The two biggest mistakes people make when writing strategic plans are:
- Making them too broad, vague, and unmeasurable
- And, filling them with irrelevant information
Here’s how to avoid those pitfalls.
First, remember that you exist to support your institution. The very first step you should take before writing your strategic plan is to collect external strategic goals. Get them for your overall institution, your parent organization, and your top client and prospect departments. Learn these, keep them handy, and refer to them often. Use them as your compass in directing what you do. Any objectives or services you provide, which do not impact one or more of these goals are tactical rather than strategic.
Tactical activities can be valuable, but they do not belong in a strategic planning document. Tactical activity examples include in-sourcing or ancillary services offered because you possess the capabilities. These might defray costs by filling under-utilized resources but would be abandoned if those resources became necessary for strategically relevant work. Always provide the test of how any goal, objective, or service satisfies your customers’ or bosses’ strategic needs.
There are many different strategic plan templates, but the one I like contains five sections:
- An Executive Summary, listing your key strategic objectives, targets, and investment needs. This is for those people who will never read more than one page of your document. You know who they are.
- An Operational Overview, containing your mission statement, the services, and value you provide, and things like size, revenue, profitability, and so forth. Most of this probably comes from your operational plan. Include it for the benefit of readers who don’t know as much as they should about you. You know who they are as well.
- Supported Strategic Objectives: This a list of the institutional, organizational, and client objectives your operation supports. Just list each one along with a short description of how you assist it. This list creates understanding and buy-in for the value you provide.
- Your Strategic Objectives: I like to break this section into three parts.
- A paragraph describing who you are now, including the services you currently provide and the value you deliver to your institution.
- An overview paragraph about who you will become in five years, describing your transformation in size, services, utilization, and institutional value.
- And, the primary section of the document: Your strategic objectives. List each objective with:
- A meaningful title
- A brief explanation
- Impacted corporate and client objectives
- Measurable Key Process Indicators (KPIs)
- Current KPI values and targets for each year
- Any investments and milestones required to achieve it
- Remember that you are identifying your big plans. You should have four to ten strategic objectives. If you have more, then you’re thinking at levels which are too low. I like to group them into the following three categories, but go ahead and use whatever makes sense for your operation:
- Maintaining existing business
- Growing existing business
- Adding new strategic services
- The final section is your supporting information. Suppose that you set a target of doubling your volume over the next five years. This is where you provide the backup data for how you arrived at those figures. Perhaps you compared yourself to similarly-sized in-plants in your industry. Maybe you learned the impact well-designed online storefronts could have on client utilization. Perhaps you have tracked the number of large format jobs going outside and calculated the savings of bringing them in-house. Some of you might not need this section, while others will be grilled about it. Put in as much detail as you deem appropriate, but keep it at the end. Remember that the main point of this document is to define your objectives and measurement criteria. This information is just supplemental data.
So, how do you do this? Well, everyone is going to go about this using their style. But I recommend these general steps:
- Gather and learn your institutional and client strategic objectives.
- Challenge your thinking. This document is not an operational plan where you are looking inward at your shop. It is a strategic plan where you are looking outward to define what you need to do to support the changing needs of your institution. Your objectives will probably be broader than printing but should remain focused enough to be useful. Be honest about who you are, what you do, and the value you bring. I find that performing a SWOT and a PACE analysis to be eye-opening and extremely helpful.
- Write, edit, review, and polish your plan. You don’t need pretty pictures, but the quality and professionalism of the writing and presentation sets the tone for the content.
- Present your plan. This document is not just for you. Consider it to be a contract between you and your management. In short, you’re saying, “if you provide these investments in our operation on this schedule, then we will deliver this value to your business objectives.” They may disagree with either a direction or an investment requirement, causing you to revise your objectives. But after you’ve achieved sign-off they will understand what you do and where you intend going. Just as importantly, they will have tacitly agreed that they expect your shop to be around in five years.
- Implement your plan and review it. You have worked hard on developing a meaningful plan. Don’t waste that effort by forgetting about it in a desk drawer. Implement these steps and review them with your team and with your bosses every year. Measure those KPIs and report on how closely you met them. Revise your plan after each review based upon the past year’s results, and extend it by a year. You’ll find that revising and extending strategic plans are far less painful than writing fresh ones. And, again, your management will be signing up that they expect you to be reporting to them for five more years. It’s a win all the way around.
So, that is what an effective strategic plan contains. You will probably figure out that you also need sales plans to achieve the annual objectives of your five-year strategic plan. And, while you might know how to perform a SWOT analysis, I’m sure that you’ve never even heard of PACE analysis. But we can discuss these in a future blog.
Greg Cholmondeley is President of PRINTelligence Consulting, which provides workflow and business enhancement analysis, advice, and recommendations for in-plants and commercial printers. He has been in the production printing industry for over 35 years and written strategic and market attack plans for companies like Xerox, Océ, Ricoh, PODi, and Caslon.