The most effective application of strategic planning tools is in the context of a systematic strategic planning process.
These planning tools can be used at each stage of the corporate strategic planning process for gathering and interpreting required data and information. They may also be used in structuring conversations involved in deliberating on the data, and generating options to address issues surfaced. They also may used as aids in deciding strategies to address the most important strategic issues likely to impact performance of the organization as a whole.
However, a common and unhelpful misconception about corporate strategic planning is that it is highly sophisticated and complex. And so it requires many correspondingly sophisticated and advanced strategic planning tools.
Strategic planning is not rocket surgery!
People laboring under this misapprehension imagine the strategic planning process requires strategic planning methods such as elaborate computer modeling, and the use of other strategic planning tools or techniques such as experience curves, cross-impact analysis and directional policy matrices.
In other cases, the use of a particularly popular strategic planning tool almost becomes a substitute for the systematic strategic planning process. The strategic planning technique tail wags the strategic planning process dog!
Many of these more sophisticated techniques are not of much use. Few top managers think they are of much value either. I am not saying they may not work sometimes. Some do, some don't.
We are saying something else. I am going much further than that. If you are using these techniques then you are probably not doing corporate strategic planning at all. You may be doing business planning or marketing or human resource planning or one of those other types of planning with which corporate strategic planning is too often confused. Most of these are partial planning techniques, planning for parts or functions of an organization, as opposed to corporate planning, planning for the whole. They can be very important and very useful, in their place. You cannot run a larger complex organization in today's world without them. They are not corporate strategic planning.
If a management team is using these techniques, which are designed to help them sort out complex problems, then they are standing too close to their organization to be able to do corporate strategic planning. To do this effectively they need to stand much further back so they can see only the half-dozen things that really matter.
The whole idea in corporate planning is to study the forest, not the trees.
This is a mighty difficult thing for executives to do at the best of times and the more they use overly complex and advanced techniques the more difficult it will be for them. It is like using a magnifying glass looking for small clues Sherlock Holmes fashion. Rather they should look from further way, with binoculars or a telescope, so they can see the landscape in which their organization is operating, and focus on the right things to get the insights needed for a vision of possible futures.
Consider the life and death situation of surgery in operating theatres of hospitals. The popular image in the TV drama of the elaborate and sophisticated instruments and equipment belies the fact that the majority of operations are executed with a relatively few simple hand tools! In very many cases cutting in, stopping bleeding, cutting out, and closing up are achieved with just a handful of hand tools.
It is of course true that certain special problems require very special instruments and special equipment.
Similarly the majority of organizations can achieve an effective strategic plan with a few simple strategic planning tools.
Sometimes special situations call for more specialized strategic planning tools. And occasionally some specialist expertise may be required for some special study that may involve the use of more sophisticated strategic planning tools. This tends to be the exception rather than the rule.
We will highlight the few simple most often used strategic planning tools and give some introductory information on some of the more useful specialist techniques that may sometimes be called for.
The basic rule is to select strategic planning tools to suit the situation and their relevance to the stage of the strategic planning process.
No matter how fashionable particular strategic planning tools should not be allowed to dictate the process to the planning team.
Before we look at particular tools or strategic planning resources in relation to specific stages of the strategic planning process, there are some other matters to consider.
Some people can become management tools addicts. They may almost randomly accumulate tools. Such 'management tool junkies' are always trying the latest management fad… briefly, then moving on to the next big thing. These managers end up with a collection of rarely used items in their tool box.
Think of the strategic planning process as an assembly line with an appropriate strategic planning tool kit at each stage of the process. Each stage has only those very few tools needed for the tasks of that stage of the process of assembling the strategic plan.
At each stage also there may be job aids in the form of strategic planning tips, or checklists, which help people unfamiliar with the process, or for those situations that do not arise very often, which act as reminders of what to do when things are not routine.
Before we look at an array of strategic planning tools that may be drawn from during the process of strategic planning there are some other more general considerations.
This site is all about the importance of the strategic planning process as a core responsibility of corporate management.
Top management engagement of the right people, in the right kind of discussions, at the right time, focusing on the right data, and surfacing the few really crucial issues is what strategic planning is all about. Getting too detailed, and too sophisticated about the details can distract managers from the essential strategic planning tasks.
The growth industry of management tool development has tended to obscure the basics of the process and make it unnecessarily complicated. In contrast I am strongly suggesting that the systematic process of corporate strategic planning itself is the master tool for getting the job done, and not an expanding collection of strategic planning 'tools de jour'.
The strategic planning process is essentially quite simple
Strategic planning is simple, and that does not mean that it is necessarily easy.
To add complexity by adding every new tool that comes along focuses attention on the wrong things. Surfacing, agreeing, and addressing the really important strategic issues facing the organization is the hard work, and does not need to be made harder by having to learn the ins and outs of a whole warehouse full of strategic planning tools.
I am strongly warning against devoting too much effort into developing new strategic planning methods. It can become simply a pointless reinvention of the wheel, aiming for some spurious idea of 'relevance' and 'innovativeness' in strategic planning techniques, The result may be an undermining of the knowledge and experience inherent in established practices in the strategic planning process, and lower quality decision making in the process.
The 'over supply' of various strategic planning tools, methods and models makes it harder for managers to discern what is really useful, and may lead them to delegate too much of the strategic planning process to so-called experts in the use of particular tools and techniques. It may also devalue the knowledge and experience that managers in the specific organization can bring to the process.
Alternatively managers may become too enamored of a few techniques that take over from the more global view of strategic planning their real responsibility requires, Instead of delegating to outside experts or consultants they delegate to a tool or technique.
Given this background, I don't intend to try and cover every strategic planning tool, technique and tip that inhabits the jungle of management fad-land in great depth. Instead, what follows is an attempt to provide a framework for understanding how different models, techniques and methods can be used in relation to the strategic planning process explained and advocated here at simply-strategic-planning.com.
Before going any further, I will briefly restate this process, and some important aspects of it. Fuller explanation is available by using the menu at the left.
Strategic planning and the tools it employs have implications for and impacts on the organization as a whole as well as for particular groups and individual beneficiaries, and interest groups, including the participants in the process.
The process employed, while designed to be interesting and engaging, is not a game. The tools and techniques used for carrying parts of the process are not toys. The interests of those involved should not be put at risk through the use of untested or untried tools of indeterminate value. Tools should not be employed merely because they are the management fashion accessory of the month.
A robust replicable planning process, employing a small set of really relevant tools is needed so as to provide a confident basis for ongoing development of the strategic plan over successive iterations. Much of this site is devoted to helping you adopt such a strategic planning process.
See menu items at the left for more information.
The tools are selected and applied within the context of the process as required, and the process is not dictated by the tools. Too often a tool fetish can take over, and the planning process logic and discipline can be sidelined.
Data flows through the whole process, and influences the quality of thinking, discussion and decision making.
This means that the quality of data in terms of validity and reliability is vitally important. In some stages such as for forecasting, this does not mean a spurious obsession with third decimal point accuracy.
Records need to be kept of the handling of data through its importation into particular tools in the planning process and any other subsequent manipulation.
Steps must be taken to archive/store all datasets used in the process.
These aspects are fundamental to systematic treatment of data and replication of data management and analytic techniques over time.
In particular careful, systematic and consistent use of evidence and recording of assumptions and data sources are important for any modeling purposes.
A really fascinating book about an anything but fascinating tool is Atul Gawande's book about checklists.
A great master tool for strategic planning or any other activity is a checklist for checklists! See it here.
In this section of the site, we show how carrying out a particular stage in the strategic planning process can require data, judgments and/or one or more strategic planning tools, checklists or techniques.
Elsewhere on this site a generic set of stages associated with a systematic strategic planning process is presented and explained.
They follow the simple sequence of -
S-->P-->A-->D-->E shown here
A spade is a common or garden tool that is very useful. The strategic planning process outlined here as S-->P-->A-->D-->E is the primary or master tool, and other strategic planning tools are supplementary or complementary to its use.
The following list gives an overall guide to some possible tools relevant at each stage of this strategic planning process.
At each stage tools may be needed to carry out three broad types of action, as depicted in the simple '3D' arrow diagram above. These activities include-
Stage 1. Start - engagement and commitment
Stage 2. Purpose and target setting
Stage 3. Analyze and generate options
Stage 4. Decide and evaluate strategies
Stage 5. Execute strategies and monitor results
Additionally where special techniques may be called for or when an organization is particularly complex it may warrant specialist strategic planning staff. This may involve the creation of specialist strategic planning jobs, filled by people with specific strategic planning training.