Strategic planning utilizing quality improvement tools

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Erin Barkema

strategic post it notes on a board

Authors: Erin Barkema [1] and John Moran [2]


“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!" Benjamin Franklin[3]


Strategic planning is a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does and why it does it.[4] Strategic planning is a review and planning process that is undertaken to make thoughtful decisions about an organization’s future in order to ensure its continued success. Strategic Planning is a periodic process of creating an organizational strategy or a plan for the next three to five years.

When the annual Strategic Planning event rolls around each year we need to start treating it as a process and not an event. An event is a gathering of individuals for a discussion whereas a process has those individuals engaging in a disciplined approach. Strategic Planning using Quality Improvement tools allows an organization to delve deeper into how their organization is currently operating before deciding on what they want to focus on in the future. The approach described in this article can also be used to do a mid-term refresher of a strategic plan.

Process Steps:

  1. Select the appropriate participants for the strategic planning meeting who have knowledge of the entire operations of the organization.

  2. Draw Figure 1 on a few sheets of easel paper and post around the meeting room.

  3. Start off the meeting with a group brainstorm about the current state of the organization. Ask questions such as: “What are the organization’s strengths?” and “What are its weaknesses?” The group's responses are recorded on easel paper for everyone to see.
  4. After the group brainstorms their current state, they then move on to thinking about the future state. Ask them to think about the next three to five years and what they would like to achieve as an organization. Other questions that can be asked here are: “What are the organization’s opportunities?”, “What are its threats?”, “How can it capitalize on its strengths?”, “What could be done better?”, and “How could we grow as an organization?” The group's responses are recorded on easel paper.

  5. Next, focus on the Force Field Diagram[5] in figure1. To develop the restraining factors ask them to think about all the things that will hold the organization back in its current state (these are its weaknesses and threats). Then discuss the driving factors. Ask the group to think about all the things that the organization is currently doing or currently has in place that can help move the organization toward its future state which are its strengths. This list should not include things that they would need to implement to get to their current state. This list should only include those things that they currently are doing. Finally, after the group has brainstormed both the driving factors and restraining factors, have them rate each item using a weak (1), moderate (3), or strong (5) scale. These rating values come into play when groups brainstorm the Hows for achieving their future state.

  6. After completing the force field exercise with the group, ask them for ideas about how to reach the future state they have identified.

  7. The group can then use a Solution and Effect Diagram[6] to detail out each of the Hows and develop projects or approaches to achieve them.

  8. Review with the group the organization’s current mission, vision, and value statements to see if any revisions need to be made based on the newly defined future state.

  9. A few weeks later after the material is typed up and distributed for review and comments, reconvene the group and have them review the Hows  and identify measurable objectives, activities, and timelines (a Gantt Chart[7] can be utilized) to achieve the future state.

Figure 1


Example: Tri-City Public Health Department


The Tri-City Public Health department used this approach for their annual strategic planning meeting and came up with the following results



[1] Erin Barkema, MPH is Performance Management/Quality Improvement Consultant for the Public Health Foundation, a Regional Community Health Consultant for the Iowa Department of Public Health, and an Adjunct Professor in the MPH Program at Des Moines University.

[2] John W. Moran, Ph.D. is a Senior Quality Advisor to the Public Health Foundation.  Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health in the Division of Health Policy and Management 2011-2015. A member of PHAB’s Evaluation and Quality Improvement Committee 2013 – present. Adjunct Professor Arizona State University College of Health Solutions' School for the Science of Health 2013 – 2016. President of the Board Healthy Maine Partnership - of Chose To Be Health in York County, Maine 2011 –2016.



[5] Public Health Quality Improvement Encyclopedia, J. Moran et al, Public Health Foundation, ©2012, pp.41-42

[6] Public Health Quality Improvement Encyclopedia, J. Moran et al, Public Health Foundation, ©2012, pp.125-126


[7] Public Health Quality Improvement Encyclopedia, J. Moran et al, Public Health Foundation, ©2012, pp.47-48