Building a business is a journey.

You walk a long road — meeting new people, facing innumerable challenges, and learning lessons along the way. And just like any trip, your company needs a map to keep from getting lost.

In business, the roadmap to success is your strategic plan. It paves the way to a research-backed process, transparent communication, and watertight execution — all of which lead to eventual profits and shareholder returns.

The strategic planning process is rigorous. But when you do it correctly, you and your business will have a clearer sense of direction, locking your focus onto initiatives and projects that drive long-term success.

What’s a strategic plan?

A strategic plan is a living document that helps you establish a long-term perspective for growth and make decisions with the future in mind. The purpose of strategic planning is to build your company’s roadmap by defining business goals and actions over the next 3–5 years.

Generally, a strategic plan supports and refines operations, guides your schedule, and ensures all employees and stakeholders work toward a common goal. In other words, it’s your company’s North Star. This is your reference point to help you navigate challenges and find new opportunities, all while upholding your mission and values.

Plans vary from organization to organization, but typically include:

  • Your company’s mission and vision statements
  • Your mid-term to long-term goals
  • Your approach to meeting these goals
  • An action plan
  • Decision-making guidelines
  • The research-backed tactics you’ll use

What exactly is strategic plan management?

Ongoing strategic plan management is the process of constantly revisiting your plan. The strategic planning process is iterative, meaning you’ll always aim to improve and adjust it as things change. It keeps the company evolving and progressing toward long-term goals, even when you hit roadblocks.

Some companies establish an internal team of managers responsible for strategic planning activities. Those responsibilities include:

  • Ongoing research
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Evaluation
  • Adjustment

Ideally, the team will report its findings and make recommendations on a quarterly or yearly basis. That way, your plan is always evolving toward success and ready to adjust for the issues that inevitably arise.

Strategic planning: A 5-step process

Strategy planning works best when a small team drives the process, usually 5–10 stakeholders. This prevents complications and gives the plan more focus. Through consultations with other team members and managers, this group will specifically be responsible for the delivery and execution of the strategic plan.

Once you know who’s on your team, you can begin going through each strategic planning step.

1. Establish your position

The first step to learning how to create a strategic plan is gathering information. You need to determine where your business currently stands regarding your industry, competitors, and employees. Start looking for:

  • Industry and market data to spot opportunities and challenges
  • Customer insights about what your audience wants to see, like new products, improvements, and additional services
  • Current and future demand for your products
  • Employee feedback about workplace challenges, organizational factors, and company culture

Analyze the information using a SWOT analysis, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This gives you a holistic view of your business’s current and future potential. You could also consider conducting a PEST — political, economic, socio-cultural, and technological — analysis to clarify potential external threats and opportunities.

From the results, you should have a firm understanding of your starting point and can begin developing long-term strategic organizational objectives.

2. Identify goals and priorities

Now that you know where you are, it’s time for the next step in the strategic planning process: deciding where you want to go.

Review your business’ founding documents — the vision and mission statements — to point you in the right direction. This lets you set goals that match your overall values and long-term objectives. Try drawing inspiration from your:

  • Mission statement
  • Vision statement
  • Company values
  • Competitive advantage
  • Long-term goal
  • Financial forecast

Once you’ve decided on your actionable goals for the next few years, you need to prioritize them. For each one, ask yourself and your team:

  • Which will have the most significant impact on the mission and vision?
  • What will increase your competitiveness?
  • Which goals have the most impactful outcome in the shortest time?
  • Which are most urgent?

When in doubt, every goal should leverage the SMART framework — which means it should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Also consider the resources necessary to reach your targets and whether they’ll be available at every stage.

3. Develop an action plan

You know where your starting point and destination are, and you can map out your route with those points in mind.

During this phase, you’ll formalize:

  • Company priorities based on your SWOT analysis
  • Objectives for the first year of your strategic plan
  • Measurable, actionable key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • A budget based on financial projections and company direction
  • A high-level strategic roadmap to visualize your projects and initiatives for each quarter of the plan’s lifespan

4. Execute

This is where the rubber meets the road. You have a prioritized list of goals that align with your mission, values, and action plan, and it’s all the information you need to launch the strategy.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take action:

  • Communicate your strategic plan with clear expectations to the entire organization
  • Before assigning tasks, ensure the worker’s job description aligns with the requirements and has the necessary resources
  • Establish a regular review cycle with individual contributors and their managers to evaluate progress and ensure they meet project milestones, KPIs, and timelines
  • Make sure all internal stakeholders commit themselves to executing the strategic plan

That first step — communication — is key to strategic planning. You can't implement a plan unless everyone involved knows what's going on, even if they don't have responsibilities that directly relate. The goal is to keep everyone informed and aligned throughout the process.

5. Revise and adjust

Strategic planning isn’t a one-and-done process. Your team will use this plan to align short-term goals with business strategy for years to come, so use a watertight plan template to make it count.

Consider your strategic plan a living document, and update it to respond to internal changes, external market forces, or economic volatility as time goes on. Your management team should regularly revisit your action plan to set new objectives and compare planned versus actual outcomes.

Sometimes, the plan will fail to meet expectations, or internal or external changes will affect its business outlook. That’s a natural part of the process. In that case, apply a course correction to keep your company moving in the right direction.

The lifespan of a strategic plan is usually 3–5 years, which means when that time is up, you should start fresh. Your needs and goals will evolve during that time, and old processes might no longer apply. Make it easier on yourself by using your existing document as a planning template that your strategic management team can use.

Strategic planning made easier with Roadmunk by Tempo

Bring your strategic plan to life with Roadmunk by Tempo. It’s an easy-to-use application that creates audience-friendly roadmaps to help you visualize your business journey and prioritize your goals. And Roadmunk integrates with Jira-enabled Timesheets — a product that tracks the time your projects and initiatives take in the context of your plan.