13 Steps for Strategic Planning

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Recently I wrote down a basic strategic planning process for some friends who needed some guidance putting together a basic strategic plan.  It was helpful to them, so I thought I’d share it with you.  I’ve used (elements of) this basic process for all different shapes and sizes of organizations and groups, from discipleship groups, to mission teams, to university departments, to churches, to start-up businesses, etc.

You can use this to plan for just about any size or shape of organization, business, department, or personal project.  Perhaps it can save you some money, too.  By the way, if you are not sure why clearly articulating your team, group, or organizational purpose is important, check out these two posts:

A Basic Strategic Planning Process

Step #1: Identify the change you wish to see in the world. This is your vision.  Write it up, hold it out in front of you, and start to think of how your organization/business/church can actually accomplish it.

Step #2: Establish your purpose/mission.  For some organizations, like the church, the mission is established already. Most organizations, though, can establish why they exist and what they do to accomplish the vision (make the change they wish to see in the world).  So, write down what your organization actually does.  At this point, don’t worry about wordsmithing or being too detailed.  Just get what you actually do down on paper.

Step #3: Make sure that your vision and mission match.  Here’s the simple question you need to ask:  If we fulfilled our mission, will the world actually look different, consistent with the change you wish to see in the world articulated in your vision statement?  If they don’t, rework your vision, your mission, or both, until they match.  Successful pursuit of your mission should result in accomplishing your vision (or at least making significant progress toward it). Once vision and mission match, you’ll mostly work with your mission statement as you continue the strategic planning process.

Step #4: Grab your purpose/mission statement, and think of what you’ll have to prioritize to fulfill that mission.  Try to break those priorities into 3-5 categories.  Then, for each, write a short phrase starting with an action verb to explain what you’ll need to do in that area.

Step #5: Take those 3-5 priorities and, for each, think through what it might look like in several years (I suggest 5 or 10 years) in that area.  Pick a date in the future (such as 5 years out), and set some SMART (specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) goals, likely no more than 5-6 per priority.  You can’t measure too many things, or it will exhaust you.   As you do this, focus on outcome (true indicators of success) goals, not process (having programs/services together, etc.) goals.

Step #6: Review all of those 5 year goals. Ask yourself these simple questions:

  • If we accomplished all of that, would we:
    • Say that we are accomplishing our mission?
    • See how the world might be a little different because of your work (as articulated in your vision statement)?
    • Be pleased with our progress?
    • Still be alive and thriving (not overwhelmed)?

If you answer “YES” to all of those questions, move to the next step.  If you answer “NO” to any question, revisit and adjust your goals until you can answer with a resounding “YES”.

Step #7: For each goal you just set, establish a goal for a shorter time frame, perhaps 3 years out, on your way to the 5-year goal.  Then, do the same for 1 year out.   When you’re done, you’ll have a table that looks like this:

Priorities 1-year goals  3-year goals 5-year goals
Priority #1
Priority #2
Priority #3
Priority #4

Step #8: Put together an action plan, with specific action steps.  To keep it simple, start by simply identifying a 1-year action plan.  More complex models might plan 3 years out, but let’s not get too far ahead.

Step #9: For each 1-year goal, list out every tactic you’ll need to do to accomplish the goal.  Now is the time to get really specific.  List everything, and be sure every action step includes a date the task will be completed.  Also, include a space for an owner for each task, but don’t fill it in yet (that’s for the next step).   A table like this might be helpful:

Priority 1-year goal Action Step/Task Due Date Owner
(retype from table above)

Step #10: Review your action steps, asking similar questions as you did before. 

  • If we accomplished all of that, would we:
    • Say that we are accomplishing our mission?
    • Be well on our way to accomplishing our 3- and 5-year goals?
    • Be pleased with our progress?
    • Still be alive and thriving (not overwhelmed)?
  • Do we have the group in place to accomplish all of these steps?

If you answer “YES” to all of those questions, move to the next step.  If you answer “NO” to any question, revisit and adjust your action steps, consider changing your group/team, and/or revise your goals/mission/vision until you can answer with a resounding “YES”.

Step #11: For each action step, identify an owner and an implementation strategy including budget, necessary systems, and timeline.  Write the owner on your strategic plan document.  Again, if you don’t have the necessary horsepower to get it done, change your group, adjust your priorities, goals, etc. to be more realistic.  But, once you’ve settled here, you’re ready to get moving.

Step #12: If you care about such things, go back and wordsmith, clean up, and spruce up your strategic statements (vision and mission), priorities, and action plan, making sure you’ve tied up all the loose ends.

Step #13: Get to work.

So, that’s all there is to it.  If you’re not sure how to move from idea to implementation, this process offers a framework to do so.  These steps provide an agenda for a series of team meetings for developing a strategic or action plan.  Structuring talk in this way just might enable you to get the most from your team while minimizing great frustration.

Reflection Moment: 

How could utilizing a process like this benefit your team or organization?

What steps did I miss?  What other suggestions would you offer to people engaging strategic planning processes?


Photo by stefan.erschwendner on Flickr.



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