Approaching the Strategic Plan — Thoughtfully

In January 2015, we received an RFP asking for help developing a five-year strategic plan. As an organization that believes in the power of human-centered design to drive organizational performance, we have some thoughts about strategic plans.
XPLANE’s approach is always anchored in customer needs. No two approaches to strategic planning are the same as different organizations have different power dynamics and different means of making decisions.
In this case, we knew there were some rumblings of a re-org when we started. The founders of the seven-year-old organization were still involved and consulted on strategic decisions although somewhat unsure of their role as they were now full time with their new ventures.
In true XPLANE fashion, we kicked-off the year-long engagement with stakeholder interviews leading up to a two-day working session with the team. Similar to many companies that we work with, it became eminently clear during the session that different stakeholders held different views about the vision and purpose of the organization.
At this point, a sequenced approach began to form. Start with vision. Start with the why. Once stakeholders are aligned, enable them to articulate how that vision manifests in their operations. In this case, it meant that that student or customer experience became their guiding light. We worked with our client to refine and distill what they wanted that customer experience to be based upon why they exist as an organization.
These are hard, tough questions, particularly among passionate, committed, and intelligent business people. To whit, they started asking us, “When are we going to get to the strategic plan?”
It is tempting to think that a solid strategy solves all ills. Alas, it does not.
We explained our thinking and what to expect along the road ahead. We need to start with vision and purpose, so we know you know why the experience you are delivering to customers is the experience you want to be delivering.
From there, if delivering the experience is our aim based on our vision and purpose, the organization should be able to answer the question: what activities are we doing as an organization that enable us to deliver it?
In service design parlance, this is the backstage view. Are you clear on who is doing what and when in order to hit every milestone along your customer experience journey?
Answering that question was the focus of our follow-up working session with the team.
We mapped all of the activities by role within each department and identified where those activities laddered up to the customer journey. From there, we asked each core stakeholder who was representing each department to locate the top three most critical activities for delivering the customer experience.
Got it? Great. Now we can innovate around those activities specifically. We guided the team through exercises such as the following: If we added more resources, what impact would it have? If we optimized the current state, what impact would it have? If we experimented with a new model, what impact would it have?
The team generated lots of ideas, ultimately evaluating all of them based on an effort/impact matrix and placing it along the 2016 calendar.
The strategic plan was forming before their very eyes.
We wrapped the day with a dialogue about scaling for growth, mapping their projections for organic growth in the next three years on top of the current state of activities by role/responsibility. We had given them a scalable tool and taught them to fish. Now, they could go through these exercises on their own and ask questions: What if we want aggressive growth? How will that impact our core activities? What can we adjust in order to deliver upon aggressive growth?
Voila. Happy clients. Exhausted team.

“I am still amazed that we accomplished so much! . . . The value of getting to our original goal, while exposing all kinds of other problems that we didn’t know we had is just incredible.”

Head of Operations

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