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a 5-step guide to the strategic planning process (+ tips for success)

by | published on august 23, 2023 | 10 min read
<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >a 5-step guide to the strategic planning process (+ tips for success)</span>

enterprises spend significant time, effort, and money on the strategic planning process. and yet, an overwhelming number of business strategies fail

so after weeks or months of hard work, you unveil a strategic plan with elaborately crafted long-term goals. if it’s like most strategic plans, at best, the plan might gather dust in the cloud. at worst, the plan confuses, frustrates, and divides teams.

but that doesn’t mean you should scrap strategic planning. in fact, the process is vital for helping companies figure out how to get from where they are now to where they want to go. but for a company strategy to excel, strategic planning has to be carried out intentionally across the entire org. 

unfortunately, if your strategic plan looks more like a beautiful vision board of your end destination—without a concrete and aligned plan detailing how to get there—chances are you’ll never reach your goals.

the right path starts by creating a strong, actionable strategic plan that everyone is on board with so it doesn’t get forgotten with time.

what is strategic planning?

strategic planning lays out what you would like the business to look like and how you plan to get there. 

think of strategic planning like mapping out a cross-country road trip. first, you have to decide on the final destination. then you have to plan the route you’ll take to get to that destination—asking questions like: 

  • which route has the stops you want to make along the way? 
  • which is the safest route that avoids poor road conditions? 
  • which route will help you get to your destination on time? 

the route you choose is your strategic business plan. 

a step-by-step guide to the strategic planning process

effective strategic planning doesn’t happen overnight. through a series of detailed steps, your organization achieves its goals over time. and for this strategy to be successful, your entire org has to be involved in the process. 

1. evaluate the current state of the business

for a clear vision of the business's direction in the next few years, you have to evaluate where you are now. 

atlassian recommends a swot analysis, which takes a look at four things:

  • strengths: what is your company doing well? and what competitive advantage does it have over others?  
  • weaknesses: what are the areas of your business that could use improvement? what do you lack that competitors have? 
  • opportunities: are there new opportunities in the market that your business can take advantage of? 
  • threats: are there potential hurdles your business may encounter in the near or distant future that you need to be prepared for? are there any competitors that might emerge and jeopardize your market share? 

check out atlassian’s swot analysis example to get started. 

2. determine business objectives

once you’ve finished your swot analysis, you can use the findings to determine the best objectives for the company strategy. these are the long-term goals your org will work toward for the foreseeable future.  

but these goals have to be actionable. break down your action plan into concrete organizational goals for each quarter of the coming year that follow the smart goal-setting framework

    • specific: your goal has to specifically outline what you're hoping to achieve and the steps you'll take to get there.
    • measurable: your goal has to be numerically measurable so you have the metrics to track progress, celebrate milestones, and know when the goal has been achieved. this is the number you base your key performance indicators (kpis) on. 
    • achievable: your goal has to be realistic and attainable. 
    • relevant: your goal has to be relevant to what your company actually needs at this time.   
  • time-bound: your goal has to have a designated time frame and deadline by which it should be met. 

this strategic framework will help you set company goals that are actually achievable and move you toward your larger vision in baby steps.

say you’re hoping to improve customer retention. a smart goal would be something like: 

decrease company churn rate by x% by the end of q4 in 2023. to achieve this, we will run customer satisfaction surveys to determine areas for improvement and build a knowledge base to better support customers (and encourage usage). customer engagement is key to retaining customers, which will help us maintain profitability.  

3. map out the strategic plan

with clear company objectives, it’s time to map out the strategic plan. this will be your blueprint for achieving the business goals you set. 

most strategic plans include the following basic points:

  • a company description (your elevator pitch)
  • your organization’s mission statement
  • your value and vision statements
  • an analysis of your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (aka the swot analysis we mentioned earlier)
  • an analysis of the current internal and external environments and how they each affect your company
  • your business goals
  • your action plan to achieve those goals

a work management tool (like trello) can function as a planner to help you map out your strategic plan. with this strategic planning template, you can break down your strategic objectives into specific deliverables, then explain the steps you’ll take each quarter to help you get there.

screenshot of trello's strategic planning template

this trello strategic planning template lets you plan out what it will take each quarter to achieve the goals set for your company. 

within each card in the q1 column, you can break down quarterly goals even further—identifying the general actions different departments need to take to make progress toward each goal.

then you can tag team leads and the person responsible into cards so that they know the goals and deliverables they’re responsible for.

the end result is your strategy map for success. 

4. roll out and adopt the plan org-wide

the strategic plan is finalized, and the strategy execution can begin. it’s time to launch the plan across your company and start working toward those carefully mapped-out goals. here are some best practices to keep the momentum going on your strategic plan: 

  • host an all-hands meeting to officially roll out the strategic plan with specifics—including goals, timelines, and how it will be implemented. follow that up with an office hours session where team members have the opportunity to ask questions about the plan. 
  • tie everything you’ll be working on back to the strategic plan. for example, if you’re building a new location, elaborate on how this effort fits into the business plan and why it needs to happen now. 
  • get all your teams aligned on the strategic plan. offer a detailed breakdown of what role each team member will play in the strategy—so they are clear on exactly what they’re responsible for. and regularly check in with each team to offer senior leadership support. 

5. assess progress and make updates to the plan

the strategic planning process doesn’t end at implementation. in order to actually follow through on the strategy, it’s important to regularly track progress and make updates to the plan as needed.  

while regular, clear communication is a great way to monitor team progress against your organization’s goals, you can also use your usual work management tools to stay informed. 

in trello, for example, teams can tag cards on their boards with the strategic goal the work aligns to. then you can sort cards per label and use the dashboard view to see how much of each team’s day-to-day work is rolling back up to your company’s strategic plan.

with the dashboard view, your progress data is presented visually through charts and graphs that make decisions around updates to the strategy simple. 

screenshot of trello's dashboard view

the trello dashboard view allows you to see work progress across your org in organized charts and graphs to simplify strategic planning decisions. 

you can regularly check your teams’ dashboards to keep a temperature check on goals. 

say you look at a pie chart on the dashboard that shows progress on tasks tied to specific strategic goal labels. there you find that employees are prioritizing some goals at the expense of others. you can bring that up at the next team meeting and help them reprioritize to focus on tasks that need attention.  

you might also discover that team members are getting caught up in routine work that doesn’t make progress against strategic initiatives. from there, you can work with their managers on how to take some tasks off their plates.

or these insights may just show you that it's time to update the strategic plan based on the goal progress data. if you realize that an initiative isn’t progressing as quickly as you anticipated, you may have to modify timelines or set more short-term goals to reach the finish line. 

tips to make your strategic plan successful

your strategic plan is now set and in motion. but for the plan to be successful, you have to ensure teams actually make meaningful progress toward end goals in their day-to-day work. 

here are some tips that can help: 

get buy-in from team members

the first step to making sure a strategic plan is actually implemented is to get buy-in from employees when you set each department’s quarterly directions. of course, leadership will likely decide on the company’s roadmap without having its hundreds—or thousands—of employees weigh in. but when it comes to deciding how different departments can help reach those goals, employees should be involved in brainstorming—for two good reasons.

first, engaging employees in the strategic planning process has consistently shown better results than simply mandating tasks from the top down. according to gartner, using an open-source change management strategy—where employees are actively involved in designing change processes—can increase your chances of succeeding by up to 24%. (involving employees in deciding the processes of your change management strategy can also increase employee engagement by up to 38%.) 

second, since many employees are also on the frontline of your business, involving them in strategic decision-making at the brainstorming stage can help you test assumptions about your strategy. considering that 83% of company strategies don’t succeed because of wrong assumptions, this step is critical. as leaders climb the ladder, they can often become removed from customers’ day-to-day requests, feedback, and struggles. 

make frontline employees active contributors in developing your strategy implementation plans. host strategy brainstorming sessions with each department in which team members have a voice in how they’ll contribute to each goal. this will offer opportunities for you to test your assumptions and brainstorm with colleagues who are actually dealing with these issues daily.

communicate early and often

just as it takes sales reps eight touchpoints before a prospect finally takes action and sets a meeting—you must keep strategic goals and initiatives top of mind for employees. far too many companies will hand over an outsized check to a consulting company for a new strategy, only to poorly communicate it to employees and let it fade into the background.

to make sure your strategic plan’s initiatives are getting prime time in employees’ workdays, keep a plan document with concrete tasks and deadlines. after a team settles on how they’ll achieve a quarterly goal, that project should be broken down into tasks and documented, too. a work management tool, like trello, can help. 

with trello’s project management board, it’s easy to outline specific deliverables, research needs, and lay out tasks with relevant stakeholders tagged and deadlines set.

trello’s timeline view can also be a helpful tool to use in this case. the timeline view lets you view all cards on a board on a timeline, which you can toggle to monthly, quarterly, or yearly views (depending on your needs). this lets you plan backward in order to meet deadlines and ensure goals are being met.

screenshot of trello's timeline view

trello’s timeline view shows you cards in an organized timeline that can be viewed by month, quarter, or year. 

but don’t stop at simply putting together a project board. have teams regularly talk through strategic initiatives, opportunities, and roadblocks during daily or weekly team standups, and add these initiatives to your team-wide and company-wide meetings and updates. with everyone on board and consistent reminders of teams’ strategic priorities, it’ll be easier to meet your goals come year-end.

unlock the teams’ capacity to tackle new goals

last—but certainly not least—it’s important to look at employees’ schedules and clear out room for them to tackle new strategic initiatives. if you treat teams like they’re at a buffet and simply add more to their plates, you risk having tasks slip through the cracks or harming employees’ wellbeing.

if team members already have plates full of their usual projects and tasks, they won’t have the capacity to make progress against your new strategic objectives. make sure managers are addressing employees’ individual workloads in one-on-one meetings and that priorities are discussed. (the dashboard view mentioned earlier is also good for this type of team management.) 

if non-essential work can be paused until later in the year, do so. if any routine tasks—such as email follow-ups, inbox monitoring, or project updates—can be automated, consider layering automation into teams’ daily workflows. according to automation anywhere, that simple act could free up to three hours a day for your average employee.

stay focused on initiatives that matter with trello

implementing a new strategy is never easy, and it takes alignment all the way from the top tiers of leadership down to your frontline employees. 

hiccups and setbacks are natural as you figure out how to steer your ship from point a to point b as a company. after all, when a ship is set off course by just a couple of degrees, it can end up meaning thousands of miles. 

but with strong communication, engagement, and strategic management practices that allow you to better track progress, you can make sure that your strategic plan functions as a compass to your destination.

good or bad, we’d love to hear your thoughts. find us on twitter (@trello)!

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