The word strategy is in wide use in businesses and other organisations. The term is so common that it is easy to assume that everyone knows exactly what it means. In practice, however, many people confuse strategy with planning and sometimes with process. Planning and strategy are not the same concept. In fact, strategy is what needs to be in place before planning can begin. Understanding the blend between strategy, planning and processes will streamline project delivery.
Planning involves decision-making, but strategy involves devising a framework that will guide how you make decisions. For this reason, strategy always comes before planning, and a clear strategy should make day-to-day planning and decision-making much easier.
Applying a strategic framework
A strategic framework should lay out a set of principles that guide both your daily decisions and long-term planning. This framework should include answers to these important questions:
- What value are you creating as an organisation?
- Who are you creating it for?
- What skills, resources and core capabilities do you need? How will you reach and communicate with your customers or end-users?
- What level of revenue or profit are you aiming for?
- What unique qualities or offerings set you apart from the competition?
In short, strategy is an overview of what will move you from where you are to where you want to be. It is about what you want to achieve and what needs to be in place to achieve it.
Develop your knowledge
Becoming knowledgeable about strategy helps guide the daily decision-making processes of your entire team. Once your strategic framework is in place, it can inform decisions on investments, hiring, product development, budgets, advertising and most other issues. Having a strategy can also help team members prioritise everything from major projects to small daily tasks.
A clear strategy also lets your team members decide what not to do. If a plan, decision or process does not in any way support your clearly defined strategic framework, then it probably does not need done. Alternatively, it could need to be adapted so that it does contribute to your strategy.
When everyone understands the strategic framework, autonomy increases, and decision-making is more streamlined. Often, much of the back-and-forth clarifications between managers, employees, departments and team members is due to a lack of understanding in regard to what the organisation is actually trying to achieve. Once everyone is clear on the answers to all the above questions, formulating plans becomes easier. Many decisions become more obvious, and some decisions practically make themselves.
Strategy, planning and process are very different things, but they are all linked. A plan involves making a set of decisions based on a strategy. A process is a clearly defined way of doing a particular task. The strategic framework lays out the big picture of what needs done; the plan is the actual road map of how to do it and the process is the system that you have in place to implement what is in your plan.