Planning Is More Important than Plans

Most strategic plan gather dust. But there’s tremendous value in the process of developing them.

I've never heard anyone complain about how short government documents are. In fact it’s the opposite. You often have to wade through dozens if not hundreds of pages of text to decipher the gist of a document. Most people just don't have the time. Most people don't even read short blogs much less multi-page documents.

Nowhere is this situation more prevalent than in government strategic plans. They cover multiple years and run on for pages. After you put in your fifth appendix, it's time for a reality check. It could be that the tech editor and the author are the only two people who have ever read the full document. However, agencies and programs should not take the lack of readers as a reason to stop planning.

First, one of the most valuable aspects of creating a plan is the process of planning itself. In the best case, government leaders are able to talk with stakeholders and staff. They seek out information and data from a wide variety of sources. They spend time thinking and prioritizing. These activities are invaluable. The tragedy of five-year strategic plans is that many leaders view them as one-time exercises rather than a way to establish an ongoing planning rhythm. Circumstances and facts change so the process of planning has to continue in response.

The second valuable outcome of a strategic plan is that one- to two-page outline of an agency’s or program’s key functions and goals. That represents the priorities that leadership has established. I recommend that leaders pull those pages out and find ways to talk about them every day. Do videos and blogs about them. Put them in your PowerPoints. Live those priorities. Line up your resources behind them. Then while your strategic plan is gathering virtual dust on a server somewhere, you can actually get something done about the priorities.

Alan Pentz helps government leaders innovate in an era of disruptive change.