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Strategic Planning Process: 7 Crucial Steps to Success

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10 min read
a transparent grid illustration connecting a circle and square representing the strategic planning process

Playing chess without a strong opening is a guaranteed way to disadvantage yourself. Just like in chess, organizations without an adequate strategic planning process are unlikely to thrive and adapt long-term. 

The strategic planning process is essential for aligning your organization on key priorities, goals, and initiatives, making it crucial for organizational success.  

This article will empower you to craft and perfect your strategic planning process by exploring the following: 

  • What is strategic planning
  • Why strategic planning is important for your business 
  • The seven steps of the strategic planning process  
  • Five best practices supporting the strategic planning process 

By the end of this article, you’ll have the knowledge needed to perfect the key elements of strategic planning. Ready? Let’s begin. 

What is strategic planning?

Strategic planning charts your business's course toward success. Using your organization’s vision, mission, and values — with internal and external information — each step of the strategic planning process helps you craft long-term objectives and attain your goals. 

The key elements of strategic planning includes a SWOT analysis, goal setting, stakeholder involvement, plus developing actionable strategies, approaches, and tactics aligned with primary objectives. 

In short, the strategic planning process bridges the gap between your organization’s current and desired state, providing a clear and actionable framework that answers: 

  • Where are you now? 
  • Where do you want to be? 
  • How will you get there?

7 key elements of strategic planning 

The following strategic planning components work together to create a cohesive plan for your business goals. Let’s take a close look at each of these: 

  1. Vision: What your organization wants to achieve in the future, the long-term goal 
  2. Mission: The driving force behind why your company exists, who it serves, and how it creates value 
  3. Values: Fundamental beliefs guiding your company’s decision-making process 
  4. Goals: Measurable objectives in alignment with your business mission, vision, and values 
  5. Strategy: A long-term plan for achieving your objectives based on both internal and external factors 
  6. Approach: How you execute strategy and achieve objectives using actions and initiatives  
  7. Tactics: Granular short-term actions, programs, and activities 

an illustration of a pyramid representing the 7 components of the strategic planning process

Why a concrete strategic planning is important

Just as a chess player needs a gameplan to reach checkmate, a company needs a solid strategic plan to achieve its goals.  

Your business will wander aimlessly without a strategic plan, wasting precious time, energy, and resources on endeavors that won’t get your company closer to where it needs to be.  

A successful plan covers all key elements of strategic planning, course-correcting when necessary and measuring your success as you go, ultimately enabling them you to stay future-proof.  

Let’s dive deeper into why the steps of the strategic planning process. 

7 steps for strategic planning

You understand the overall value of implementing a strategic planning process — now let’s put it in practice. Our 7-step approach to strategic planning that ensures everyone is on the same page: 

  1. Clarify your vision, mission, and values 
  2. Conduct an environmental scan 
  3. Define strategic priorities 
  4. Develop goals and metrics 
  5. Derive a strategic plan 
  6. Write and communicate your strategic plan 
  7. Implement, monitor, and revise  

7 step strategic planning process

1. Clarify your vision, mission, and values 

The first step of the strategic planning process is understanding your organization’s core elements: vision, mission, and values. Clarifying these will align your strategic plan with your company’s definition of success. Once established, these are the foundation for the rest of the strategic planning process.   

Questions to ask:

  • What do we aspire to achieve in the long term?
  • What is our purpose or ultimate goal?
  • What do we do to fulfill our vision?
  • What key activities or services do we provide?
  • What are our organization's ethics?
  • What qualities or behaviors do we expect from employees?

Read more: What is Mission vs. Vision 

A green flag with hollow filling placed to the left of an outline of an eye, with the iris also outlined in green, all on a green background, to signal mission vs. vision

2. Conduct an environmental scan

Once everyone on the same page about vision, mission, and values, it's time to scan your internal and external environment. This involves a long-term SWOT analysis, evaluating your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. 

Internal factors 

Internal strengths and weaknesses help you understand where your organization excels and what it could improve. Strengths and weaknesses awareness helps make more informed decisions with your capabilities and resource allocation in mind. 

External factors

Externally, opportunities and threats in the market help you understand the power of your industry’s customers, suppliers, and competitors. Additionally, consider how broader forces like technology, culture, politics, and regulation may impact your organization.  

Questions to ask:

  • What are our organization's key strengths or competitive advantages?
  • What areas or functions within our organization need improvement?
  • What emerging trends or opportunities can we leverage?
  • How do changes in technology, regulations, or consumer behavior impact us?

3. Define strategic priorities

Prioritization puts the “strategic” in strategic planning process. Your organization’s mission, vision, values, and environmental scan serve as a lens to identify top priorities. Limiting priorities ensures your organization intentionally allocates resources. 

These categories can help you rank your strategic priorities: 

  • Critical: Urgent tasks whose failure to complete will have severe consequences — financial losses, reputation damage, or legal consequences 
  • Important: Significant tasks which support organizational achievements and require timely completion 
  • Desirable: Valuable tasks not essential in the short-term, but can contribute to long-term success and growth 

Questions to ask:

  • How do these priorities align with our mission, vision, and values?
  • Which tasks need to be completed quickly to ensure effective progress towards our desired outcomes?
  • What resources and capabilities do we need to pursue these priorities effectively?

4. Develop goals and metrics

Next, you establish goals and metrics to reflect your strategic priorities. Purpose-driven, long-term, actionable strategic planning goals should flow down through the organization, with lower-level goals contributing to higher-level ones. 

One approach that can help you set and measure your aligned goals is objectives and key results (OKRs). OKRs consist of objectives, qualitative statements of what you want to achieve, and key results, 3-5 supporting metrics that track progress toward your objective. 

OKRs ensure alignment at every level of the organization, with tracking and accountability built into the framework to keep everyone engaged. With ambitious, intentional goals, OKRs can help you drive the strategic plan forward.  

Questions to ask:

  • What metrics can we use to track progress toward each objective?
  • How can we ensure that lower-level goals and metrics support and contribute to higher-level ones?
  • How will we track and measure progress towards key results?
  • How will we ensure accountability?

Get an in-depth look at OKRs with our Ultimate OKR Playbook

an illustration of a circle in a shifting square to represent an okr playbook

5. Derive a strategic plan

The next step of the strategic planning process gets down to the nitty-gritty “how” — outlining a clear, practical plan for bridging the gap between now and the future.  

To do this, you’ll need to brainstorm short- and long-term approaches to achieving the goals you’ve set, answering a couple of key questions along the way. You must evaluate ideas based on factors like: 

  • Feasibility: How realistic and achievable is it? 
  • Impact: How conducive is it to goal attainment? 
  • Cost: Can we fund this approach, and is it worth the investment? 
  • Alignment: Does it support our mission, vision, and values?  

From your approaches, you can devise a detailed action plan, which covers things like: 

  • Timelines: When will we take each step, and what are the deadlines? 
  • Milestones: What key achievements will ensure consistent progress? 
  • Resource requirements: What’s needed to achieve each step? 
  • Responsibilities: Who's accountable in each step? 
  • Risks and challenges: What can affect our ability to execute our plan? How will we address these? 

With a detailed action plan like this, you can move from abstract goals to concrete steps, bringing you closer to achieving your strategic objectives. 

6. Write and communicate your strategic plan

Writing and communicating your strategic plan involves everyone, ensuring each team is on the same page. Here’s a clear, concise structure you can use to cover the most important strategic planning components: 

The 11 step structure of a strategic plan: executive summary to strategic approach to implementation
  • Executive summary: Highlights and priorities in your strategic overview  
  • Introduction: Background on your strategic plan 
  • Connection: How your strategic plan aligns with your organization’s mission, vision, and values 
  • Environmental scan: An overview of your SWOT analysis findings 
  • Strategic priorities and goals: Informed short and long-term organizational goals 
  • Strategic approach: An overview of your tactical plan  
  • Resource needs: How you'll deploy technology, funding, and employees 
  • Risk and challenges: How you’ll mitigate the unknowns if and when they arise 
  • Implementation plan: A step-by-step resource deployment plan for achieving your strategy 
  • Monitoring and evaluation: How you’ll keep your plan heading in the right direction 
  • Conclusion: A summary of the strategic plan and everything it entails 

Questions to ask:

  • What information or context do stakeholders need to understand the strategic plan?
  • How can we emphasize the connection between the strategic plan and the overall purpose and direction of the organization?
  • What initiatives or strategies will we implement to drive progress?
  • How will we mitigate or address risks?
  • What are the specific steps and actions we need to take to implement the strategic plan?
  • Any additional information or next steps we need to communicate?

7. Implement, monitor, and revise performance

Finally, it’s time to implement your strategic plan. As you get the ball rolling, keep a close eye on your timelines, milestones, and performance targets.  

Certain indicators like completions, issues, and delays maintain visibility into how your process is going. With any bottlenecks, inefficiencies, or misalignment, take corrective action promptly — adjust the plan, reallocate resources, or provide additional training to employees. 

Externally, it’s important to monitor changes such as customer preferences, competitive pressures, economic shifts, and regulatory changes. These factors impact the success of your strategic action plan and may require tweaks along the way.  

Questions to ask:

  • Are there any bottlenecks, inefficiencies, or misalignments we need to address?
  • Are we monitoring and analyzing external factors?
  • Are we prepared to make necessary tweaks or adaptations along the way?

5 best practices during the strategic planning process

Simply going through the motions of each step in the strategic planning process is not enough — you must adopt a set of best practices along the way to be successful. 

We’ve compiled a list of five best practices to help you navigate the development and implementation of your strategic planning process.  

Keep the planning process flexible

With ever-changing business environments, a one-and-done approach to strategic planning is insufficient. Your strategic plan needs to be adaptable to ensure its relevancy and its ability to weather the effects of changing circumstances. 

Pull together a diverse group of stakeholders

By including voices from across the organization, you can account for varying thoughts, perspectives, and experiences at each step of the strategic planning process, ensuring cross-functional alignment. 

Document the process

Continuous documentation is crucial in capturing and communicating the key elements of strategic planning. This keeps everyone on the same page and your strategic plan up-to-date and relevant. 

Make data-driven decisions

Root your decisions in evidence and facts rather than assumptions or opinions. This cultivates accurate insights, improves prioritization, and reduces biased (flawed) decisions. 

Align your company culture with the strategic plan 

Your strategic plan can only be successful if everyone is on board with it — company culture supports what you’re trying to achieve. Behaviors, rules, and attitudes optimize the execution of your strategic plan. 

The strategic planning process in a nutshell

Carefully crafting strategic planning components is crucial for any organization looking to achieve its long-term goals while staying true to its mission, vision, and values. The seven steps in the strategic planning process outlined in this article provide a solid framework your organization can follow — from clarifying your organization’s purpose and developing a strategic plan, to implementing, monitoring, and revising performance. 

Yet, it’s important to remember that strategic planning is not a one-time event. To stay effective and relevant, you must continuously monitor and adapt your strategy in response to changing circumstances. This ongoing process of improvement keeps your organization competitive and demonstrates your commitment to achieving your goals. 

 Quantive is your bridge between strategy and execution. Founded on the objectives and key results (OKR) methodology, our Strategy Execution Platform is where businesses plan successful strategy, focus and align teams to it, and stay on the leading edge of progress. 

As your company looks to achieve the best possible results, you need a modern approach to run your business and change your business.The Modern Operating Model brings strategy, teams, and data together to help make decisions faster, optimize operations, and drive better business outcomes. 

Whether you’re a large enterprise facing competitive disruption or a small business leading the innovative charge, Quantive helps get you where you want to go. 

Ready to achieve the best possible? Start using Quantive for free. 

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