by NEIL POTTER
The starting point of an effective process improvement
program is to conduct a formal or informal process
assessment to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the
organization. After the problem identification phase, a
high-level improvement plan is created. This is followed by
a detailed tactical action plan. This article describes the
steps to create a high-level, or strategic plan.
The overall flow of the strategic planning process
- Select a business goal on which to focus
- Select assessment findings (or problem areas) that
support the business goal
- Develop subgoals for each problem area
- Prepare for tactical planning
In detail, the steps to develop a strategic plan are:
1. State the business goals of the organization being
The business goals are used to determine which assessment
finding to address first, and to keep the team focused on a
clear result. If the improvement effort does not help the
business, it may fail due to a lack of management support.
Using the business goals makes the tie clear.
2. Select one business goal as a focus.
3. Select a strategic planning team.
Look at the business goal and problems you are trying to
solve and choose people that have a vested interest. Include
people, when appropriate, from management, development and
4. For the selected business goal:
(a) If a process assessment has been conducted,
determine which assessment findings (or parts of an
assessment finding) would impact the goal the
(b) If a process assessment has not been conducted,
brainstorm and discuss the problems that are preventing
you from achieving the goal, and set priorities.
5. For each weakness (assessment finding or
(a) Each member of the planning team gives
his/her interpretation of the weakness. The team
validates its understanding and discusses and resolves
(b) Determine subgoals (over the next 18-24
How should the organization look or behave when this
weakness has been addressed? These subgoals (established for
each weakness) should be in line with the overall business
The creation of an image of how you want the organization
to look after an assessment is the most important part of
strategic planning. Initially you may come up with images
that seem unbelievable or ones that you don't feel you have
any control over. These will be refined in step "d."
A good analogy is road building. The business goal
describes where the road ends. The subgoals, based on
problem statements, state the potholes that need to be
filled in order to achieve the business goal.
(c) State why this subgoal is important to
achieve (the benefits).
It is important for improvement goals to be compelling.
For each subgoal, state why the organization wants this to
be achieved. This is the motive. If you cannot develop a
compelling argument for achieving a subgoal, you may have
found an area not to waste time on for now.
(d) Check to make sure each subgoal is SMART:
Simply stated and specific, Measurable, stated As-if-now,
Reasonable, believable (within your control or
influence), Timed (with a date) and toward what you want.
See page one of this newsletter for an explanation of
SMART goal setting.
6. Set priorities for each subgoal statement.
It is important to focus on a few areas and not try to
solve everything at once. Priorities can be set by
determining the relative benefit and cost of each goal.
- On a 1-10 scale, rate the relative benefit the
subgoal would have for the organization (1 = low, 5 =
medium, 10 = high)
- On a 1-10 scale rate the relative cost of the subgoal
to implement (1 = low, 5 = medium, 10 = high). "Cost" can
be money or effort.
- Determine the priority (benefit / cost).
- Any interdependencies? Categorize into phases, 1st,
Look to see if there are any natural sequences for the
subgoals and then sort the complete list by phase (use three
phases for simplicity). For example, when working on
planning, a subgoal in phase one may be to identify a
project planning technique and pilot it. A subgoal in phase
two may be to plan one real project and collect data. A
subgoal in phase three would be to deploy the technique to
all project teams. Start work on those subgoals in phase 1
with the highest priority.
7. Determine when the goal and progress should be
If the goals are not frequently reviewed, they are likely
to get out of sight and out of mind, and action towards
their accomplishment will fade. Frequent review will
maintain a burning desire and consciousness for the goal so
that the organization stays focused.
8. Do a preliminary brainstorm of tactical
At this stage it is useful to brainstorm ideas for the
action plan. Not all of the ideas will be used. If you have
a process goal of the CMM or ISO9001, pick out items that
help address the problems and achieve the subgoals. The
quickest way to achieve any process model or standard is to
find some practical use for each element. The selection
criteria for where to start looking are the business goals
and problem areas of the organization.