The Complete Guide to Writing a Strategic Plan

Smartsheet Contributor Joe Weller

April 12, 2019 (updated July 17, 2021)

Writing a strategic plan can be daunting, as the process includes many steps. In this article, you’ll learn the basics of writing a strategic plan, what to include, common challenges, and more.

Included on this page, you'll find details on what to include in a strategic plan , the importance of an executive summary , how to write a mission statement , how to write a vision statement , and more.

The Basics of Writing a Strategic Plan

The strategic planning process takes time, but the payoff is huge. If done correctly, your strategic plan will engage and align stakeholders around your company’s priorities.

Strategic planning, also called strategy development or analysis and assessment , requires attention to detail and should be performed by someone who can follow through on next steps and regular updates. Strategic plans are not static documents — they change as new circumstances arise, both internally and externally.

Before beginning the strategic planning process, it’s important to make sure you have buy-in from management, a board of directors, or other leaders. Without it, the process cannot succeed.

Next, gather your planning team. The group should include people from various departments at different levels, and the planning process should be an open, free discussion within the group. It’s important for leaders to get input from the group as a whole, but they don’t necessarily need approval from everyone — that will slow down the process.

The plan author is responsible for writing and putting the final plan together and should work with a smaller group of writers to establish and standardize the tone and style of the final document or presentation.

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to hire an external party to help facilitate the strategic planning process.

John Bryson

“It often can be helpful to have a really good facilitator to organize and pursue strategic conversations,” says Professor John M. Bryson, McKnight Presidential Professor of Planning and Public Affairs at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota and author of Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement .

Byson says the facilitator can be in-house or external, but they need experience. “You need to make sure someone is good, so there needs to be a vetting process,” he says.

One way to gauge a facilitator’s experience is by asking how they conduct conversations. “It’s important for facilitators to lead by asking questions,” Bryson says.

Bryson says that strong facilitators often ask the following questions:

What is the situation we find ourselves in?

What do we do?

How do we do it?

How do we link our purposes to our capabilities?

The facilitators also need to be able to handle conflict and diffuse situations by separating idea generation from judgement. “Conflict is part of strategic planning,” Bryson admits. “[Facilitators] need to hold the conversations open long enough to get enough ideas out there to be able to make wise choices.”

These outside helpers are sometimes more effective than internal facilitators since they are not emotionally invested in the outcome of the process. Thus, they can concentrate on the process and ask difficult questions.

A strategic plan is a dynamic document or presentation that details your company’s present situation, outlines your future plans, and shows you how the company can get there. You can take many approaches to the process and consider differing ideas about what needs to go into it, but some general concepts stand.

“Strategic planning is a prompt or a facilitator for fostering strategic thinking, acting, and learning,” says Bryson. He explains that he often begins planning projects with three questions:

What do you want to do?

How are we going to do it?

What would happen if you did what you want to do?

The answers to these questions make up the meat of the planning document.

A strategic plan is only effective when the writing and thinking is clear, since the intent is to help an organization keep to its mission through programs and capacity, while also building stakeholder engagement.

Question 1: Where Are We Now?

The answer (or answers) to the first question — where are we now? — addresses the foundation of your organization, and it can serve as an outline for the following sections of your strategic plan:

Mission statement

Core values and guiding principles

Identification of competing organizations

Industry analysis (this can include a SWOT or PEST analysis)

Question 2: Where Are We Going?

The answers to this question help you identify your goals for the future of the business and assess whether your current trajectory is the future you want. These aspects of the plan outline a strategy for achieving success and can include the following:

Vision statement about what the company will look like in the future

What is happening (both internally and externally) and what needs to change

The factors necessary for success

Question 3: How Do We Get There?

The answers to this question help you outline the many routes you can take to achieve your vision and match your strengths with opportunities in the market. A Gantt chart can help you map out and keep track of these initiatives.

You should include the following sections:

Specific and measurable goals

An execution plan that identifies who manages and monitors the plan

An evaluation plan that shows how you plan to measure the successes and setbacks that come with implementation

What to Include in a Strategic Plan

Strategic planning terminology is not standardized throughout the industry, and this can lead to confusion. Instead, strategic planning experts use many names for the different sections of a strategic plan.

Denise McNerney

“The terms are all over the map. It’s really the concept of what the intention of the terms are [that is important],” says Denise McNerney, President and CEO of iBossWell, Inc. , and incoming president of the Association for Strategic Planning (ASP). She recommends coming up with a kind of glossary that defines the terms for your team. “One of the most important elements when you’re starting the strategic planning process is to get some clarity on the nomenclature. It’s just what works for your organization. Every organization is slightly different.”

No matter what terms you use, the general idea of a strategic plan is the same. “It’s like drawing a map for your company. One of the first steps is committing to a process, then determining how you’re going to do it,” McNerney explains.

She uses a basic diagram that she calls the strategic plan architecture . The areas above the red dotted line are the strategic parts of the plan. Below the red dotted line are the implementation pieces.

Strategic Plan Architecture

While the specific terminology varies, basic sections of a strategic plan include the following in roughly this order:

Executive summary

Elevator pitch or company description

Vision statement

Industry analysis

Marketing plan

Operations plan

Financial projections

Evaluation methods

Signature page

Some plans will contain all the above sections, but others will not — what you include depends on your organization’s structure and culture.

“I want to keep it simple, so organizations can be successful in achieving [the strategic plan],” McNerney explains. “Your plan has to be aligned with your culture and your culture needs to be aligned with your plan if you’re going to be successful in implementing it.”

The following checklist will help you keep track of what you have done and what you still need to do.

Writing A Strategic Plan Section

‌ Download Strategic Plan Sections Checklist

How to Write a Strategic Plan

Once you’ve assembled your team and defined your terms, it’s time to formalize your ideas by writing the strategic plan. The plan may be in the form of a document, a presentation, or another format.

You can use many models and formats to create your strategic plan (read more about them in this article ). However, you will likely need to include some basic sections, regardless of the particular method you choose (even if the order and way you present them vary). In many cases, the sections of a strategic plan build on each other, so you may have to write them in order.

One tip: Try to avoid jargon and generic terms; for example, words like maximize and succeed lose their punch. Additionally, remember that there are many terms for the same object in strategic planning.

The following sections walk you through how to write common sections of a strategic plan.

How to Write an Executive Summary

The key to writing a strong executive summary is being clear and concise. Don’t feel pressured to put anything and everything into this section — executive summaries should only be about one to two pages long and include the main points of the strategic plan.

The idea is to pique the reader’s interest and get them to read the rest of the plan. Because it functions as a review of the entire document, write the executive summary after you complete the rest of your strategic plan.

Jim Stockmal

“If you have a plan that’s really lengthy, you should have a summary,” says Jim Stockmal, President of the Association for Strategic Planning (ASP). He always writes summaries last, after he has all the data and information he needs for the plan. He says it is easier to cut than to create something.

For more information about writing an effective executive summary, a checklist, and free templates, read this article .

If you want a one-page executive summary, this template can help you decide what information to include.

One-page Executive Summary Template

Download One-Page Executive Summary Template

Excel | Word | PDF

How to Write a Company Description

Also called an elevator pitch , the company description is a brief outline of your organization and what it does. It should be short enough that it can be read or heard during the average elevator ride.

The company description should include the history of your company, the major products and services you provide, and any highlights and accomplishments, and it should accomplish the following:

Define what you are as a company.

Describe what the company does.

Identify your ideal client and customer.

Highlight what makes your company unique.

While this may seem basic, the company description changes as your company grows and changes. For example, your ideal customer five years ago might not be the same as the current standard or the one you want in five years.

Share the company description with everyone in your organization. If employees cannot accurately articulate what you do to others, you might miss out on opportunities.

How to Write a Mission Statement

The mission statement explains what your business is trying to achieve. In addition to guiding your entire company, it also helps your employees make decisions that move them toward the company’s overall mission and goals.

“Ideally, [the mission statement is] something that describes what you’re about at the highest level,” McNerney says. “It’s the reason you exist or what you do.”

Strong mission statements can help differentiate your company from your competitors and keep you on track toward your goals. It can also function as a type of tagline for your organization.

Mission statements should do the following:

Define your company’s purpose. Say what you do, who you do it for, and why it is valuable.

Use specific and easy-to-understand language.

Be inspirational while remaining realistic.

Be short and succinct.

This is your chance to define the way your company will make decisions based on goals, culture, and ethics. Mission statements should not be vague or generic, and they should set your business apart from others. If your mission statement could define many companies in your line of work, it is not a good mission statement.

Mission statements don’t have to be only outward-facing for customers or partners. In fact, it is also possible to include what your company does for its employees in your mission statement.

Unlike other parts of your strategic plan that are designed to be reviewed and edited periodically, your company’s mission statement should live as is for a while.

That said, make the effort to edit and refine your mission statement. Take out jargon like world class, best possible, state of the art, maximize, succeed , and so on, and cut vague or unspecific phrasing. Then let your strategic planning committee review it.

How to Write a Vision Statement

Every action your company does contributes to its vision. The vision statement explains what your company wants to achieve in the long term and can help inspire and align your team.

“The vision is the highest-ordered statement of the desired future or state of what you want your business to achieve,” McNerney explains.

A clear vision statement can help all stakeholders understand the meaning and purpose of your company. It should encourage and inspire employees while setting your company’s direction. It also helps you rule out elements that might not align with your vision.

Vision statements should be short (a few sentences). They should also be memorable, specific, and ambitious. But there is a fine line between being ambitious and creating a fantasy. The vision should be clearly attainable if you follow the goals and objectives you outline later in your strategic planning plan.

Because you need to know your company’s goals and objectives to create an accurate vision statement, you might need to wait until you have more information about the company’s direction to write your vision statement.

Below are questions to ask your team as you craft your vision statement:

What impact do we want to have on our community and industry?

How will we interact with others as a company?

What is the culture of the business?

Avoid broad statements that could apply to any company or industry. For example, phrases like “delivering a wonderful experience” could apply to many industries. Write in the present tense, avoid jargon, and be clear and concise.

Vision statements should accomplish the following:

Be inspiring.

Focus on success.

Look at and project about five to 10 years ahead.

Stay in line with the goals and values of your organization.

Once you write your vision statement, communicate it to everyone in your company. Your team should be able to easily understand and repeat the company’s vision statement. Remember, the statements can change as the environment in and around your company changes.

The Difference Between Mission and Vision Statements

Mission and vision statements are both important, but they serve very different purposes.

Mission statements show why a business exists, while vision statements are meant to inspire and provide direction. Mission statements are about the present, and vision statements are about the future. The mission provides items to act upon, and the vision offers goals to aspire to.

For example, if a vision statement is “No child goes to bed hungry,” the accompanying mission would be to provide food banks within the city limits.

While many organizations have both mission and vision statements, it’s not imperative. “Not everyone has a vision statement,” McNerney says. “Some organizations just have one.”

If you choose to have only one statement, McNerney offers some advice: “Any statement you have, if you have just one, needs to include what [you do], how [you do it], why [you do it], and who you do it for.”

During the planning process, these key statements might change. “Early on in the process, you need to talk about what you are doing and why and how you are doing it. Sometimes you think you know where you want to go, but you’re not really sure,” McNerney says. “You need to have flexibility both on the plan content and in the process.”

How to Write Your Company’s Core Values

Company core values , sometimes called organizational values , help you understand what drives the company to do what it does. In this section, you’ll learn a lot about your company and the people who work with you. It should be relatively easy to write.

“The values are the core of how you operate [and] how you treat your people, both internally and externally. Values describe the behaviors you really want to advance,” McNerney says.

There are both internal and external values looking at your employees and coworkers, as well as customers and outside stakeholders. Pinpointing values will help you figure out the traits of the people you want to hire and promote, as well as the qualities you’re looking for in your customers.

Your values should align with your vision statement and highlight your strengths while mitigating weaknesses. McNerney says many organizations do not really consider or are not honest about their company’s values when working on strategic plans, which can lead to failure.

“Your strategies have to align with your values and vice versa,” she explains.

Many companies’ values sound like meaningless jargon, so take the time to figure out what matters to your company and push beyond generic language.

How to Write about Your Industry

When planning ahead for your business, it’s important to look around. How are matters inside your company? What are your competitors doing? Who are your target customers?

“[If you don’t do a thorough industry analysis], you’re doing your planning with your head in the sand. If you’re not looking at the world around you, you’re missing a whole dimension about what should inform your decision making,” McNerney advises.

Writing about your industry helps you identify new opportunities for growth and shows you how you need to change in order to take advantage of those opportunities. Identify your key competitors, and define what you see as their strengths and weaknesses. Performing this analysis will help you figure out what you do best and how you compare to your competition. Once you know what you do well, you can exploit your strengths to your advantage.

In this section, also include your SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. You can choose from many templates to help you write this section.

Next, identify your target customers. Think about what they want and need, as well as how you can provide it. Do your competitors attract your target customers, or do you have a niche that sets you apart?

The industry analysis carries a price, but also provides many benefits. “It takes some time and money to do [a thorough industry analysis], but the lack of that understanding says a lot about the future of your organization. If you don’t know what is going on around you, how can you stay competitive?” explains McNerney.

How to Write Strategic Plan Goals and Objectives

This section is the bulk of your strategic plan. Many people confuse goals and objectives, thinking the terms are interchangeable, but many argue that the two are distinct. You can think of them this way:

Goals : Goals are broad statements about what you want to achieve as a company, and they’re usually qualitative. They function as a description of where you want to go, and they can address both the short and long term.

Objectives : Objectives support goals, and they’re usually quantitative and measurable. They describe how you will measure the progress needed to arrive at the destination you outlined in the goal. More than one objective can support one goal.

For example, if your goal is to achieve success as a strategic planner, your objective would be to write all sections of the strategic plan in one month.

iBossWell, Inc.’s McNerney reiterates that there are not hard and fast definitions for the terms goals and objectives , as well as many other strategic planning concepts. “I wouldn’t attempt to put a definition to the terms. You hear the terms goals and objectives a lot, but they mean different things to different people. What some people call a goal , others call an objective . What some people call an objective , others would call a KPI. ” They key, she explains, is to decide what the terms mean in your organization, explain the definitions to key stakeholders, and stick to those definitions.

How to Write Goals

Goals form the basis of your strategic plan. They set out your priorities and initiatives, and therefore are critical elements and define what your plan will accomplish. Some planning specialists use the term strategic objectives or strategic priorities when referring to goals, but for clarity, this article will use the term goals.

“[Goals] are the higher level that contain several statements about what your priorities are,” McNerney explains. They are often near the top of your plan’s hierarchy.

Each goal should reflect something you uncovered during the analysis phase of your strategic planning process. Goals should be precise and concise statements, not long narratives. For example, your goals might be the following:

Eliminate case backlog.

Lower production costs.

Increase total revenue.

Each goal should have a stated outcome and a deadline. Think of goal writing as a formula: Action + detail of the action + a measurable metric + a deadline = goal. For example, your goal might be: Increase total revenue by 5 percent in three product areas by the third quarter of 2020.

Another way to look at it: Verb (action) + adjective (description) = noun (result). An example goal: Increase website fundraising.

Your goals should strike a balance between being aspirational and tangible. You want to stretch your limits, but not make them too difficult to reach. Your entire organization and stakeholders should be able to remember and understand your goals.

Think about goals with varying lengths. Some should go out five to 10 years, others will be shorter — some significantly so. Some goals might even be quarterly, monthly, or weekly. But be careful to not create too many goals. Focus on the ones that allow you to zero in on what is critical for your company’s success. Remember, several objectives and action steps will likely come from each goal.

How to Write Objectives

Objectives are the turn-by-turn directions of how to achieve your goals. They are set in statement and purpose with no ambiguity about whether you achieve them or not.

Your goals are where you want to go. Next, you have to determine how to get there, via a few different objectives that support each goal. Note that objectives can cover several areas.

“You need implementation elements of the plan to be successful,” McNerney says, adding that some people refer to objectives as tactics , actions , and many other terms.

Objectives often begin with the words increase or decrease because they are quantifiable and measurable. You will know when you achieve an objective. They are action items, often with start and end dates.

Use the goal example from earlier: Increase total revenue by 5 percent in three product areas by the third quarter of 2020. In this example, your objectives could be:

Approach three new possible clients each month.

Promote the three key product areas on the website and in email newsletters.

Think of the acronym SMART when writing objectives: Make them specific, measurable, achievable, realistic/relevant, and time-bound.

Breaking down the process further, some strategic planners use the terms strategies and tactics to label ways to achieve objectives. Using these terms, strategies describe an approach or method you will use to achieve an objective. A tactic is a specific activity or project that achieves the strategy, which, in turn, helps achieve the objective.

How to Write about Capacity, Operations Plans, Marketing Plans, and Financial Plans

After you come up with your goals and objectives, you need to figure out who will do what, how you will market what they do, and how you will pay for what you need to do.

“If you choose to shortchange the process [and not talk about capacity and finances], you need to know what the consequences will be,” explains McNerney. “If you do not consider the additional costs or revenues your plan is going to drive, you may be creating a plan you cannot implement.”

To achieve all the goals outlined in your strategic plan, you need the right people in place. Include a section in your strategic plan where you talk about the capacity of your organization. Do you have the team members to accomplish the objectives you have outlined in order to reach your goals? If not, you may need to hire personnel.

The operations plan maps out your initiatives and shows you who is going to do what, when, and how. This helps transform your goals and objectives into a reality. A summary of it should go into your strategic plan. If you need assistance writing a comprehensive implementation plan for your organization, this article can guide you through the process.

A marketing plan describes how you attract prospects and convert them into customers. You don’t need to include the entire marketing plan in your strategic plan, but you might want to include a summary. For more information about writing marketing plans, this article can help.

Then there are finances. We would all like to accomplish every goal, but sometimes we do not have enough money to do so. A financial plan can help you set your priorities. Check out these templates to help you get started with a financial plan.

How to Write Performance Indicators

In order to know if you are reaching the goals you outline in your strategic plan, you need performance indicators. These indicators will show you what success looks like and ensure accountability. Sadly, strategic plans have a tendency to fail when nobody periodically assesses progress.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) can show you how your business is progressing. KPIs can be both financial and nonfinancial measures that help you chart your progress and take corrective measures if actions are not unfolding as they should. Other terms similar to KPIs include performance measures and performance indicators .

Performance indicators are not always financial, but they must be quantifiable. For example, tracking visitors to a website, customers completing a contact form, or the number of proposals that close with deals are all performance indicators that keep you on track toward achieving your goals.

When writing your performance indicators, pay attention to the following:

Define how often you need to report results.

Every KPI must have some sort of measure.

List a measure and a time period.

Note the data source where you will get your information to measure and track.

ASP’s Stockmal has some questions for you to ask yourself about picking performance indicators.

Are you in control of the performance measure?

Does the performance measure support the strategic outcomes?

Is it feasible?

Is data available?

Who is collecting that data, and how will they do it?

Is the data timely?

Is it cost-effective to collect that data?

ls the goal quantifiable, and can you measure it over time?

Are your targets realistic and time-bound?

Stockmal also says performance indicators cannot focus on only one thing at the detriment of another. “Don’t lose what makes you good,” he says. He adds that focusing on one KPI can hurt other areas of a company’s performance, so reaching a goal can be short-sided.

Some performance indicators can go into your strategic plan, but you might want to set other goals for your organization. A KPI dashboard can help you set up and track your performance and for more information about setting up a KPI dashboard, this article can help.

Communicating Your Strategic Plan

While writing your strategic plan, you should think about how to share it. A plan is no good if it sits on a shelf and nobody reads it.

Stefan Hofmeyer

“After the meetings are over, you have to turn your strategy into action,” says Stefan Hofmeyer, an experienced strategist and co-founder of Global PMI Partners . “Get in front of employees and present the plan [to get everyone involved].” Hofmeyer explains his research has shown that people stay with companies not always because of money, but often because they buy into the organization’s vision and want to play a part in helping it get where it wants to go. “These are the people you want to keep because they are invested,” he says.

Decide who should get a physical copy of the entire plan. This could include management, the board of directors, owners, and more. Do your best to keep it from your competitors. If you distribute it outside of your company, you might want to attach a confidentiality waiver.

You can communicate your plan to stakeholders in the following ways:

Hold a meeting to present the plan in person.

Highlight the plan in a company newsletter.

Include the plan in new employee onboarding.

Post the plan on the employee intranet, along with key highlights and a way to track progress.

If you hold a meeting, make sure you and other key planners are prepared to handle the feedback and discussion that will arise. You should be able to defend your plan and reinforce its key areas. The goal of the plan’s distribution is to make sure everyone understands their role in making the plan successful.

Remind people of your company’s mission, vision, and values to reinforce their importance. You can use posters or other visual methods to post around the office. The more that people feel they play an important part in the organization’s success, they more successful you will be in reaching your goals of your strategic plan.

Challenges in Writing a Strategic Plan

As mentioned, strategic planning is a process and involves a team. As with any team activity, there will be challenges.

Sometimes the consensus can take priority over what is clear. Peer pressure can be a strong force, especially if a boss or other manager is the one making suggestions and people feel pressured to conform. Some people might feel reluctant to give any input because they do not think it matters to the person who ultimately decides what goes into the plan.

Team troubles can also occur when one or more members does not think the plan is important or does not buy into the process. Team leaders need to take care of these troubles before they get out of hand.

Pay attention to your company culture and the readiness you have as a group, and adapt the planning process to fit accordingly. You need to find the balance between the process and the final product.

The planning process takes time. Many organizations do not give themselves enough time to plan properly, and once you finish planning, writing the document or presentation also takes time, as does implementation. Don’t plan so much that you ignore how you are going to put the plan into action. One symptom of this is not aligning the plan to fit the capacity or finances of the company.

Stockmal explains that many organizations often focus too much on the future and reaching their goals that they forget what made them a strong company in the first place. Business architecture is important, which Stockmal says is “building the capabilities the organization needs to fulfill its strategy.” He adds that nothing happens if there is no budget workers to do the work necessary to drive change.

Be careful with the information you gather. Do not take shortcuts in the research phase — that will lead to bad information coming out further in the process. Also, do not ignore negative information you may learn. Overcoming adversity is one way for companies to grow.

Be wary of cutting and pasting either from plans from past years or from other similar organizations. Every company is unique.

And while this may sound obvious, do not ignore what your planning process tells you. Your research might show you should not go in a direction you might want to.

Writing Different Types of Strategic Plans

The strategic planning process will differ based on your organization, but the basic concepts will stay the same. Whether you are a nonprofit, a school, or a for-profit entity, strategic plans will look at where you are and how you will get to where you want to go.

How to Write a Strategic Plan for a Nonprofit

For a nonprofit, the strategic plan’s purpose is mainly how to best advance the mission. It’s imperative to make sure the mission statement accurately fits the organization.

In addition to a SWOT analysis and other sections that go into any strategic plan, a nonprofit needs to keep an eye on changing factors, such as funding. Some funding sources have finite beginnings and endings. Strategic planning is often continuous for nonprofits.

A nonprofit has to make the community care about its cause. In a for-profit organization, the marketing department works to promote the company’s product or services to bring in new revenue. For a nonprofit, however, conveying that message needs to be part of the strategic plan.

Coming up with an evaluation method and KPIs can sometimes be difficult for a nonprofit, since they are often focused on goals other than financial gain. For example, a substance abuse prevention coalition is trying to keep teens from starting to drink or use drugs, and proving the coalition’s methods work is often difficult to quantify.

This template can help you visually outline your strategic plan for your nonprofit.

Nonprofit Strategic Plan Template

Download Nonprofit Strategic Plan Template

Excel | Smartsheet

How to Write a Strategic Plan for a School

Writing a strategic plan for a school can be difficult because of the variety of stakeholders involved, including students, teachers, other staff, and parents.

Strategic planning in a school is different from others because there are no markets to explore, products to produce, clients to woo, or adjustable timelines. Schools often have set boundaries, missions, and budgets.

Even with the differences, the same planning process and structure should be in place for schools as it is for other types of organizations.

This template can help your university or school outline your strategic plan.

University Strategic Plan Outline Word Template

‌ ‌Download University Strategic Plan Outline – Word

How to Write a 5-Year Strategic Plan

There is no set time period for a strategic plan, but five years can be a sweet spot. In some cases, yearly planning might keep you continually stuck in the planning process, while 10 years might be too far out.

In addition to the basic sections that go into any strategic plan, when forecasting five years into the future, put one- and three-year checkpoints into the plan so you can track progress intermittently.

How to Write a 3-Year Strategic Plan

While five years is often the strategic planning sweet spot, some organizations choose to create three-year plans. Looking too far ahead can be daunting, especially for a new or changing company.

In a three-year plan, the goals and objectives have a shorter timeframe and you need to monitor them more frequently. Build those checkpoints into the plan.

“Most organizations do a three- to five-year plan now because they recognize the technology and the changes in business that are pretty dynamic now,” Stockmal says.

How to Write a Departmental Strategic Plan

The first step in writing a strategic plan for your department is to pay attention to your company’s overall strategic plan. You want to make sure the plans align.

The steps in creating a plan for a department are the same as for an overall strategic plan, but the mission statement, vision, SWOT analysis, goals, objectives, and so on are specific to only the people in your department. Look at each person separately and consider their core competencies, strengths, capabilities, and weaknesses. Assign people who will be responsible for certain tasks and tactics necessary to achieve your goals.

If you have access to a plan from a previous year, see how your department did in meeting its goals. Adjust the new plan accordingly.

When you finish your departmental plan, make sure to submit it to whomever is responsible for your company’s overall plan. Expect to make changes.

How to Write a Strategic Plan for a Project

A strategic plan is for the big picture, not for a particular project for an organization. Instead of a strategic plan, this area would fall under project management.

If you have a failing project and need to turn it around, this article might help.

How to Write a Personal Strategic Plan

Creating a strategic plan isn’t only for businesses. You can also create a strategic plan to help guide both your professional and personal life. The key is to include what is important to you. This process takes time and reflection.

Be prepared for what you discover about yourself. Because you will be looking at your strengths and weaknesses, you might see things you do not like. It is important to be honest with yourself. A SWOT analysis on yourself will give you some honest feedback if you let it.

Begin with looking at your life as it is now. Are you satisfied? What do you want to do more or less? What do you value most in your life? Go deeper than saying family, happiness, and health. This exercise will help you clarify your values.

Once you know what is important to you, come up with a personal mission statement that reflects the values you cherish. As it does within a business, this statement will help guide you in making future decisions. If something does not fit within your personal mission, you shouldn’t do it.

Using the information you discovered during your SWOT and mission statement process, come up with goals that align with your values. The goals can be broad, but don’t forget to include action items and timeframes to help you reach your goals.

As for the evaluation portion, identify how you will keep yourself accountable and on track. You might involve a person to remind you about your plan, calendar reminders, small rewards when you achieve a goal, or another method that works for you.

Below is additional advice for personal strategic plans:

There are things you can control and things you cannot. Keep your focus on what you can act on.

Look at the positive instead of what you will give up. For example, instead of focusing on losing weight, concentrate on being healthier.

Do not overcommit, and do not ignore the little details that help you reach your goals.

No matter what, do not dwell on setbacks and remember to celebrate successes.

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What is strategic planning? 5 steps and processes

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A strategic plan helps you define and share the direction your company will take in the next three to five years. It includes your company’s vision and mission statements, goals, and the actions you’ll take to achieve those goals. In this article we describe how a strategic plan compares to other project and business tools, plus four steps to create a successful strategic plan for your company.

Strategic planning is when business leaders map out their vision for the organization’s growth and how they’re going to get there. Strategic plans inform your organization’s decisions, growth, and goals. So if you work for a small company or startup, you could likely benefit from creating a strategic plan. When you have a clear sense of where your organization is going, you’re able to ensure your teams are working on projects that make the most impact. 

The strategic planning process doesn’t just help you identify where you need to go—during the process, you’ll also create a document you can share with employees and stakeholders so they stay informed. In this article, we’ll walk you through how to get started developing a strategic plan.

What is a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is a tool to define your organization’s goals and what actions you will take to achieve them. Typically, a strategic plan will include your company’s vision and mission statements, your long-term goals (as well as short-term, yearly objectives), and an action plan of the steps you’re going to take to move in the right direction. 

[inline illustration] Strategic plan elements (infographic)

Your strategic plan document should include: 

Your company’s mission statement

Your company’s goals

A plan of action to achieve those goals

Your approach to achieving your goals

The tactics you’ll use to meet your goals

An effective strategic plan can give your organization clarity and focus. This level of clarity isn’t always a given—according to our research, only 16% of knowledge workers say their company is effective at setting and communicating company goals. By investing time into strategy formulation, you can build out a three- to five-year vision for the future of your company. This strategy will then inform your yearly and quarterly company goals. 

Do I need a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is one of many tools you can use to plan and hit your goals. It helps map out strategic objectives and growth metrics. Here’s how a strategic plan compares to other project management and business tools.

Strategic plan vs. business plan

A business plan can help you document your strategy as you’re getting started so every team member is on the same page about your core business priorities and goals. This tool can help you document and share your strategy with key investors or stakeholders as you get your business up and running.

You should create a business plan when you’re: 

Just starting your business

Significantly restructuring your business

If your business is already established, consider creating a strategic plan instead of a business plan. Even if you’re working at a relatively young company, your strategic plan can build on your business plan to help you move in the right direction. During the strategic planning process, you’ll draw from a lot of the fundamental business elements you built early on to establish your strategy for the next three to five years.

Key takeaway: A business plan works for new businesses or large organizational overhauls. Strategic plans are better for established businesses. 

Strategic plan vs. mission and vision statements

Your strategic plan, mission statement, and vision statements are all closely connected. In fact, during the strategic planning process, you will take inspiration from your mission and vision statements in order to build out your strategic plan.

As a result, you should already have your mission and vision statements drafted before you create a strategic plan. Ideally, this is something you created during the business planning phase or shortly after your company started. If you don’t have a mission or vision statement, take some time to create those now. A mission statement states your company’s purpose and it addresses what problem your organization is trying to solve. A vision statement states, in very broad strokes, how you’re going to get there. 

Simply put: 

A mission statement summarizes your company’s purpose

A vision statement broadly explains how you’ll reach your company’s purpose

A strategic plan should include your mission and vision statements, but it should also be more specific than that. Your mission and vision statements could, theoretically, remain the same throughout your company’s entire lifespan. A strategic plan pulls in inspiration from your mission and vision statements and outlines what actions you’re going to take to move in the right direction. 

For example, if your company produces pet safety equipment, here’s how your mission statement, vision statement, and strategic plan might shake out:

Mission statement: “To ensure the safety of the world’s animals.” 

Vision statement: “To create pet safety and tracking products that are effortless to use.” 

Your strategic plan would outline the steps you’re going to take in the next few years to bring your company closer to your mission and vision. For example, you develop a new pet tracking smart collar or improve the microchipping experience for pet owners. 

Key takeaway: A strategic plan draws inspiration from your mission and vision statements. 

Strategic plan vs. company objectives

Company objectives are broad goals. You should set these on a yearly or quarterly basis (if your organization moves quickly). These objectives give your team a clear sense of what you intend to accomplish for a set period of time. 

Your strategic plan is more forward-thinking than your company goals, and it should cover more than one year of work. Think of it this way: your company objectives will move the needle towards your overall strategy—but your strategic plan should be bigger than company objectives because it spans multiple years.

Key takeaway: Company objectives are broad, evergreen goals, while a strategic plan is a specific plan of action. 

Strategic plan vs. business case

A business case is a document to help you pitch a significant investment or initiative for your company. When you create a business case, you’re outlining why this investment is a good idea, and how this large-scale project will positively impact the business. 

You might end up building business cases for things on your strategic plan’s roadmap—but your strategic plan should be bigger than that. This tool should encompass multiple years of your roadmap, across your entire company—not just one initiative.

Key takeaway: A business case tackles one initiative or investment, while a strategic plan maps out years of overall growth for your company. 

Strategic plan vs. project plan

A strategic plan is a company-wide, multi-year plan of what you want to accomplish in the next three to five years and how you plan to accomplish that. A project plan, on the other hand, outlines how you’re going to accomplish a specific project. This project could be one of many initiatives that contribute to a specific company objective which, in turn, is one of many objectives that contribute to your strategic plan. 

A project plan has seven parts: 

Success metrics

Stakeholders and roles

Scope and budget

Milestones and deliverables

Timeline and schedule

Communication plan

Key takeaway: You may build project plans to map out parts of your strategic plan. 

When should I create a strategic plan?

You should aim to create a strategic plan every three to five years, depending on your organization’s growth speed. That being said, if your organization moves quickly, consider creating one every two to three years instead. Small businesses may need to create strategic plans more often, as their needs change. 

Since the point of a strategic plan is to map out your long-term goals and how you’ll get there, you should create a strategic plan when you’ve met most or all of them. You should also create a strategic plan any time you’re going to make a large pivot in your organization’s mission or enter new markets. 

What are the 5 steps in strategic planning?

The strategic planning process should be run by a small team of key stakeholders who will be in charge of building your strategic plan. 

Your group of strategic planners, sometimes called the management committee, should be a small team of five to 10 key stakeholders and decision-makers for the company. They won’t be the only people involved—but they will be the people driving the work. 

Once you’ve established your management committee, you can get to work on the strategic planning process. 

[inline illustration] The road to strategic planning (infographic)

Step 1: Determine where you are

Before you can get started with strategy development and define where you’re going, you first need to define where you are. To do this, your management committee should collect a variety of information from additional stakeholders—like employees and customers. In particular, plan to gather:

Relevant industry and market data to inform any market opportunities, as well as any potential upcoming threats in the near future

Customer insights to understand what your customers want from your company—like product improvements or additional services

Employee feedback that needs to be addressed—whether in the product, business practices, or company culture

A SWOT analysis to help you assess both current and future potential for the business (you’ll return to this analysis periodically during the strategic planning process). 

To fill out each letter in the SWOT acronym, your management committee will answer a series of questions:

What does your organization currently do well?

What separates you from your competitors?

What are your most valuable internal resources?

What tangible assets do you have?

What is your biggest strength? 

Weaknesses:

What does your organization do poorly?

What do you currently lack (whether that’s a product, resource, or process)?

What do your competitors do better than you?

What, if any, limitations are holding your organization back?

What processes or products need improvement? 

Opportunities:

What opportunities does your organization have?

How can you leverage your unique company strengths?

Are there any trends that you can take advantage of?

How can you capitalize on marketing or press opportunities?

Is there an emerging need for your product or service? 

What emerging competitors should you keep an eye on?

Are there any weaknesses that expose your organization to risk?

Have you or could you experience negative press that could reduce market share?

Is there a chance of changing customer attitudes towards your company? 

Step 2: Identify your goals and objectives

This is where the magic happens. To develop your strategy, take into account your current position, which is where you are now. Then, draw inspiration from your original business documents—these are your final destination. 

To develop your strategy, you’re essentially pulling out your compass and asking, “Where are we going next?” This can help you figure out exactly which path you need to take. 

During this phase of the planning process, take inspiration from important company documents to ensure your strategic plan is moving your company in the right direction like:

Your mission statement, to understand how you can continue moving towards your organization’s core purpose

Your vision statement, to clarify how your strategic plan fits into your long-term vision

Your company values, to guide you towards what matters most towards your company

Your competitive advantages, to understand what unique benefit you offer to the market

Your long-term goals, to track where you want to be in five or 10 years

Your financial forecast and projection, to understand where you expect your financials to be in the next three years, what your expected cash flow is, and what new opportunities you will likely be able to invest in

Step 3: Develop your plan

Now that you understand where you are and where you want to go, it’s time to put pen to paper. Your plan will take your position and strategy into account to define your organization-wide plan for the next three to five years. Keep in mind that even though you’re creating a long-term plan, parts of your strategic plan should be created as the quarters and years go on.

As you build your strategic plan, you should define:

Your company priorities for the next three to five years, based on your SWOT analysis and strategy.

Yearly objectives for the first year. You don’t need to define your objectives for every year of the strategic plan. As the years go on, create new yearly objectives that connect back to your overall strategic goals . 

Related key results and KPIs for that first year. Some of these should be set by the management committee, and some should be set by specific teams that are closer to the work. Make sure your key results and KPIs are measurable and actionable.

Budget for the next year or few years. This should be based on your financial forecast as well as your direction. Do you need to spend aggressively to develop your product? Build your team? Make a dent with marketing? Clarify your most important initiatives and how you’ll budget for those.

A high-level project roadmap . A project roadmap is a tool in project management that helps you visualize the timeline of a complex initiative, but you can also create a very high-level project roadmap for your strategic plan. Outline what you expect to be working on in certain quarters or years to make the plan more actionable and understandable.

Step 4: Execute your plan

After all that buildup, it’s time to put your plan into action. New strategy execution involves clear communication across your entire organization to make sure everyone knows their responsibilities and how to measure the plan’s success. 

Map your processes with key performance indicators, which will gauge the success of your plan. KPIs will establish which parts of your plan you want achieved in what time frame. 

A few tips to make sure your plan will be executed without a hitch: 

Align tasks with job descriptions to make sure people are equipped to get their jobs done

Communicate clearly to your entire organization throughout the implementation process 

Fully commit to your plan 

Step 5: Revise and restructure as needed

At this point, you should have created and implemented your new strategic framework. The final step of the planning process is to monitor and manage your plan.

Share your strategic plan —this isn’t a document to hide away. Make sure your team (especially senior leadership) has access to it so they can understand how their work contributes to company priorities and your overall strategic plan. We recommend sharing your plan in the same tool you use to manage and track work, so you can more easily connect high-level objectives to daily work. If you don’t already, consider using a work management tool .

Update your plan regularly (quarterly and annually). Make sure you’re using your strategic plan to inform your shorter-term goals. Your strategic plan also isn’t set in stone. You’ll likely need to update the plan if your company decides to change directions or make new investments. As new market opportunities and threats come up, you’ll likely want to tweak your strategic plan to ensure you’re building your organization in the best direction possible for the next few years.

Keep in mind that your plan won’t last forever—even if you do update it frequently. A successful strategic plan evolves with your company’s long-term goals. When you’ve achieved most of your strategic goals, or if your strategy has evolved significantly since you first made your plan, it might be time to create a new one.

The benefits of strategic planning

Strategic planning can help with goal-setting by allowing you to explain how your company will move towards your mission and vision statements in the next three to five years. If you think of your company trajectory as a line on a map, a strategic plan can help you better quantify how you’ll get from point A (where you are now) to point B (where you want to be in a few years).

When you create and share a clear strategic plan with your team, you can:

Align everyone around a shared purpose

Proactively set objectives to help you get where you want to go

Define long-term goals, and then set shorter-term goals to support them

Assess your current situation and any opportunities—or threats

Help your business be more durable because you’re thinking long-term

Increase motivation and engagement

Sticking to the strategic plan

To turn your company strategy into a plan—and ultimately, impact—make sure you’re proactively connecting company objectives to daily work. When you can clarify this connection, you’re giving your team members the context they need to get their best work done. 

With clear priorities, team members can focus on the initiatives that are making the biggest impact for the company—and they’ll likely be more engaged while doing so.

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6 Steps to Make Your Strategic Plan Really Strategic

how to build a 3 year strategic plan

You don’t need dozens of strategic goals.

Many strategic plans aren’t strategic, or even plans. To fix that, try a six step process: first, identify key stakeholders. Second, identify a specific, very important key stakeholder: your target customer. Third, figure out what these stakeholders want from you. Fourth, figure out what you want from them. Fifth, design your strategy around these requirements. Sixth, focus on continuously improving this plan.

Why is it that when a group of managers gets together for a strategic planning session they often emerge with a document that’s devoid of “strategy”, and often not even a plan ?

I have one such document in front of me as I write this. It starts with a “vision” statement, moves on to “strategic themes” (six in all) and culminates in 28 “strategic goals.” The latter is a list of actions interspersed with a sprinkling of desired results, all utterly useless in terms of strategy. It’s more like a dog chasing its tail. As the managing partner of a client law firm recently explained to me: “Before we adopted your approach we lacked the keys to effective strategic planning. It was seat-of-the-pants stuff. I would spontaneously go about saying how about we do this/how about we do that. I was buried in the enterprise.”

This problem is the lack of an effective “method” — a systematic or established procedure to undertake something, step by step. But methods can be learned. I’ll let you in on the six-step technique I have developed over many years, working with clients and in teaching my public seminars on strategic planning .

Step one is to recognize your dependencies , i.e. your key stakeholders . You may think that this will be easy. And in a small business, like a convenience store, it initially is: customers, employees, suppliers, and owners. But then you become aware that some of the employees are also owners, and the complexity grows.

The trick is to identify stakeholder roles. The same group of stakeholders can occupy more than one role. Take the example of a dairy cooperative I worked with recently. It was a national distributor of milk and other dairy products and in it, farmers occupied two roles. We described these as: farmers-as-shareholders and farmers-as-suppliers. Its other key stakeholders were distributors; customers-retail; customers-industrial/food service; consumers; and employees. Once you get the knotty key-stakeholder problem sorted out you can move on — but not too fast.

An essential second step, and one that I’ve been guilty of not stressing enough with clients, comes with the word “target.” It’s vitally important to identify your “target customer” before moving forward. Take, for example, the international accounting firm KPMG. Its target customers aren’t mums and dads lodging their annual tax returns, or small businesses that need help with their accounts. That work falls on the shoulders of the suburban accountant. Nor is KPMG’s target mid-size firms with limited budgets. That’s for so called “second-tier” accounting firms. No, KPMG targets large corporates and big government.

Isolating the target customer has massive implications, including in other stakeholder groups. For example, KPMG only hires staff who are qualified to offer services for large corporate and big government customers. Your strategic plan can’t be all things to all customers. So, take your time here to clearly define your target customer.

The third step requires you to work out what your organization wants from each key stakeholder group for your organization to prosper. For some managers, this seems initially like putting the cart before the horse. The reason? They’re so used to thinking operationally rather than strategically that putting “self” first seems like heresy. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the stakeholder “employees.”

Take the case of a recent client of mine, an architectural firm. The HR team and senior management would bend over backwards to identify what would satisfy staff. But they placed little attention on, and certainly failed to measure, the return volley. That is, what the organization wanted from employees. Once it adopted the six-step method, these outcomes were identified as “reducing employee turnover and increasing productivity and innovation.” Metrics were developed to monitor these, and targets were set before moving on.

The fourth step is to identify what these stakeholder groups want from you . These are the key decision-making criteria that stakeholders use when interacting with your business. For example, these might include the factors influencing the decision to purchase from you (customers), work for you (employees), supply to you (suppliers) or invest in you (shareholders).

It’s essential that you know how each stakeholder group thinks about these — that you focus on their point of view, not your own. This can come from a variety of sources including: in-depth interviews of stakeholders, listening to stakeholder stories about their experience with you and the competition, feedback via your complaint and suggestion systems, focus groups and even casual conversations with stakeholders. It can even involve immersing yourself in the stakeholder experience by going through it, e.g. the senior executives of an airline might travel at the back of the plane  to get a feel for what economy passengers experience.

For example, at a manufacturer of specialized air conditioners for computer rooms, “customer service,” as you’d expect, meant “handling enquiries and dealing with complaints.” But research showed that “customer service” had additional dimensions in the minds of their customers, namely “technical support pre- and post-sale.” Getting to grips with the full extent of the customers’ expectations led to insight which drove the company’s strategy.

Strategy design , your fifth step, involves deciding what your organization’s positions will be on the identified strategic factors for each key stakeholder group. This is shaped by the objectives you’ve set for your organization and the knowledge you’ve gleaned about your stakeholders’ current and future needs on strategic factors. This is where “focus” again delivers in spades. I’ve assisted a rural bank which decided that its target customer was “commercial family farms.” This ruled out large corporate farms and hobby farms. It then built strategy based on these customers’ opinions. It went further to co-create with farmers its positions on product range, customer service, and price to drive revenue and profitability. Stakeholders can be great strategists. Tap them in designing strategy.

The sixth step is continuous improvement . Recognize that no matter what you decide, there is no certainty in the result once you embark on implementation via an action plan and scorecard . You can’t be sure, for instance, in the case of the manufacturer of specialized air conditioners, that ramping up technical support pre- and post-sale will drive more revenue. Be prepared to adjust . View your strategic as being locked in an intimate tango with your key stakeholders. This dynamic perspective encourages openness, innovation and a preparedness to change.

Organizations which practice this system-design approach to strategic planning turn out to be gob-smackingly great. Toyota and McDonald’s are two that I deal with that fall into that category. They’re stakeholder-focused, no-stone-unturned companies that defy expectations in their ability to pull together a diverse population of employees to produce amazing results. You can too — if you become systematic in your approach.

how to build a 3 year strategic plan

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COMMENTS

  1. Quick Guide: How to Write a Strategic Plan

    While the specific terminology varies, basic sections of a strategic plan include the following in roughly this order: Executive summary Elevator pitch or company description Mission statement Vision statement Goals Industry analysis Marketing plan Capacity Operations plan Financial projections Evaluation methods Signature page

  2. Strategic Planning: 5 Planning Steps, Process Guide [2023

    Next steps to build your 3 year plan: Once you’ve identified the right mix of Winning Moves (no more than 3-5 total), you should do the following with each: Assign an Owner on your team—one person to be accountable for moving the idea forward.

  3. How to write a strategic plan

    What is a strategic plan and why is it needed? A roadmap to launch and grow your organization Process as important as product (perhaps more important) Aligns stakeholders around strategic priorities Communicates your goals, strategies and programs Engages, motivates, and retains external and internal audiences (e.g., board, staff, donors, etc.)

  4. 6 Steps to Make Your Strategic Plan Really Strategic

    6 Steps to Make Your Strategic Plan Really Strategic by Graham Kenny August 07, 2018 Alicia Llop/Getty Images Summary. Many strategic plans aren’t strategic, or even plans. To fix...