Project Management: How to Develop a Strategic Plan
At the beginning of every project, there’s a problem to solve: how will we execute our project and in a way that satisfies stakeholders? How will we define scope, objectives, and results of a project?
The answers to each of these questions fill in your project management strategy. In this article we’ll cover what a strategic plan is, why you need one, and the topics you need to cover in your strategic plan.
See our post "How to Plan a Project" for a step-by-step guide to planning an effective project.
Strategic Plan vs. Project Plan
A strategic plan is the “how” of your project. This is different from a project plan, which is focused on the execution or the nitty-gritty of “what” needs to be done. We’ve talked before about the importance of a project plan and how to write one, so to recap, a project plan includes:
- What is required
- How it is done
- Who does what
- When things will happen
Your strategic plan, on the other hand, is not a task list. It is a high-level plan that identifies the tools and resources you’ll use to deliver your project on time, on budget, and meet your goals.
Why You Need a Strategic Plan
Your strategic plan provides transparency and clarity for your entire team and all stakeholders.
For instance, because it is a document that will identify the way the team communicates with each other, it will help define how conflicts will be resolved. It eliminates ambiguity and keeps the project on track so you don’t waste budget or fall behind on deadlines.
How to Write a Strategic Plan
Now that you have an idea of what a strategic plan should accomplish, you’re ready to start writing one. We’ll go through the four elements your strategic plan should include and how to approach them.
Failure to communicate is one of the top reasons why projects get off track. At the same time, weekly or daily status meetings can become a frustrating, time-consuming waste of effort that your team won’t find valuable.
The communications section lays out how communication should work during the project and answers these questions:
- Who are the stakeholders and what role do they play in the project?
- Which team members will need to communicate with each other and how will they do it?
- How will we communicate deadlines and dependencies?
- How will we communicate status updates and next steps?
- How will we inform stakeholders who are not involved in the execution of the project?
No matter how you choose to communicate, be sure it’s heavy on collaboration and is as centralized as possible. As you listen to your team members and their preferences, you’ll be able to customize a strategy that meets their needs and schedules and is easy to use.
2. Resource Identification
Most of your resources will fall into three categories: money, people, and assets. Your strategic plan will identify what resources you need for your project and how you will get them.
For instance, budgets are finite and it’s important to know who is going to pay for the project.
Organizations and departments have their own larger strategies with budgets attached to goals and metrics. So, sometimes determining budget will be easy. If it’s difficult to find a way to pay for a project, it’s worth considering whether or not the project fits into broader strategic goals.
When it comes to building a team, there is also a finite number of hours and resources a team can offer. Individual people have different work expectations and bandwidth, and so you’ll need to strategize within the confines of realistic expectations.
You’ll want to leverage the institutional knowledge of your more senior workers while also building the expertise of new employees and respecting everyone’s time and individual capacity.
3. Tracking Progress and Conflict Mediation
While a strategic plan doesn’t lay down the exact details of which tasks you’ll create and complete, it will include how you will track your project from start to finish.
Tracking for your project can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as complex as a fully featured work management platform. Many of the same strategies for finding the best project management software for you apply here as well:
- Put the needs of the project first.
- Find the simplest solution that meets the needs of the project.
- Look at your available resources before hunting for something new.
To avoid double-dipping of team efforts, your tracking strategy must be centralized. This way when—not if—problems in the project arise, all involved parties can come to a solution quicker. Otherwise, if you have different teams using different tools to collaborate, important information can be lost or misplaced.
In order to know how to report the progress and results of any project, you need to understand what the goals or KPIs are. There are hundreds of different data points you can present (here are four we recommend for creative teams), but the most crucial KPIs reflect what your project requester or sponsor expects.
We’ve discussed previously the importance of delivering a project with confidence. Taking your project over the finish line requires defining—from the beginning—what and where that finish line is and how you will cross it.
For instance, how will you know when a project is completed? Who has final approval on a project and how does that process work? How will you store project files and other information to refer back to later? Knowing these kinds of answers at the start prepares you for consistent, useful reporting.
A strategic plan is your set of tools and resources mapped to your project. You won’t need all of your tools every time, but knowing which ones are right for each job is a crucial part of smooth project management.
Your strategic plan will provide transparency and direction to your stakeholders and ensure your projects are completed and delivered, rather than languishing while waiting for approval.
You’ll communicate in a way that makes sense and is customized for team members. And, you’ll track your tasks using tools that are simple and tailored for your projects. Most importantly, defining your project strategy means you can be sure your project is hitting the key business goals you want every time.
Get our free ebook 3 Strategies to Plan Successful Marketing Projects for tips on establishing consistency, increasing visibility and tracking, and reducing rework.