Starting a project without a strategy is like trying to bake a cake without a recipe — you might have all the ingredients you need, but without a plan for how to combine them, or a vision for what the finished product will look like, you’re likely to end up with a mess. This is especially true when working with a team — it’s crucial to have a shared plan that can serve as a map on the pathway to success.
Creating a strategic plan not only provides a useful document for the future, but also helps you define what you have right now, and think through and outline all of the steps and considerations you’ll need to succeed.
What is strategic planning?
While there is no single approach to creating a strategic plan, most approaches can be boiled down to five overarching steps:
Define your vision
Assess where you are
Determine your priorities and objectives
Measure and evaluate results
Each step requires close collaboration as you build a shared vision, strategy for implementation, and system for understanding performance.
Building a strategic plan is the best way to ensure that your whole team is on the same page, from the initial vision, to the metrics for success, to evaluating outcomes and adjusting (if necessary) for the future. Even if you’re an expert baker, working with a team to bake a cake means having a collaborative approach and clearly defined steps, so that the end result reflects the goals you laid out at the beginning.
Here’s how to build and structure your strategic plan, complete with templates and assets to help you along the way.
1. Define your vision
Whether it’s for your business as a whole, or a specific initiative, creating a strategic plan means you’ll need to be aligned on a vision for success.
For example: We are going to revolutionize customer success by streamlining and optimizing our process for handling support tickets. It’s important to have buy-in across the board, so that all stakeholders know the overall objective and understand the roles they will play in realizing your goals.
Using a platform like MURAL, you can easily capture and organize your team’s ideas through sticky notes, diagrams, text, or even images and videos, allowing you to build actionable next steps immediately (and in the same place) through color coding and tagging.
This can be done in real-time or asynchronously, whether in person, hybrid, or remote. By leveraging a shared digital space, everyone has a voice in the process and room to add their thoughts, comments, and feedback.
The next step in creating a strategic plan is to conduct an assessment of where you stand, in terms of your own initiatives, as well as the greater marketplace. One of the most common ways to conduct a strategic assessment is a SWOT analysis.
What is a SWOT analysis?
A SWOT analysis is an exercise where you define:
Strengths: What are your unique strengths for this initiative or for this product? In what ways are you a leader?
Weaknesses: What weaknesses can you identify in your offering? How does your product compare to others in the marketplace?
Opportunities: Are there areas for improvement that would help differentiate your business?
Threats: Beyond weaknesses, are there existing on potential threats to your initiative that could limit or prevent its success? How can those be anticipated?
In order to realize your vision, what will you need to prioritize, and what specific objectives can you outline to accomplish your goals?
Once you’ve defined your vision and analyzed your current standing, you’ll be well positioned to start outlining and ranking your priorities, and the specific objectives tied to those priorities. This can take the form of brainstorming and ideation based on the takeaways from steps 1 and 2.
What are the specific steps necessary to accomplish your objectives? Who will be accountable? This is the stage where individuals or units within your team can get granular about how to achieve your goals, one step at a time.
It’s important to note that these may shift over time, as you launch and gather initial data about your project. For this reasons it’s key to:
Develop a plan that has clear metrics for success
Ensure that your plan is adaptable to changing circumstances
Outline clear roles and responsibilities, so it’s easy to right the ship or make small adjustments in a coordinated fashion
One of the more common ways to define tactics and metrics is to use the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) method. By outlining your OKRs, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking to accomplish, and have a framework for analyzing the results once you begin to accumulate relevant data.
Once your plan is set into motion, it’s important to actively manage (and measure) progress. Before launching your plan, settle on a means to measure success or failure, so that everyone is aligned on progress and can come together to evaluate your initiative at regular intervals.
Determine an interval at which to come together and go over results — this can take place weekly, monthly, or quarterly, depending on the nature of the project.
One of the best ways to evaluate progress is through Agile retrospectives (or retros), which can be done in real time, or asynchronously with a platform like MURAL, offering a shared digital space to gather and organize feedback.
Retrospectives are typically divided into three parts:
What went well
What didn’t go well
What opportunities are there for improvement
This structure is also sometimes called the ‘Rose, Thorn, Bud’ framework. By using this approach, team members can collectively brainstorm and categorize their feedback, making the next steps clear and actionable.
Another method for reviewing progress is the quarterly business review (QBR). Like the Agile retrospective allows you to collect feedback and adjust accordingly. In the case of QBRs, however, we recommend dividing your feedback into four categories:
Start (what new items should be launched?)
Stop (what items need to be paused?)
Continue (what is going well?)
Change (what could be modified to perform better?)
Using the above approach, your team can make room for new ideas within the existing strategic framework in order to track better to your longterm goals.
The beauty of the strategic plan is that it can be applied from the campaign level all the way up to organizational vision. Using the strategic planning framework, you build buy-in, trust, and transparency by collaboratively creating a vision for success, and mapping out the steps together on the road to your goals.
Also, in so doing, you build in an ability to adapt effectively on the fly in response to data through measurement and evaluation, making your plan both flexible and resilient.