Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Importance of a Plan

Imagine you are taking a road trip, but have not taken the time to pack, fill your car up with gas, or check a map to see where you are going or how to get there.  With no plan or preparation, the likelihood of a successful road trip (or a smooth one, at least) becomes slim.  While the analogy is not perfect, the lack of planning within an organization is similar.  Who wants to drive sixty miles out of town, realize that they are heading in the wrong direction and then realize that they are out of gas?  Likewise, it is not productive for an organization to work hard, realize that they are heading in a direction that they do not want to go, and/or realize that do not have enough resources to accomplish what they set out to accomplish.  This is where strategic planning comes in.    

Strategic planning is an important process for organizations to work through in order to evaluate where they are, and determine where they are going as well as how to get there.  Through the strategic planning process, organizations are able to develop a road map to direct its steps.  It gives organizations the opportunity to assess the current internal and external environments and move forward accordingly. Furthermore, it allows organizations to be proactive instead of reactive.  This creates cohesion within the organization, gives each person within the organization a clear direction, and increases the likelihood of the organization being successful.    

The strategic planning process is just that…a process.  It takes time and there are several components to an effective strategic planning process:

Decide to Create a Strategic Plan

First, there must be an agreement within the organization to go through a strategic planning process as well as how that process will take place.  What will this process look like?  Who will create the strategic plan?  What other people will be involved and to what extent?  Organizations typically have many stakeholders, and it is important to get buy in as well as knowledge and input from these key people who will be helping to implement and/or be impacted by this plan.

Determine Vision

In order to be successful, and organization must know what success looks like.  It must determine what the purpose or the mission of the organization is and any guiding principles that the organization will uphold.  With the focus of a mission, the organization will have a clear direction to go in the remainder of the planning process. 

Assess Internal and External Environment

Before any strategies or plans can be laid, the current environment must be assessed.  This is done through a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis.  What is the organization doing well or not well?  What resources are available?  What resources are needed?  What is the current political environment?  What is the public view of the organization?  What are the needs of the community?  Once this assessment takes place, the organization will be better equipped to create a plan that will be successful within its current environment.

Develop Strategic Issues

From here, an organization can develop strategic issues.  These are critical issues and challenges that impact the organization’s mission, products or services, stakeholders, and/or processes.  It is important to determine which issues are most important to address as well as to assess the probability of the issue being successfully addressed. 

Develop Strategy and Plans

Now it is time to determine how the organization is going to address each strategic issue.  Steps must be determined and put in place in order to reach the desired outcomes.  It is through these strategies and plans that the organization is able to be on the same page in regards to how the goals of the organization will be reached. 


Evaluation is a crucial element of the strategic planning process.  Without intentionally evaluating the effectiveness of the plan, it is difficult to determine what is working and what is not.  Evaluation should take place on a recurring basis and components that are being effective should remain, but components that are ineffective should be changed. 


Howard, Leslie (2015).  Personal Communication

Renz, David O. and Associates (2010).  Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

“Strategic Planning Process.”  United Way of Dane County.  Retrieved from