Strategy Planning

Strategy Planning

“Strategy planning is messy” declared one CEO as a team member expressed a desire for a more linear approach.  The team member was frustrated, because he couldn’t see the end game.

The CEO went on to say, “It’s okay that it is messy.  We have to consider many alternatives and new information before we funnel down and select a few things to do.”  I find that when people embark on strategy planning, they want the process to be simple and linear.  Some want the answers to be obvious.  So why is strategy planning messy?

Contemplating the external factors that impact your business – gathering information and creating a shared base of knowledge

First of all, when your team starts its strategy planning journey, it should identify the topics worthy of research.  Once the team completes the reseach, they can make informed decisions about the course and direction of the company.  This research allows the team to make decisions based on facts, rather than on opinions and top-of-mind thinking.  Typically, information is collected about:

  • Core business segments – our customers
  • Competitors
  • Technology
  • Suppliers
  • Economic and Industry Trends
  • Regulations
  • Human resource availability
  • Potential new opportunities

Once each team member completes their research, they share it with the team.  So now each team member has a foundation for decision making

Still, even with this shared base of knowledge, people interpret information differently and give different weights to the information.  But with this base, your team needs to decide:

  • Which of our core businesses should get the most emphasis?
  • What opportunities should we pursue?
  • How can we enhance the way we differentiate ourselves in the market?
  • What do we need to develop internally to get where we want to go?

The team goes through many steps to sort out these questions

The team often drills down, make selections and then cycles back.  During a recent planning session, we started out reviewing research on 14 opportunities to significantly enhance the company’s growth.  Next, we developed a profile of an industry leader, looking out five to ten years.  Then we screened the opportunities, using our research and our vision of the industry leader as a backdrop.  We easily selected the top three opportunities – by a landslide!  Next, we discussed the three opportunities and it quickly became obvious that one was not as good as the others.  What was next? Just drill down on the two? No, it was not that easy.  After discussing the two, we found that we had two ways to pursue each one.  Thus, we were back up to four.  We then looked at the benefits and costs of each choice and we were able to come back to two.  Now each of the opportunities was well developed and the team agreed that these were the ones to focus on.

Was the process pretty?  No!

Many voiced frustrations during the journey, sensing that we would never get to a conclusion.  In the end, however, all the team members embraced the process.   They were surprised that the team come to a consensus and a clear direction as quickly as they did.  While the process was messy, when it came down to selecting top picks, the list narrowed down quickly.  During the final discussions, it was able to dig deep and get to the heart of the issue.  Good information enabled them to sort through what was important and to have a deep dive discussion on the key opportunities.  By the end of the meeting, everyone was firmly behind the topics selected and ready to develop successful action plans.

But we didn’t use all the information gathered!

Yes, this is often the case; but how do you know what is important when you start?  After researching certain topics, you may conclude that a topic will not impact the strategy for this round of planning.  Additionally, a topic may not be relevant, but it will spur discussion on another topic.  Hence, team members start thinking about it to see if it can have some value now or in future planning.

The hardest part of strategy planning is what you say “no” to 

As mentioned above, during strategy planning, you will consider a great deal of information and many options. You want to choose the options that best position your company for success.  During the life of your company, you will focus in different areas to achieve success.  For instance, say you are having difficulty meeting your delivery schedules or have issues with product quality.  While innovation may be fun, if you can’t successfully produce a product, all the innovation will go unnoticed.  Alternatively, your competition will notice it and copy it.  You may have to say “no” to some good ideas until your company is able to capitalize on its innovation.  This doesn’t mean you stop innovating.  It is simply a question of emphasis.  Sometimes you need to build the foundation for growth to occur.  Unfortunately, this sometimes makes strategy planning seem messy, as people don’t see things happening that are important. Making the hard decisions as to what must come first can cause a great deal of discussion and healthy disagreement.  Through these conversations the team selects the course and direction and the key strategic initiatives for future success.  Is fixing production fun?  Enhancing quality sexy?  If these aspects are not fixed, we may not have the platform to launch our innovative products and services.

Strategy Planning: Messy, but thorough

So, no, strategy planning is not necessarily a linear process.  It allows for ideas to come in from multiple sources.  It generates discussions about multiple options, often cycling around and discussing them again.  Then, the actual strategy summarizes what the team has discussed, the course and direction for the next 3-5 years for your core business segments, the new opportunities you want to pursue and what you need to develop internally to get where you want to go.  Then you take it down to tactics – what turns strategy into action:  what are the 6-10 key strategic initiatives the team would like to accomplish in order to move the strategy forward for the next 12 to 18 months.

If you have questions about strategic planning, please contact: Denise Harrison,

Do you think that Strategy Planning is messy?  Attend the Simplified Strategic Planning Seminar for more instruction on how to develop all aspects of Simplified Strategic Planning.

Author, Denise Harrison

Denise Harrison

Denise Harrison is a senior consultant for the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  She can be reached at

© Copyright 2018 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission

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