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    A Strategic Plan That Works Calls for Careful Preparation

    Originally appeared in the National Association of Professional Engineers newsletter, Engineering Times
    October 2003

    A Strategic Plan That Works Calls for Careful Preparation

    by George Smart

    Many engineering firms start the ever-popular ritual of strategic planning, only to see their brilliant plans end up sitting on a bookshelf or, worse, going out in the trash. Designing a good plan that will actually get implemented is better than writing a great plan where nothing happens.

    What factors make for a strategic plan that you and your company actually will follow? Here are key questions to ask yourself to avoid the most common planning mistakes:


  • Why do I really want a new strategy? Is it because it is that "time of the year?" Is it because my brother, or my neighbor, or my cousin is doing it? How generic are the reasons? For example, if I say "competition," what do I mean, specifically? Naming the real reasons is the first step to diagnosing strategic issues.


  • What role do I play in things that go wrong in this organization? If you believe other people are causing 100% of the problems, well, you are their boss—you have a role! What are you doing or not doing that makes things worse? This doesn't mean you are to blame—it simply means you share some responsibility. Substantial change in the company cannot occur without substantial change in the leaders, especially in a turnaround situation.


  • How much do you believe that change is more about embracing the future than letting go of the past? The more "logical" you consider yourself, the more likely you will insist this statement is true—making it even more likely your plans will be strongly resisted.


  • If your corporate desires involve a heavy-duty upgrade of technology, what will add real dollars to the bottom line? Unfortunately, jealousy and envy play as much a role in technology decisions as rational analysis. Sometimes, even at the executive level, we just want the "toys" that the "other guy" has. (Think about it—how do most CEOs decide which cell phone to buy?)


  • How uncomfortable are you around IT people? Have you ever responded to that discomfort by giving the IT department a blank check and saying, "Go for it"? This typically results in technologists making major decisions that are not based on client and front-line needs.


  • How strongly do you believe that the hardest thing about strategic planning is deciding what to do next? That's often the easy part. The real work, the hard work, the work that creates the capacity to change, is knowing what to stop doing or do less of. Since change alters power, violates long-held scripts and patterns, and challenges widely held beliefs, it is the letting go that is the hardest for most people.


  • Do you believe that strategic planning should be done in isolation by top management? For example, have you ever taken the executives to a lodge or golf resort for a strategy weekend? This is a junket, not a planning methodology. Pamper yourself and your execs all you want—but strategic planning requires involvement from some other major stakeholders, especially nonmanagers and clients, to create plans people will actively support.

    George Smart, senior principal of Strategic Development, Inc., has presented seminars on team and executive development at several  NSPE Conventions.

    Research Triangle Park, North Carolina USA