It's a new year. Many clients towards the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 have been looking for help building roadmaps and strategic plans for the future.
What is a Strategic Plan?
A strategic plan is a timeline-based set of objectives, measurements of those objectives, and the work/tactics to be deployed in order to achieve those objectives. There are many frameworks for strategic planning. From gantt charts to agile methodologies to varying ways of setting goals. In my experience, the simpler the better.
Having spent many years working with teams to set AND achieve goals across timelines ranging from 30 days to 5 years, I've developed some best practices that will not only result in a strategic plan that is believable and achievable, but also help get your teams aligned to the organization's top level values and imperatives.
Why Should I Care About Strategic Planning?
A plan with clear goals create clarity, clarity empowers performance:
Performance management is a LOT easier with clear goals and an agreed to plan
Performance can go from clunky to high speed and low drag with clear goals and an associated plan to achieve them
Good intentions & hard work can do a lot, but clear priorities grease the wheels
High performing cultures, teams and individuals want to be held accountable
The bottom line is that clarity reduces friction and confusion. Imagine watching a sports game where none of the players understood how to score points. Madness would ensue on the playing field. You don't want this to be happening daily in your organization.
Strategic Plan Elements
Seat your goals. Ensure your goals tie to the organization's values, principles, and imperatives. I like to use the Objectives and Key Results framework. It's pretty simple, and pretty broadly known.
OBJECTIVES - I propose a slightly different “SMART” goal definition
Simple & Clear — If it can’t be understood on first read, it’s not simple enough
Measurable — You can’t have the KRs if your goal is not measurable
Aggressive but Achievable — Research shows 75% achievement is ideal
Reviewable — If you can’t verify this goal, it’s pretty hard to achieve it
Time-bound — Due dates and milestones
KEY RESULTS - “That which can’t be measured can’t be improved”
Metrics should be simple not convoluted
Helpful to have metrics that can be monitored over time, you want to know if you’re making progress in real time
PROJECTS - The work that needs done to achieve your OKRs
Accountability: When everyone is accountable, nobody is accountable. Clear owners of project deliverables.
Definition of Done: Each project or work effort will have an agreed to and clearly stated definition of done
Acceptance Criteria: Each project should have clear and agreed to acceptance criteria that will define the scope of the project work
Dependencies: Identifying dependencies in work is a key element of a good strategic plan.
Timebox: Work should have clear deadlines and we a clear timeframe for teams to work within to define their work efforts
Estimating Effort: This is to be done by the teams expected to do the work, not “the boss”. This allows the teams and organization to then look at the cumulative effort of a given time box and determine if it’s achievable.
Setting your plan up with a starting point of the organization's top tier values or imperatives will create an important through line all the way to individual team member's work. Everyone moving towards the org's imperatives is critical for clarity
Following the Plan
Building the plan is, not surprisingly, the easy part. Executing on it is where the real work begins. Often times teams put a ton of time into planning and then that plan basically sits on a shelf somewhere, never to be revisited again. I get it, the day-to-day takes over. Priorities change, there are new fires to put out. So how do you keep up with the plan?
You have to have a transparent follow-up process that reviews progress towards your OKRs often and with the right stakeholders. This drives accountability and makes sure you catch dependencies, roadblocks or projects that are lagging before your entire plan gets off the rails.
A clear cadence of updates to the progress on your projects and where you stand on achieving your OKRs is critical, and also allows your plan to be adaptable as things change.