How to effectively track the implementation of your strategic plans
"Fail to plan and you plan to fail"
Once you have completed your yearly strategic planning event and have the goals and objectives ready to implement, you might feel the hardest part is over. But the deployment of the goals and objectives to the operating and program units is the step that requires tremendous communication and coordination efforts. It is then that the whole process of tracking the plan’s implementation is where the real work begins since we have to make sure we are delivering what we set out to accomplish.
Benjamin Franklin said if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail but if you fail to track you are definitely going to fail to reach your desired future state. The progress of your strategy’s implementation must be checked on a fairly regular and scheduled basis to see if it is still on track. If it is not on track it must be nudged back in the right direction.
For a strategic plan to be actionable and trackable it needs to have tactics with measures that are not vague or general but specific and actionable as well as measurable. Those doing the planning need to consider and build in at every step in the development of the strategic plan how they will track it. Building in the concept of track ability at every step in the strategic planning process helps keep it concrete and not in blue sky generalities. The more specific we can be at every step in the strategic planning process, the better the chances the goals will be achieved.
Once the plan is deployed and the operating and program units begin to develop tactics they will undertake to help achieve the strategic goals, they must make surethat they have tactics that are specific, measureable, and actionable. One key thing that is sometimes missing at the tactic level is the "Completion Date." Defining when we will achieve the tactic is a key input for trackability.
Tracking does not have to be difficult or complex. It needs to be organized, done on a regular schedule, and centralized. The Oklahoma City-County Health Departmenthas developed such a process to track their strategic goals and associated tactics which is shown in the spreadsheet below (and available on the web here).
Spreadsheet - click to go to web template
The spreadsheet tracks the strategic goals which are listed as priority areas in the tabs of the spreadsheet and each has an objective, past activities (see what has been done), future activities, and who is responsible (executive and program level), and a tab to identify the status over the five years of the Strategic Plan.
This gives a snapshot of each goal and the associated objectives, what is completed, and who is responsible in a compact and concise format. An example of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department tracking is as follows:
- Goal: Maximize use of technology to improve efficiency of services at each location.
- Objective: By FY 2014 implement a Public Health Electronic Medical Record
- Past activities: Contract negotiations complete with Fusion consulting, first site visit completed
- Future activities: Request for Information from potential PHEMR vendors to be released and vendor demonstrations scheduled by March, 2014.
- Responsible: Executive – G. Cox Program/Staff – A. Plati
Other fields such as baseline data, resources required, action plans for areas behind schedule, lessons learned, changes, etc. can be added to customize it to your organization. The key thing with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department is they track and have regular reviews as to where they are with their strategic goals. The reviews are focused since a trackability process is in place and utilized to guide the review.
Once we have a good trackability process in place we need to have reviews quarterly and annually to make sure that we are on track.
The quarterly reviews help us to see where we are, what has been accomplished, what is behind schedule, and what are the action plans to get back on schedule. Quarterly reviews are a good time to test to see if we have over or under-estimated what we could accomplish and make adjustments. This is also a good time to review the assumptions that were made that the strategic plan was built upon and decide if they are still valid. Remember the Strategic Plan is a living document that needs to reflect reality. Some questions that should be asked during quarterly reviews by the executive team are:
Current status of objectives? Are they on or off schedule with the implementation timeline? If so, why? Important for either on or off schedule since there are lessons to be learned that may help others.
What challenges are you encountering? What has been getting in the way?
Do you have the right staff involved and sufficient resources?
Is the scheduled timeline developed realistic?
Any updates to the timeline required? Why?
What can the executive team do to help you be successful?
The Annual Review is a good time to take a fresh look at the strategic plan and conduct:
- Review of the accomplishments
- Understand what was not achieved and why
- Conduct an Action SWOT Analysis and see what has shifted in our business environment. Our strategic plan must reflect reality.
- Make adjustments to the Strategic Plan for the next year and communicate to the organization and develop the tactics for the next year.
- Begin the process of tracking and reviewing again
A strategic plan is the road map to the future for an organization. It must have realistic goals and accountability built into it. Tracking and reviewing the plan on a regular basis helps ensure the goals are realistic and those executing the strategy are accountable. The tracking mechanism is the plans’ GPS since it tells us if we are on or off the roadmap.