual work initiatives as the row headers. Place the score in the appropriate spreadsheet element (see below). Do not total scores because positive and negative scores will cancel each other out.

Strategic Objective (1) Strategic Objective (2) Key Characteristics (1)
Initiative(A) Score(st)/Score(lt)* Score(st)/Score(lt) Score(st)/Score(lt)
Initiative(B) Score(st)/Score(lt) Score(st)/Score(lt) Score(st)/Score(lt)
New Practice Score(st)/Score(lt) Score(st)/Score(lt) Score(st)/Score(lt)
New SO Score(st)/Score(lt) Score(st)/Score(lt) Score(st)/Score(lt)

*Score(st) means score for the short term timeframe
Score(lt) means score for the long term timeframe

Once all of the work initiatives have been scored, look for trends in the results to guide you in modifying your plans for the future. Use the results to assist you in determining whether or not a work initiative is sufficiently aligned with your framework overall or key to one or more initiatives/characteristics. If you have one or more strategic objectives that are not covered by any work initiatives, brainstorm with the team on what new work initiatives need to be established. Use the assessment to determine whether certain work initiatives are so key they should be accelerated and, possibly, staffed and/or funded more aggressively. If you find a work initiative that does not contribute significantly or positively, you should consider eliminating it and substituting something that perhaps is more aligned strategically in the short term, long term, or both.

The assessment process can be performed by the total team leadership, by department, by management, or a combination of these, providing the assessment team understands the Strategic Framework and is trained in the assessment process. It is ideal to conduct a meeting with the assessors to reconfirm the entire framework and to kick off the hopefully ongoing process of assessing existing and future work initiatives against the framework. Explain the assessment process and have the entire team score two of your current work initiatives. Depending on the number of initiatives to be assessed, you may choose to then subset the assessment process to various subgroups. Try to have at least two or three people assess each initiative with appropriate dialogue. You should find that this process is very effective in giving each assessor the opportunity to express his/her view and in encouraging dialogue to gain a consensus in scoring. Try to keep the discussion brief for any given scoring. You may find it useful to keep a brief summary of each scoring rationale, especially if you plan to use the process on a continuing basis, as a means of retaining the logic to help the reassessment process go faster. On occasion, you may need to document a minority view score if an assessor has a strongly held opposing view. (The initial training is often much more effective when conducted by a trained facilitator.)

Depending on the definition of your strategic timeframes and the volatility of your strategic framework and/or work initiatives, you will need to periodically perform reassessments. Given today’s rapid results orientation, I recommend annual assessments with quick reviews semi-annually, particularly if there is significant movement in either your work portfolio or your strategic direction. Use the process to assess new work initiatives, other potential strategic objectives, new practices, and competitive actions. Continuous use of this strategic planning process will enable you to steer more effectively toward the long-term goals while balancing these with short term needs. Planned changes will be seen as more orderly and should be more accepted. Use these assessments as a time to reconvene the team to review your group’s strategic plan. You will find the results useful in reporting to executive management as well.

(For information on additional variations, facilitation of this process, or availability of Joel Barker’s Strategy Matrix®, a comprehensive automated tool for this process, contact the author.)