The quick guide to strategic planning in startups
Strategic planning is an important process for any startup. It creates foundations, provides direction and focuses your team on the period ahead. Without strategic planning, your teams and startup will become reactive instead of purposeful and likely dither away opportunities that could have been capitalised on. In my experience, the best way to undertake strategic planning in your startup is by setting out these five planning principles.
1) Define the frequency – Your strategic planning periods should be shorter than you probably think. Most people traditionally think of strategic planning as an annual affair. However, this in my experience is too long. Your strategic planning for an early stage startup probably needs to be quarterly. This creates urgency, priority, and adaptability and keeps your strategy front of mind for your team.
2) Choose a focus – Your strategy needs a focus or a theme for the period ahead. This theme could for example be growth, scaling, achieving profitability or if times are tough then survival. The focus needs to be something to rally your teams behind.
3) Define success – How will you know what success looks like if you haven’t defined it. As a part of your strategic plan, you should select two to four metrics that you can use to measure your success. The metrics should be directly related to measuring your selected theme. These don’t have to be new metrics, instead select relevant metrics that you are already tracking. After all, it will help to have historical data to compare.
4) Set your pillars – Next you need to define 2-3 strategic pillars. These are sub-themes that relate to the focus selected above. The strategic pillars should be somewhat ambiguous and therefore subjective and open to interpretation. This will encourage your team or teams to think creatively about solutions to this problem. If they are too specific you risk killing this creativity.
5) Identify your initiatives – Finally, you need to brainstorm and define the specific initiatives that your team needs to complete. These can be anything but the outcomes should relate to improving the metrics you set out as your success metrics.
Once your strategic plan is completed you need to cascade it throughout your startup and get buy-in from everyone. The whole company needs to be working towards the same goals. If you received any meaningful feedback on the plan then consider including it in the next quarter.
Often in very early stage start-ups this means your OKR process and strategic planning can overlap significantly. Which is am important distinction many people miss.
When done right strategic planning steers and focuses the direction of your startup. It gives your team focus and moves them from being reactive to purposeful. The steps outlined in this article represent a refined method for doing strategic planning in a startup.