Notes on Program Design, Implementation, and Evaluation 2: Strategic Planning

I am taking a class on Program Design, Implementation, and Evaluation this semester. This is part of my Master’s in Youth Development. To make my notes more accessible, I decided to put them here. Our textbook is “Effectively Managing and Leading Human Service Organizations, 4th Ed.” by Ralph Brody and Murali Nair. 

These are my notes from the chapters I am reading. 

* * * * *

Chapter 2: Strategic Planning

“Strategic planning describes the process of addressing change. It develops goals, accompanied by a set of actions to help achieve those goals. Emerging from the organization’s key stakeholders…, it is a shared vision for the future. It is also a roadmap for achieving that vision, given known realities and facts.”

It leads to a written plan. It’s also equally important to engage stakeholders for buy-in and support.

Strategic planning “helps participants reach consensus on fundamental issues that require ongoing, concentrated attention. Through strategic planning, stakeholders stimulate their organization to move beyond doing business as usual, by considering innovative changes.”

Note: Strategic planning also helps organizations say NO to good opportunities but are not in line with the organization’s vision.

“Only when a nonprofit’s key performance areas are defined can it really set goals. Only then can the nonprofit ask, “Are we doing what we are supposed to be doing? Is it still the right activity? Does it still serve a need?” And above all, “Do we still produce results that are sufficiently outstanding, sufficiently different for us to justify putting our talents to use in that area?” Then you can ask, “Are we still in the right areas? Should we change? Should we abandon?” – Peter Drucker

Two situations when strategic planning is needed:

  • There’s a threat! – address an issue and a challenge that is right in front of the organization
  • Everything is going right! – Use foresight to look at trends and see how these affect the organization.

“To counter entropy, the inevitable tendency of organizations to wind down, it is imperative that organizations use the strategic planning process to reenergize and reinvent themselves.”

Organized Abandonment

This term refers to the practice of organizations that puts all programs into question. “Abandoning things that no longer work pushes the organization to improve the quality of services.”

This is similar in the tech world’s concept of ‘Planned Obsolescence,’ where they expect their products to eventually die and so they look for ways to innovate and even cannibalize their own products.

Barriers to Strategic Planning

  • Time-consuming and resource intensive
  • There may be urgent concerns that are more important.
  • Decision-makers lack the conviction and will to go through this important process.

Developing the Strategic Plan

Get Organized: Strategic Planning needs time and resources to be successful.

Conduct an Analysis: There is value in getting a neutral, outside facilitator. Review the mission statement, resource audit, ask fundamental questions, examine strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and consider the cycle of organizational life.

Develop a Mission Statement: This defines the organization’s sense of purpose and direction. It helps limit the organization’s focus.

Ask Fundamental Questions:

  • What business are we in?
  • What business should we be in now?
  • What business do we want to be in a few years down the road? – This needs some future-casting and understanding where current trends may lead. Visioning is part of this process.
  • What will happen if we continue doing business in the same way?

“In visioning your future, examine the particular niche you will fill in the human services of the future. In the business world, the term branding connotes a certain reputation of the enterprise….. Human service agencies must strive to develop their brand–their reputation for unique and excellent services. In the quest for positioning themselves to meet the needs of the community, however, agencies should not rely solely on their good cause. Positioning must also be based on delivering results–changing lives and changing conditions as a result of the organization’s effort.” (p. 25)

Conduct a Resource Audit and Situational Analysis: SWOT (SCOT) Process

This is what the strategic planning committee needs to do (the following is an excerpt from the book, p. 25):

  1. Review programs and services to determine whether each one can be justified in relation to the organization’s mission.
  2. Examine the structure at every level of the organization, including job descriptions, staff responsibilities, and formal processes.
  3. Determine the organization’s management of staff and funding.
  4. Identify significant community trends and issues that might impinge on the organization’s function.
  5. Carefully examine the extent to which other organizations are duplicating services or competing for funding or clients.

The SWOT Analysis is helpful for analyzing internal (organizational) and external (environmental) factors.

Internal factors include Strengths (S), and Weaknesses (W); while external factors include Opportunities (O) and Threats (T).

The scanning usually includes looking at political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental. The acronym PESTLE or PESTEL is often used for this.

  • Some organizations conduct the external scanning first before coming up with a mission statement so that they have more awareness of what is going on in their area of work.

Are there Critical Issues that needs to be addressed?

A strategic planning session also needs to consider the pressing, critical issues that the organization faces.

How to identify critical issues that become strategic (from page 28):

  • they involve high stakes, such as dealing with new funding opportunities or a serious decline in client attendance;
  • require intensive attention that cannot be left to routine planning, such as taking the initiative to form an association with other agencies;
  • cut across various operating units of the organization, such as developing a new service that involves the marketing, accounting, and program staff working together; and
  • delineate where the organization should be going.

Drafting the Strategic Plan

A written draft of the strategic plan will include the following elements:

  • Mission statement
  • Vision of the organization (3-5 years)
  • Goals for the next 3-5 years
  • Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats
  • Critical issues
  • Actions to be done to address critical issues
  • Timetable for each critical issue

Notes: Some Caveats and Warnings

There is a very strong temptation to stop working after the strategic plan is written and finalized. But it is merely a means to an end. And after the planning process, the focus should shift to implementing and working on the action items identified in the plan.

Dynamic Planning

A strategic plan is a high-level plan that sets the course of an organization for the next 3- 5 years. But it should not be an inflexible plan. To mitigate this, Dynamic Planning needs to be integrated into the organization’s playbook.

“The emphases [of Dynamic Planning] is on bottom-up learning–encouraging staff to try new approaches and then see what happens…. Fundamental to dynamic planning is opportunistic thinking. Managers continually ask, “What new opportunities can we grasp?” This is part of a never-ending search for new possibilities. Risk taking is built into a trial-and-error process in which failure is always a realistic possibility.” (p.31)

Note: Dynamic Planning reminds me of “Lean Startup” and the agile development process in tech. Where you don’t write a big, world-changing plan. Instead, you start with a Minimum Viable Product, then you roll it out, test, iterate, test, iterate, until you arrive at a product that can be launched to the broader public.

“In reality, through a dynamic strategic planning process, smaller visions frequently emerge. These are modest-scale ideas that, if worthwhile, develop into ambitious undertakings.” (p.31)


Final words

“Strategic planning clarifies what must be pruned to take advantage of new growth opportunities. It helps establish the boundaries of what the organization will do–and what it will not do.” (p.32)



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