What is Strategic Planning?

Where are we going?

STRATEGIC PLANNING is the management process used to develop the answer to this fundamental question.

Strategic planning creates a long-range plan for the future success of any entity.

This page is designed to answer the fundamental questions about strategic planning.  If you have a particular question not covered here, please CONTACT US. We will happily answer it.

Plan Versus Planning


What is a Strategic Plan?

A strategic plan is a document that summarizes all the critical strategic thinking from the strategic planning process. It defines where the entity sees itself today and the challenges it is facing. It also describes the ultimate end-state it wants to create (its vision), the high-level path it plans to take to move from where it is today to its vision, and finally, the key near-term priorities to begin this journey.


What is a Strategic Planning?

Strategic Planning is the management process used to create a long-range plan of how to achieve an ideal end-state or a set of goals, often called a vision. This long-range plan is called a Strategic Plan.


What is the difference between a strategic plan and a business plan?

As already stated, a strategic plan is a document that defines a long-range plan. It typically covers a planning period of 10 -15 years and communicates the high-level plan to achieve a comprehensive set of goals by the end of this period.  A business plan is a detailed planning document that defines, in specific terms, how to achieve a specific milestone or objective within the strategic planning period. The business plan covers specifics about product/program development, marketing tactics as well as revenue/growth targets, and the plans to achieve these goals.

A strategic plan has directional numbers that tell a very high-level story of how the business model will evolve as the strategic plan is executed.  A business plan has more specific and detailed financial projections that guide investment needs, resource allocations/re-allocations, and annual budgeting. A business plan documents what needs to happen in the near term to align the organization to the strategic plan goals.

To summarize, the strategic plan lays out the high-level path for planned evolution; the business plan lays out the specifics on how to proceed along this path.

Strategic Planning Flashcards

Hover over each card to view the definition

What is a vision?

The ideal end-state you are hoping to achieve.  The big "what" you are striving to achieve: your ultimate goals.  Defined 10-15 years out and substantially updated every 8-10 years. Your vision should describe how you will measure success. 


What is a mission?

Your "why": the impact you want to make for those your strive to serve and the unique role you ideally want to play in making this impact.  Updated rarely, the language is modified from time to time to align with significant shifts in your business model.


What is a strategic direction?

A comprehensive story of how your organization will evolve over time as it strives towards the vision.  Typically updated every 18-24 months. 


What is a strategy?

A strategy is a story. A strategic plan may have an overarching strategy:  mission, vision, strategic direction AND each milestone or objective may have its strategy too.


What are strategic milestones?

A big, thematic goal that, when attained, will mark significant progress in your strategic direction.  Ideally, your strategic plan should include three milestones between the current period and vision typically spread out 12-24 months apart.


What are strategic objectives or goals?

The internal/external goals that, together, attain each strategic milestone.  These objectives explain what will be necessary to achieve as you evolve over time to deliver on your strategic direction. 


What are core strategies?

The foundational areas of your business model that will be continually strengthened as you progress towards the Vision.


What is a plan?

A plan is the details:  who, how, when, how much to achieve each goal or objective in the strategic plan.  Core Strategy plans are typically functional area plans, and Strategic Objective plans are often cross-functional plans.


Why Do You Need a Strategic Plan?


A strategic plan creates a unified understanding of where an entity is going, what it hopes to achieve, and what it believes is the best way to achieve its goals. It is a powerful leadership tool to engage stakeholders and align resources needed to achieve its goals.  When done really well, it creates the basis for the organizational mythology that unites stakeholders in a common quest. 

The real value in dedicating time and effort to strategic planning is that planning teams step away from the daily grind of management and its problem-solving mindset to explore more deeply as a team. A strategic planning process should stimulate new thinking and facilitate the exploration of emerging ideas, issues, opportunities, innovations, and potential threats so that this team shares an understanding of how to navigate through their ever-changing environment successfully. 

A Strategic Plan answers the basic questions:

  • How do we define success?
  • What is our plan?
  • What are our priorities and why?
  • How do we allocate resources?
  • How do we make decisions when there is a new opportunity or a change impacting the original plan?
  • What will we invest in and protect as we grow?

A strategic plan can also be created to resolve a specific set of questions facing an organization when making a high-stakes decision.

You need to engage in Strategic Planning if:

  • You are seeking a significant investment in your business.
  • You are seeking large donations for your mission.
  • You have multiple stakeholder groups that need to be aligned with a common direction so that you can make decisions consistently.
  • You have a board or a funding group that asks for your strategic plan and you don't have one.
  • If you are in a new leadership position (head of a division, President, CEO, Executive Director, or Board President) and there is no strategic plan or one that is outdated (5+ years old).
  • Your market has experienced a dramatic change, and your old planning is no longer relevant.
  • You are seeking growth through a partnership, merger, or acquisition.
  • Your team is working hard, but not aligned. Your organization has "silos" and departmental (or personal) agendas are driving decisions. There is a general lack of commitment and collaboration to achieve common goals.
  • You are planning for a significant change in leadership, such as a founder (or founder-type leader) is retiring and you want to prepare for selecting the right candidate to lead the organization.

You will need to update your existing plan every two to three years or if there is a significant change to:

  • Your planning assumptions
  • Your leadership team
  • Your market, the economy, or customer preferences
  • You have experienced a significant negative event such as a fraud, an unfavorable legal action, or a regulatory change that destabilizes your company.
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How do you begin The process?


When is the best time of year to start strategic planning?

For entrepreneurs or small business owners, the best time to start is now - today!

For smaller businesses that have an annual planning cycle, we recommend starting in the 3rd quarter of the current fiscal year so that you can use your insights to set new goals for the next fiscal year.

For larger corporations, the strategic planning process will take longer and you still want your thinking to impact plans as soon as possible.  If you are part of a corporate group, start your assessment in the 2nd quarter of the current fiscal year. If you so do, you will have new thinking formulated in time to impact the following year’s operating plans.

Once you have your strategic plan, keep it alive by reexamining your assumptions every three years and using the two interim years to identify, evaluate and integrate responses to emerging issues, so you stay vision driven AND market responsive. A complete strategic plan should be created every six to eight years or when there is a leadership change.


What are the steps in strategic planning?

Strategic Planning requires a different thinking mindset than the mindset required for managing.  We call the thinking needed for strategy development Strategic Thinking.  To facilitate this mindset shift, the strategic planning process is designed to disrupt the typical linear process often use in problem-solving. 

The Strategic Planning Model shows the approach to design this process:

  1. Start with a comprehensive analysis of WHERE YOU ARE NOW: Your Strategic Assessment.
  2. Then, leave today behind and leap to the future (usually 10 – 15 years out) and define WHERE YOU WANT TO BE in that future period. This is your Vision and Future Business Model.
  3.  After defining the gap, you can begin to close it with HOW TO GET THERE: Your Strategic Direction or high-level Strategy MAP.

By designing a non-linear (disrupted) process, you open up new thinking. This new thinking mitigates incremental (problem-solving) thinking that sets many organizations up to fall behind market innovations/shifts.

Find out more about our Strategic Planning Services

Strategic Thinking Workshop


Strategic Planning


What outcomes can I expect?

Hover over each card to learn more


Plans are all about defining a path to get somewhere or achieve something.
For near-term problem-solving, clarity is easily attained, but for decisions that have long-term implications, clarity is challenging.
A strategic plan provides a lens to examine significant decisions by articulating the end game or long-range vision of success for teams to use as a beacon that guides decision-making. Is this in alignment with where we want to go?


A strategic plan defines a shared long-range vision of success AND a strategic direction or high-level plan for achieving this vision.
This strategic direction is crafted through rich planning discussions where team members develop and vet their strategic thinking to form a strategic plan they support.
This level of planning and debate provides the rationale leaders need to make decisions and align resources with confidence.


When there is clarity, there is a higher degree of confidence. When there is clarity and confidence there is action.
A strategic planning process provides clarity to answer, where are we going? and confidence to answer how?
When teams align behind a well-developed strategic plan, performance is accelerated. In fact, the track record of our clients is they achieve their strategic plan goals at least 1 year ahead of plan.

The strategic planning process should result in greater alignment and a deeper understanding of priorities.

At a minimum, a strategic planning effort should produce the following:


In addition to these products, the value gained when teams hire a strategic planning expert is the ability to participate rather than lead the process.

A highly efficient, professionally designed, and well-executed strategic planning process that allows you and your team to fully participate in strategic thinking, ultimately producing a better strategic plan.

Strategy Development and Strategic Planning


Strategy development is the exploration of ideas and strategies in service to long-range planning.  Planning is iterative and almost never linear. Meaning only in rare instances is an idea is discussed, and immediately the decision-makers say, “Yes, that is the right thing for us to do. Implement that now!”

More common is for an idea to come up in discussion with other ideas and then after exploration,  the ideas will be ranked for their respective value to strategic direction.

When an idea is highly ranked, it is developed from an idea into a strategy and then a plan.  Other ideas maybe valuable, put for a later time. The process of taking an idea to an actionable plan is strategy development.

Because it takes time to explore and develop thinking and time waits for no one, at times ideas deemed for later move ahead in the timeline or merge with other ideas.  The strategic planning process embraces the fluid nature of strategy development in all shapes and forms. 

What makes leading a strategic planning process especially challenging is keeping track of, monitoring and leveraging all strategy development activities efficiently and effectively so that a new, truly brilliant strategic direction is created.

How much time does it take?


Strategic planning can take just a few weeks for a small business or many months for a large company with many product lines or markets. 

For example, our most in-depth strategic planning engagements are completed within nine months.  However, we have seen large-scale strategic planning projects that require the engagement of many stakeholder groups take up to 18 months.

This is one of those questions that has only one answer: it depends.

How much does it cost?


Strategic planning is an investment in future success, and costs can vary widely based on the organization's size and the plan's scope.

Hosting a planning offsite can run between $4,000 - $15,000, just for the meeting space, catering, and participant’s travel costs. This does not include consulting fees for a strategy consultant.

Let’s review all the costs (direct and soft) to engage in a strategic planning effort.

 First, soft costs, the time to lead and participate in strategic planning.

Inexperienced teams think they can conduct their “strategic planning” in a one-day meeting. This misconception can be formed because they are most familiar with annual planning meetings to set goals for the next budget cycle.

However, to create a genuine strategic plan, you must have a series of meetings that allow the planning group to fully explore where they are today and their beliefs about future success, to define or update their long-range vision of success – 5 to 10 years out and to clarify the planning priorities to close the gap between where they are today and where they ultimately want to be in 5 -10 years. Then, after a few weeks to develop strategies and plan recommendations for planning priorities, the planning group reconvenes to integrate all this wonderful strategic thinking into a comprehensive strategic direction with clear milestones, strategic objectives, and directional forecasts for the investments required and timing of payoff for those investments.

So, the planning team should dedicate three to four full days to group planning meetings rather than a singular day. Each meeting will require preparation time for those responsible for leading the process.

There will also be time needed for those charged with developing plan recommendations on planning priorities. These smaller planning teams typically spend 2 – 4 hours/week for up to three months before the final group planning meeting.

Here is a typical project plan for one of our Strategy Summit® strategic planning engagements.


Unless you have led a strategic planning effort in the past, you will be surprised how much time is required, and this failure to adequately prepare for the time it takes is one of the reasons many “strategic planning” efforts fail to produce the results needed.

READ MORE on this topic: 3 Indications Your Strategic Plan is NOT Strategic.

Now for the hard costs, the expenses you should anticipate incurring to conduct a strategic planning effort.

 1. Meeting Expenses: While you may have access to a great conference room at your offices, the success of a strategic planning effort is significantly enhanced when planning meetings are conducted offsite. Here is why:

Strategic thinking needs a different mindset from day-to-day operations. Setting the meeting location away from the office where participants can effectively disengage from their day-to-day demands helps them shift to a strategic planning mindset. We have all experienced this, place and space matter. If you want to foster new thinking for your next strategic plan, don’t try to do it in the same setting where you meet to make regular business decisions.

Even more important is to protect the confidential nature of the strategy discussions. Each member should feel they can openly discuss the business's issues without fear of setting off a rumor. The creative nature of strategy development means many topics are discussed but may never be included in the final strategic direction.

One of our ground rules for strategy sessions is: If not now, When? You want to allow the flow of these exploratory conversations to happen freely without fear that they will be overheard by someone and misrepresented before you can finish your strategy development.

Finally, during the pandemic, we were forced to use virtual meetings to conduct group planning meetings. This is a horrible format for developing strategy. Even with leveraging all the tools we could, breakout rooms, and online forms to aggregate insights and synthesize perspectives, these meetings failed to produce the creative energy and commitment of in-person meetings. Virtual planning meetings should be used only when forced on you – like during a global pandemic.

Since you are already investing considerable soft costs in the staff time to conduct strategic planning, don’t cheap out thinking you can do it virtually or without booking an offsite space or flying folks in to attend these important sessions. If funds are tight, reach out to your network or professional vendors to see if there is a conference room you can use for free or for a small fee.

2. Consulting Costs:

We often see meeting facilitators brought in to facilitate strategic planning sessions. That can work if you provide the strategic thinking content for each part of the meeting. But you must understand a facilitator is not a strategist, so don't set yourself (and them) up to fail.

If you need help guiding strategy development, hire a strategic planning expert to assist you in leading the process. There is a significant difference between the rates of a meeting facilitator and a strategy consultant.  Facilitators typically charge a day rate, and a strategy consultant will give you a project bid to produce a strategic plan.

For a strategic planning expert, the size of your organization and the scope of your planning will drive the project design and engagement costs. Fees are driven by the complexity of your business model, the number of participants, and the significance of the shift the plan needs to address.

At Focused Momentum, project fees for our signature Strategy Summit® custom consulting engagement can range from $75,000 - $200,000* depending on whether the client is a commercial entity or a non-profit organization and the project's complexity.

We also offer a more limited scope strategic planning approach to provide smaller entities or departments a lift in their planning, our Strategy Boost™. This engagement does not produce a full strategic plan; it provides a leadership team with a near-term plan to align priorities. A Strategy Boost engagement starts at $25,000- $45,000*.

Fees do not typically include travel and materials costs.  If your budget is tight, avoid surprises by discussing these reimbursable costs during project contracting.

*2023 pricing; subject to change.

The best way to determine the costs for your organization’s next strategic planning process is to request a no-obligation consultation with us. We have conducted hundreds of strategic planning sessions, and we can help you clarify the scope and complexity of your planning effort and determine which approach might work best. Then, you can use the information on this page to help compile a realistic budget.



dark green strategist(1)

Who needs to be involved?

For a business: planning is the executive team's responsibility, typically with a presentation to their Board of Directors for approval.
The sponsor for strategic planning is always the CEO; the executive team or senior leadership team drives much of the strategy development, but the CEO must be the driving force behind this effort.

We highly recommend including as many brilliant minds available to you.

The process thrives on strategy discussions where everyone wears “the strategist hat.” You never can tell from where the spark of brilliance will come.

In our planning engagements, we create a small group to act as process designers; we call this group the Design Team. A Design Team has five or six people, the sponsor, and four or five others from the executive team or management roster.

For a non-profit: the strategic direction is best developed hand in hand with the volunteer leadership of the Board of Directors or Trustees.

In the nonprofit sector, sponsorship is shared by the senior staff person (CEO, President, or Executive Director) and the President or Chair of the Board.

Participants include all senior staff, all voting members of the Board, and other significant individual contributors on staff or at a volunteer level. Typically, donors not holding board seats are not involved in strategy development other than during the assessment phase in a strategic assessment survey or interview.

A Design Team is also recommended for non-profit strategic planning processes. The Board typically appoints a Strategic Planning Committee that serves as the Design Team with the CEO/President/ED, and a few senior staff.

Strategic Planning and Problem-Solving


A great strength of today’s organizations is their ability to solve complex problems. However, every strength can be a weakness, which is true when teams apply their strong problem-solving skills to strategic planning.

Strategic planning is not just bigger or more complex problem-solving. In fact, these two processes have more differences than similarities, and they can play a powerful role in an organization’s success if you have a strategic plan.

Problem-solving follows a linear approach.
The model for a strategic planning process forces a disruption in this linear path to create the space for new thinking.



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