Regularly checking in on your strategic plan is crucial for successful implementation. Many of our clients focus on strategic planning but neglect the critical phase of implementation. Assess your progress, revisit assumptions, engage your team, and adapt to changes to ensure your strategy remains aligned with real-world conditions. This proactive approach transforms your strategic plan from a theoretical exercise into a dynamic roadmap for success.


    The Critical Phase: Implementation

    Many clients seek our help with strategic planning, but far fewer look for assistance with strategy implementation. This imbalance is telling because where strategy typically fails is during the implementation stage. Regularly checking in on your strategic plan, ensuring it evolves with real-world dynamics, turns a theoretical exercise into a dynamic roadmap for success.


    Choosing the Right Strategic Planning Model

    Greater success in implementing strategic plans begins with selecting the right planning model. There are hundreds of equally valid strategic planning models to choose from, each with its own unique approach. At Stratford, we use a strategic planning model that strikes the right balance between simplicity and rigour. The core principle of this model is to create strategic plans with clearly defined target outcomes. This often involves significant effort but, in our experience, yields tangible results.


    The Challenge of Implementation

    Setting the direction or vision is relatively straightforward, but the hardest part is articulating how to achieve these objectives. In our view, a good strategic plan is an interlocking set of major outcomes that forms a cogent narrative. This involves outlining specific actions, documenting assumptions, and forecasting outcomes. For example, if our plan aims to double revenues in three years with Product A contributing 60% of this growth, we must detail how we intend to achieve this, including market penetration strategies and efficiency improvements.


    Documenting Assumptions

    One of the most critical and often overlooked components of strategic planning is documenting assumptions. These assumptions serve as a foundation for future assessments. For instance, if aforementioned Product A is expected to contribute 60% of revenue growth, it's vital to document the assumptions behind this projection. This allows us to evaluate and learn from any deviations from our targets.

    As we implement our plan and approach the end of year 2, if Product A is behind target, our ability to manage this challenge, and learn from it rests entirely on whether we documented our assumptions when we made the original projection.


    Regular Review and Adaptation

    Regularly reviewing and evaluating your strategic plan ensures it remains relevant and achievable. Begin by assessing progress towards your desired outcomes. Are you advancing as planned, or have there been significant deviations? Revisit your assumptions to see if they hold true or if market, competitive, or internal changes necessitate adjustments.

    Understanding these shifts is essential for fine-tuning your strategy and staying on the right path. For example, were we unable to achieve the price increases we anticipated? Were our sales volume projections too aggressive? Did the partner facilitating our entry to Europe fall short? Did the competition make an unexpected move?

    It’s important to be able to look back and remember what we were thinking 24 months ago so we can learn from it and improve or adapt future strategic plans.


    Building Continuous Improvement

    It definitely requires more work to craft clear assumptions that support the target outcomes in your strategic plan. You’re going out on a limb, taking a stand by exposing your thinking in an environment of uncertainty.

    But, crafting clear assumptions and documenting them supports continuous improvement. This approach reflects an organization’s maturity in strategic planning and enhances the likelihood of success. By embedding a culture of continuous improvement, your strategic plans become more resilient and effective over time, benefitting you for every future strategic plan.


    A Model for Success

    Regularly checking in on your strategic plan is not just about identifying problems but also recognizing and reinforcing successful tactics. This ongoing evaluation builds the capacity for continuous improvement within your organization. By staying engaged with your strategic plan and its implementation, you can adapt, learn, and continue moving towards your goals with confidence and clarity. This proactive approach transforms your strategic plan into practical, actionable path to achieving your goals.


    [FROM THE ARCHIVES] This blog post was originally published in December 2015 under the title "Building the Capacity for Continuous Improvement" and has been updated with new content.