In Praise of Strategic Planning

It’s that time of year when many of the production staff in architecture and design firms tend to find many of the executive staff preoccupied, absent and often grumpy.  We come by it honestly through the process of strategic planning. I’ve come across several schools of thought about how strategic planning should be done and I have a few general thoughts on the subject.  I welcome your input as well.

At the most basic level, I think there are three components of a good strategic plan.  The first involves assessing “Where Are We Today”. Most firm leaders have some anecdotal sense of how successful the firm has been with client service, business development, profitability, staff utilization, staff turnover, etc., but I think it’s worth getting an empirical sense of such things.  It’s also worth having about 5 years worth of similar data so we can see where our most recent results are consistent with or divergent from recent history.

Once we know where we are today, we can ask the next question, which is “Where Do We Want to Be In (Time Frame)”.  For some, strategic planning is an annual exercise.  For others, truly planning happens every 5 years, followed by annual pulse checks.  Whichever approach one chooses, it helps to clearly articulate and have consensus among the firm’s leadership about where the firm is going and in what period of time.  Sometimes, by engaging in this exercise, we find there is not consensus on the goal.  If not, the leadership needs to figure out if and how to bridge whatever divide arises.  I would suggest that having clarity about the goal and consensus on its efficacy is crucial.  The quickest way to slow a boat is to have a member of the crew rowing in a different direction from the one in which the boat is pointed.  The second best way to fail is not addressing this problem when it arises.

Now that Point A and Point B have been established we get to the place where the rubber meets the road: “How Will We Get There?”  In my experience, strategies and tactics are best created and executed and have the highest probability of being effective when we have clarity about the starting point and the end game.   Telling me we want the firm to “keep growing” isn’t enough.  Telling me we want to grow our self-performed revenue by 15 percent over the next year is specific enough that I can work with it.

Finally, it’s important to remember that a plan is a road map, not a set of railroad tracks.  Once we set ourselves on a path, we should have the ability to make minor adjustments if the terrain changes or the need arises.  However we still need to road map to keep us on the path toward our ultimate goal.


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