What Goes Wrong with Strategic Plans

What Goes Wrong with Strategic Plans

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2527-3.ch005
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The concern of this chapter is to review what has been said about difficulties that occur with strategic planning, and in particular, the problems the implementers have when working with the planning document. There are, on the one hand, complaints of a voluminous and complex document, and on the other hand, problems that the document is too informal. Because strategic planning is itself a large project, then problems associated with projects that might have a similar bearing on strategic planning are also considered.
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The previous two chapters reviewed definitions for strategic planning and related planning terms, and the arguments for and against organisational strategic planning (OSP). The conclusion to the exploration of the spectrum of approaches to planning and terminology being used was identifying the need to separate the formulation of strategic initiatives from the development of the strategy implementation plan. Once top management have determined the strategic direction for the organisation and the goals to be aimed for, it is necessary to formulate a strategic plan for the way those goals are to be achieved.

The review of strategic planning should also incorporate the functional strategic plan for strategic information systems planning (SISP), which has a more systematic and formal set of procedures for the planning process. These procedures (methodologies) are investigated in chapter 6 to evaluate what they might offer the strategic planning process that would improve the documentation, the chapter will also discuss any limitations that exist in the methodologies and what possible enhancements might exist that would improve a planning methodology.

There are a number of interrelated secondary objectives that have been discussed which the strategic planning process might also achieve and should be considered as an important part of the planning process:

  • The need to closely align the SISP with the OSP.

  • The need for greater transparency of governance/management

  • The need to allow for greater communication and teamwork throughout the organisation.

  • The need for better performance measurement and management.

Phase two of the normative research model requires the analysis of relationships and possibilities to change things and in order to change things, it is best to first evaluate what is wrong with the existing situation. Developing a strategic plan and implementing the plan are both significant projects and are therefore subject to common project problems. The most significant of these problems are: lack of focus to the project, not knowing what the project benefits are, and poor communication of intentions to the people charged with project implementation.

A review of various planning difficulties is given in the next section, the lack of focus is particularly significant when the requirements are not prioritized, added to this is the lack of understanding about the benefits that should accrue for each strategic intention or perhaps more importantly lack of information about the return on investment (ROI), as of course the cost of implementing a requirement must be offset against the benefit that has been assumed.

These points (lack of focus, lack of priority) can mean a significant effort is dissipated on irrelevant activities. Even if the preceding problems have been accounted for, the effort is still wasted if the essential information is not communicated in a clear and unambiguous way to the necessary staff. Some examples of poor documentation are: the plan is too detailed and too complex and staff do not know where to find the relevant information that applies to them, or too informal and unstructured and the staff does not know what specific aspects apply to them. There is a closer look at one example of poor communication of strategic planning requirements in one organisation.A final section summarises the core problems that center on difficulties with the strategic planning documentation.

The plan may also fail if there is a lack of a measurement system to measure progress and identify risks in time to mitigate them; this is of particular concern in a changing environment. Using outside consultants can mean lack of buy in by the staff, and can be very costly and require a lengthy time to complete; the plan should be brief enough to be able to be reviewed at a regular interval and preferably introduced into the standard management progress meetings for review and update.

The chapter on strategic planning considerations has a section on those considerations affecting the success of strategic planning and obviously a number of these considerations if not managed effectively can also result in difficulties for the developing plan and things can go wrong as a result.

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