As I transition my career these days to the strategy execution space, I’m amazed at how often I’ve run into organizations of all shapes and sizes who don’t have a viable strategic plan.  At first they will tell me that they have a plan but as we talk about it, they admit that their plan is pretty weak or they really are not happy with it.

The idea that they really don’t have a viable plan is fairly common. But the second comment is quite interesting: they have a plan but don’t like it.

So, what don’t they like?  Most often, the answer is that they dreamed to big or too far out to the future and ended up with a plan that was unmanageable

I heard someone speak recently about strategic planning and they offered the advice to stop planning so far out. Stop the traditional approach to strategic planning, they suggested, and start thinking more in terms of short sprints. I like this concept. Take your dreams, regardless of how big and how far out they are, and break them down into short sprints.  This is the concept, of course, of agile thinking and managing: take the big picture and break it into small sections. Meet on a regular basis to discuss and assess progress and adjust the plan as you move forward.

Many will tell us that strategic planning further out than two or three years is a waste of time.  I would temper that by saying that it depends on your industry but I am hard-pressed to think of many industries where this might not apply. The oil and gas industry couldn’t be planning out further than maybe even six months. Any business delivering to a market that is driven by politics south or north of the border would be hard-pressed to plan further than two years out. The technology industry is changing so fast that I would be surprised to see a strategic plan that goes out further than three years, if that.

All of these companies must have a vision of the future. But the vision doesn’t necessarily need to turn into a fully detailed, scoped strategic plan.

The suggestion here is to plan your strategy in sprints. Take the vision or the dream and break it out into three or six month sprints. What does the future look like in six months?  What do we need to get done to make it happen?  What resources do we need to make it happen? 

In six months time, we can sit down and assess our progress.  If we are tracking well to our ultimate goals, then let’s keep going. But with all the changes and potential disruptions out there, we should be ready to adjust the plan and reassess our ultimate goals and objectives.

Strategic planning in sprints should be an option for everyone. Keep us focused, keep us driving to attainable goals and hold the course only when it takes sense.

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