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How To Get Things Done – A Guide To Strategic Planning
A step-by-step program for creating a strategic plan and tactical plan guaranteed to help you achieve more of what you want to do.
You are following a strategy on the way to your vision. It doesn’t matter if it is revolutionary or evolutionary. You are on the road, dutifully steering your business in a direction of your own choosing. The important thing is that you have, in fact, chosen this course.
And, once you have made this choice, how will you implement this strategy? The answer is the same as answering the question “How do you climb Mount Everest?” One step at a time. The way you figure out your strategy is one step at a time—the trick, of course, is knowing what steps to take and in what order to take them. This article details an approach to developing a strategic and tactical plan.
Completion of the past
The first step in creating a strategic plan is to review and complete the past period. For the balance of this article, we’ll refer to that period as one year, although your planning horizon could be either longer or shorter. You complete the past for two reasons – to learn all you can from your previous actions, results and mistakes, and more importantly, so that what is left, whatever issues are left in your head, don’t be a burden anymore.
Answer the following questions:
What were your intentions, what were your intentions?
What have you set out to achieve?
Which goals have you actually taken action on and which ones have you just talked about?
Specifically, what did you actually accomplish?
How effective were you? What percentage of your goals have been achieved? For example, if your goal was $14 million in sales and you achieved $12 million, you were 85% effective. And so on.
What did you achieve that you didn’t intend to?
What were the unwanted side effects?
In your opinion, what did you do “wrong”?
What just skipped?
A useful practice is to write a detailed and objective history of the past year. Document the year’s events and results in journal form. Your records will be a big help – use your date book and your sales book to reconstruct this story.
Collect everything you’ve learned. Three questions help you at this stage. What have you done that has worked? In other words, what actions produced the results they intended to produce? What didn’t work – what actions (or lack of actions) produced something other than the desired result? And finally, what was missing – in terms of resources, skills, knowledge, attitudes, relationships, etc. – which if you had would have enabled you to be more successful?
At this point you should be ready to move forward without dragging the past with you.
Using your values, beliefs, vision and strategy as a guide – set the priority issues for the coming year. Assuming your resources are limited, you may not be able to impact all areas of the business at once. Take a look at the list below – in which of these areas do you most want to make a difference?
income and profits
technology and product quality
increase of new customers
community and global impact
Add other fields that are important to your business. Then choose where to focus your attention. Some priority questions to ask are: What particular area is important? By important I mean what will move you forward in the direction of your vision, goals, etc. Why is this field important? What will a change in a particular area offer the business (or specific categories of stakeholders)? What will this change not cost the business?
Once you’ve decided which areas to focus your efforts on (and which won’t get much attention), then set goals or measures for success. This is where things can get tricky. The standard approach to setting measures for success is to “look around” and try to figure out what is practical. “We did X last year, now we’re going to do X plus 10%.” Then think about what you know how to do. “Well, we know how to make an extra 10%. Good – that’s what we’ll be shooting for.”
The catch is that this approach will get you some pretty practical, incremental, average results. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with average scores, my guess is that’s not why you’re reading this article. To get exceptional and outstanding results, you need to go outside your normal limits and dream a little. Set your goals by considering what will quickly move you toward realizing your vision, what will quickly implement your strategy, and go from there. Set goals – set measures of success that will inspire you! Don’t think about how you will achieve the measures or goals before you set them. This will only limit your thinking.
Set measures and goals
Establish a clear set of measures for each focus area. In product development you can add two new products for your target country, or one new product that will enable you to penetrate a target customer segment. In Customer Satisfaction and Quality you can reduce your open customer incident time by three days, increase your customer satisfaction metrics from 7.3 to 9.0, or eliminate defects in your final product release. You can expand geographically to Canada, Mexico or the Northwest.
Employee retention and intellectual capital would be impacted by reducing turnover from 14% to 5%, providing 50% more training days for employees, and targeting an increase in patents held from 2 to 5. You can increase Penetration in Market, Revenue and Profits by adding 25% to your customer base, increasing your service revenue by 100%, and increasing your net profit margin to 23%.
Set a time frame for each measure and turn it into a goal. Total customers increased by 25% by September 30 is a clear target. Fits well at the end of a timeline.
You have measures, you have goals – now develop a plan to achieve them.
For each measure within an area, devise one or more initiatives that help you achieve your goal. Sometimes the initiatives are relatively simple, such as hiring a salesperson for the new Northwest territory. There may be alternative options such as contracting with a distributor instead of a local sales force. In that case, you should evaluate the appropriateness, costs, resource consumption, and likelihood of success of the various options before committing to a path.
Sometimes achieving the goal will require a series of initiatives, or parallel initiatives. Increasing your customer base by 25% may include direct mail, print and web advertising, two new sales representatives, a telephone campaign, and working with the dead customer file. Alternatively, it may involve the acquisition of a competitor, or perhaps the competing product line. Each of these initiatives then requires its own measures for success. And each must be evaluated in terms of suitability, costs and likelihood of success.
Action steps, milestones and timelines
When you’ve chosen the set of initiatives you’ll pursue, break each one down into action steps and deliverables, and put them all on a timeline. Include the acquisition of missing resources and skills in the timeline. Set regular milestones to keep the entire effort on track and have a way to signal when things are going off course.
Develop a tracking system and update it regularly and frequently. A large whiteboard or chart sheet attached to the wall can display your timeline, including the measures, milestones, and commitments made by various team members that determine what will be accomplished each tracking period. Project management software is useful for complex initiatives – it helps you visualize and calculate “dependencies”. If you use it, report it by email to all participants.
The Merlin method
Some of the areas and measures of your success you don’t know about – you just have no idea how to achieve the results. In this case, you can use the Merlin method. Merlin, you may recall, was a wizard and prophet who served as an advisor to King Arthur. What you may not know is that Merlin didn’t really foresee the future. Legend has it that Merlin was born old and lived his life growing younger. He was simply recounting events that had already happened to him.
The Merlin method is based on the same principle. Imagine that you are standing at the end of a long timeline – you have already achieved your specific goal. Imagine or imagine, how did you do it? What actions have you taken? What resources did you provide? Whose help did you seek?
Do these questions step by step starting from the bottom. What was the last significant thing you had to do just before reaching the goal? Put it on your timeline. And just before that, what were you supposed to do? And just before that? And so on, getting closer and closer in time, until the present.
If you are taking a family trip, imagine yourself at your destination. What did you do just before you got there? You exited US 10 at exit 54. And before that? You have exited US 15 at Riverside after driving 67 miles. And before that, you put the kids in the car. Before that you put the luggage in the trunk. Before that you pack. Before that you would go online and get directions. And so on. Working backwards from the realization of the goal, you have developed a timeline, complete with milestones – working from your accumulated knowledge and wisdom, but not necessarily from your conscious mind. The Merlin Method can be a very powerful way to generate a series of tactical actions to realize your business strategy.
For a reality check, think ahead. If you add the necessary resources, skills, and knowledge, take each action in turn, and reach each milestone, is it likely to produce the results you set out to produce?
You can even use the Merlin Method to generate alternative plans to evaluate against your other approaches.
Using one or more of these methods, you have developed a strategic and tactical plan—a comprehensive set of strategic priorities, measures, goals, and initiatives, along with action plans, milestones, resource requirements, and timelines—to built on your strategy and designed to realize your vision.
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