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close this bookGuide for Managing Change for Urban Managers and Trainers (HABITAT, 1991, 190 p.)
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View the documentForeword
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View the documentInitiating the learning experience
View the documentThe urban management challenge
View the documentOrganizational change: concepts and strategies
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close this folderAction research and planning
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View the documentBuilding a problem-solving relationship
View the documentProblem identification
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View the documentPlanning a course of action
View the documentExperimentation and redesign, implementation, evaluation
View the documentGroup effectiveness
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View the documentThe urban manager: evolving roles for managing change
View the documentStrategic planning: concepts and strategies for planned change
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View the documentPower, influence and personal empowerment: making a difference back on the job
View the documentManaging change: the leadership dimension
close this folderPart III
View the documentPlanning re-entry

Strategic planning: concepts and strategies for planned change




Topic: Strategic planning

Time required: Approximately 3 - 4 hours (can vary depending upon size of training group and number of reports)

This training event is designed to help participants better understand strategic planning as a management process. The exercise involves the writing of proposals by an external consultant to assist a local government develop a strategic plan for the organization. The training participants would be divided into several small work groups depending upon the number of trainees in the workshop. One group would act as a proposal review team for the local government and one or more groups would be organized to develop proposals to assist the local government in developing a strategic plan. Another variation to this two party exercise would involve a third task group that would observe the presentation of the proposals to the management team and the management team’s response, assess the presentations and responses and give feedback on both the content and process of the presentations and critique.


(1) Provide time for the training participants to read the accompanying essay on strategic planning.

(2) Prepare written task statements for each role group: (a) the management team; (b) the teams that will develop the proposals; and (c) (if you decide to use a third group) a team to evaluate the work of the other two.

Here are some thoughts on what these task statements might include:

(a) Local Government Management Team: Your team represents a local government that has decided to develop a strategic plan for the community and will be hiring a planning consultant/facilitator to assist in the process. (The planning is to be conducted by local officials and, perhaps, citizen representatives - not by an outside firm or group of planners.) Your role is to develop a set of criteria for evaluating the consultant’s proposal to the elected council and management team of the local authority and to conduct a meeting where the proposals will be presented. After the proposals have been presented, your team will hold a short discussion to decide which of the consulting groups you will offer the contract.

(b) Consulting Teams: (The training exercise is designed to provide a bit of competition among planning consultants so the exercise should include at least two consulting teams and ideally three. Processing more than three would be too time consuming and difficult to discern qualitative differences in the proposals.)

Your team(s) is to develop a proposal to assist the local government develop a strategic plan. (Assume a city of 100,000 population, council-town clerk type of government, and the usual amenities and problems for an agricultural service centre of this size.) The strategic plan is to be developed primarily by local officials and citizens. Your role is to facilitate this process.

Since time is short, you are expected to only outline your approach (the process of planning) and the outcomes you hope to achieve - not to write a full-blown proposal. Given these parameters, you will want to concentrate on: how you would organize and facilitate the strategic planning process; who you would want to involve; how long it would take; the goals and objectives of the planning process; the expected outcomes to be achieved; resources required; and any other details you believe would make your proposal competitive and attractive.

(c) Evaluation Team (if you decide to form a small group for this purpose): Your team will be expected to observe the presentation of proposals by the consulting teams, their interaction with the management team and the final discussion when the management team decides who they will recommend be employed as the planning consultant. To prepare for these tasks, you will want to develop criteria for evaluating the plans and the final selection of the consultant to help carry it out.

(3) Assuming you have written the task statements, you are ready to divide the training participants into the various groups listed above. Each team should have no fewer than 4-5 participants and no more than 8 or 9. This means you can adjust the training exercise to accommodate as few as 16 (4x4) and as many as 45 (9x5 - assumes 3 planning consultant teams of 9 each).

Describe briefly what the exercise is to achieve and give them time goals (45 minutes to prepare their presentations or other pre-role play tasks; 20 minutes for each presentation of the plans; and 20-45 minutes to select the winning consultant proposal and to allow feed-back by the evaluation team).

(4) Divide the training participants into the various task groups: one management team; two or three planning consulting teams who will compete for the contract; and an evaluation team, if you decide to create one. Brief each team on their tasks, role and responsibilities; restate the time constraints; assign them a space to work; and, finally, give them the task statement in writing along with any training aids they might need to both plan their presentation and to give it.

(5) Reconvene the groups after 45 minutes. (In the meantime, you should set up the training room to resemble a meeting place where such presentations might be made to a review committee. The evaluation team should be located in an unobtrusive manner but close enough so they can hear and observe what is happening.)

(6.) Have the groups carry out the role plays including the evaluation by the third task group (if it is assigned). Either way, lead a full group discussion about the exercise, bringing into the discussion relevant points and ideas from the essay on strategic planning.


Donor agencies have “discovered” strategic planning, or corporate planning, as it is sometimes called. Organizations vying for external development funds can expect to see strategic planning as an increasingly frequent requirement in their project applications. Given this trend, it is important to more fully understand what strategic planning is - and what it is not.

First, and foremost, it is not development planning, as reflected in those multi-year political statements that have become ubiquitous in the development process. As one author wrote nearly 25 years ago, “The national plan appears to have joined the national anthem and the national flag as a symbol of sovereignty and modernity.”1

1 Albert Waterston, Developmental Planning, Baltimore, John Hopkins Press, 1965, p.28

Development planning deals with the long term allocation of scarce resources. Development plans are typically stylized, formalistic, even ritualistic, global statements of intent that have little to do with day-to-day operations, or reality. They are based on predictions and forecasts, and spell out goals for which there is little hope of accomplishment.

Strategic planning is, or should be, a management tool. Strategic planning is a process to guide and foster institutional development and change in anticipation of, and response to, organizational and community needs as they relate to more immediate operation and implementation concerns. It is future decision making in the context of current reality. While strategic planning also involves the allocation or manipulation of scarce resources, the exercise is carried out within the realm of what is managerially realistic, not what is politically ideal. Strategic planning, as a management strategy, is not new, nor has its use been bound by culture or geopolitical boundaries. Over the centuries, great leaders have engaged in strategic planning (I would rather call it strategic thinking) and there is much to learn from their endeavors. Mao Tse-Tung, Napoleon, and Alexander The Great are remembered for their phenomenal accomplishments. They not only planned strategically but carried out their strategic plans. By contrast, how many contemporary leaders will be remembered for their five year development plans?

When Philip of Macedonia and his son Alexander (who went on to be known as Alexander the Great) planned a strategy to rid their homeland of influence by the Greek city-state in the third century B.C., they engaged in the kind of thinking and tactics that are very much a part of the rhetoric we hear today from academics and others when they talk about strategic planning. Philip and Alexander set goals, built coalitions, assessed the relative strengths and weaknesses of different alternatives, used training as a tool to develop the human resources they needed to expand their empire, and put together contingency plans. The strategic thinking and planning Philip and Alexander engaged in over 2000 years ago is not only fascinating but relevant to this discussion. James Brian Quinn, in his book Strategies For Change (and incidentally, one of the best books written about the subject), includes an excerpt from another book about Alexander the Great and I’ve done the same.2 It puts strategic planning into a historical perspective and highlights the timelessness of certain concepts and principles that provide the foundation stones for effective leadership.

2 The excerpt entitled “A Classical Strategy” is from P. Green Alexander the Great, Prr Publishers, New York, 1970. Modified with the authors permission by James Brian Quinn who includes it in his book Strategies for Change: Logical Incrementalism, Richard D. Irwin, Inc., Homewood, Ill., 1980, pp. 156-158

Let me suggest that you take a few moments now to read and ponder this classical approach to strategic planning and management.


Philip and his young son, Alexander, had very clear goals. They sought to rid Macedonia of influence by the Greek city-states and to establish dominance over what was then essentially northern Greece. They also wanted Athens to join a coalition with them against Persia on their eastern flank. Assessing their resources, they decided to avoid the overwhelming superiority of the Athenian fleet and chose to forego attack on the powerful walled cities of Athens and Thebes where their superbly trained phalanxes and cavalry would not have distinct advantages.

Philip and Alexander used an indirect approach when an invitation by the Amphictyonic council brought their army south to punish Amphissa. In a planned sequence of actions and deceptive maneuvers, they cut away from a direct line of march to Amphissa, by-passed the enemy, and fortified a key base, Elate. They then took steps to weaken their opponents politically and morally by pressing restoration of the Phocian communities earlier dispersed by the Thebans and by having Philip declared a champion of the Delphic gods. Then using misleading messages to make the enemy believe they had moved north to Thrace and also using developed intelligence sources, the Macedonians in a surprise attack annihilated the Greeks’ positions near Amphissa. This lured their opponents away from their defensive positions in the nearby mountain passes to consolidate their forces near the town of Chnea.

There, assessing the relative strengths of their opponents, the Macedonians first attempted to negotiate to achieve their goals. When this was unsuccessful they had a well-developed contingency plan on how to attack and overwhelm the Greeks. Prior to this time, of course, the Macedonians had organized their troops into the famed phalanxes, and had developed the full logistics needed for their field support including a longer spear, which helped the Macedonian phalanxes penetrate the solid shield wall of the heavily massed Greek formations. Using the natural advantages of their grassy terrain, the Macedonians had developed cavalry support for their phalanxes’ movements far beyond the Greek capability. Finally, using a relative advantage - the command structure their hierarchical social system allowed-against the more democratic Greeks, the Macedonian nobles had trained their personnel into one of the most disciplined and highly motivated forces in the world.


Supporting this was the battle strategy at Chnea, which emerged as follows. Philip and Alexander first analyzed their specific strength and weaknesses and their opponents’ current alignments and probable moves. The Macedonian strength lay in their new spear technology, the mobility of their superbly disciplined phalanxes, and the powerful cavalry units led by Alexander. Their weaknesses were that they were badly outnumbered and faced-in the Athenians and the Theban Band-some of the finest foot troops in the world. However, their opponents had two weak points. One was the Greek left flank with lightly armed local troops placed near the Chnean Acropolis and next to some more heavily armed-but hastily assembled-hoplites bridging to the strong center held by the Athenians. The famed Theban Band anchored the Greek right wing near a swamp on the Cephissus River. (See map.)

Philip and Alexander organized their leadership to command key positions; Philip took over the right wing and Alexander the cavalry. They aligned their forces into a unique posture which used their strengths and offset their weaknesses. They decided on those spots at which they would concentrate their forces, what positions to concede, and what key points they must take and hold. Starting with their units angled back from the Greek lines (see map), they developed a focused major thrust against the Greek left wing and attacked their opponents’ weakness - the troops near Chnea-with the most disciplined of the Macedonian units, the guards’ brigade, After building up pressure and stretching the Greek line to its left, the guards’ brigade abruptly began a planned withdrawal. This feint caused the Greek left to break ranks and rush forward, believing the Macedonians to be in full retreat. This stretched the opponents’ resources as the Greek center moved left to maintain contact with its flank and to attack the “fleeing” Macedonians.

Then with predetermined timing, Alexander’s cavalry attacked the exposure of the stretched line at the same moment Philip’s phalanxes re-formed as planned on the high ground at the edge of the Heamon River. Alexander broke through and formed a bridgehead behind the Greeks. He refocused his forces against a segment of the opponents’ line; his cavalry surrounded and destroyed the Theban Band as the overwhelming power of the phalanxes poured through the gap he had created. From its secured position, the Macedonian left flank then turned and attacked the flank of the Athenians. With the help of Philip’s planned counterattack, the Macedonians expanded their dominance and overwhelmed the critical target, i.e., the Greek center.


Then came final implementation. Realizing their defeat, the Greeks surrendered. Keeping their goals in mind and with a sense of time horizon rare in those days, Phillip and Alexander called off their rampaging troops and used the victory to achieve their broader aims. In a magnanimous settlement (for those times), they allowed the Athenian prisoners to return home and agreed to return the ashes of the Athenian dead. In return Athens was to abandon all territorial claims in Macedonia, dissolve the Athenian Maritime League, and become Macedonia’s ally. As noted, this great victory was the touchstone and model for Macedonia’s later conquest of the known world. Although its authors doubtless did not conceive and prescribe its actions and relationships with such immaculate precision prior to the battle, its precepts were enduring and have constantly reappeared both in other successful “grand” and “battle” strategies and in the mainstreams of strategic thought over the next 2,300 years.



Before going any further, it will be useful to say how I plan to cover the subject of strategic planning and alert you to my own biases about the process. First, I will include, from other sources, statements and reflections about strategic planning as a management tool. As I do, I will try to highlight their importance in relation to their use in developing country settings. Second, I will relate several case examples of strategic planning, some specifically related to local governments. Finally, I will provide a blueprint for using strategic planning as an action strategy for development.

Now, for those biases. I am skeptical about long range strategic planning. For one thing, there is a tendency for it to be put into the hands of professional planners. Tony Killick, reflecting on his experience in planning in India, says planners are frequently politically naive if not presumptuous: “Temperamentally they are more at home quantifying problems than negotiating about them. Their training leads them to make unrealistic assumptions about political behaviour, which in turn increase the gap between planning in theory and actual performance.”3

3 Coralie Bryant and Louse G. White, Managing Development in the Third World, Westview Press, Boulder Colorado, 1982, p. 233

Planners have a valuable contribution to make to the planning process but when it is relegated to them, almost exclusively, it undercuts the chance for successful implementation. Plans have a great capacity to gather dust.

Another personal bias has to do with quantitative data and the use of models for manipulating data. Planners love data and models. Since these statements will, no doubt, attract the ire of those engaged in such behaviour, let me call in some reinforcements. Peter Drucker says strategic planning is “not a box of tricks, a bundle of techniques. It is analytical thinking and commitment of resources to action.” He goes on to say that “model building or simulation may be useful, but they are not strategic planning.”

Furthermore, “strategic planning is not forecasting. It is not masterminding the future. Any attempt to do so is foolish; the future is unpredictable. We can only discredit what we are doing by attempting it.”4

4 Peter F. Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, New York, Harper and Row, 1973, p. 123

Russell Ackoff, a highly regarded management specialist who has written extensively about strategic/corporate planning, also weighs in with some critical thoughts about the use, or misuse, of data. Ackoff, who started his academic career in operations research and the quantitative sciences, gradually moved away from these more precise roots to become a skeptic of management information systems and an advocate of such concepts as “mess management.” Ackoff describes mess management as that process which deals with “systems” of problems. When we try to unravel the messes, or to disaggregate them, which often happens in attempts to quantify them, they lose their essential properties. For strategic planning to work, says Ackoff, it must deal with the mess as a whole and with the interaction that created the mess. According to Ackoff, the most critical need of managers is not more relevant information but less irrelevant information.5

5 Russell L Ackoff, Management in small Doses, New York, John Wiley & Sons, 1986, pp. 20-30

Unfortunately, Ackoff says, most managers are not equipped to evaluate the mathematical models that technicians apply to their problems or the solutions these models yield. Too many managers accept these models and solutions because of their blind faith in “quantitative methods.” Managers should never use “solutions” that are extracted from models they do not understand. Nor should they stand in awe of mathematics. Rather they should be aware of how awful its products can be.

James Quinn is another academic scholar who shared, earlier in his career, the view that more formal and rational planning structures could improve decision making in large organizations. While there were obvious benefits to be derived from the process, he also noticed some disturbing tendencies. From his in-depth survey of nine large multi-national corporations and their planning process in the late 1970s, he began to gain a different perspective about the use and misuses of strategic planning.6

6 James Brian Quinn, Strategies for Change: Logical Incrementalism, Richard D, Irwin, Inc., Homewood, Ill., 1980, p. 2

First, the formal planning activities carried out by these organizations often tended to become bureaucratized, rigid and costly paper shuffling exercises. In many of the companies he surveyed, the primary impacts of planning were: to expand the scope of capital and generating budget procedures; to introduce formal measures to new areas of development; and, to achieve greater central control over operations.

Second, Quinn found that most major strategy decisions seemed to be made outside the formal planning structure, even in those organizations with well accepted and established planning processes. When large expenditures were made to plan the future direction of the corporations, the products of the formal planning process were ignored.

While much of the management literature and techniques associated with strategic planning have, over the years, concentrated on developing more sophisticated models of analysis and forecasting, Quinn concluded that they simply do not work the way the model builders thought they should. “Their purported ‘normative’ solutions began to appear highly questionable, if not actively destructive, in many instances.”

In place of the formal planning process, which relied heavily on planners and sophisticated economic and social technology, Quinn saw something quite different happening in the name of strategic, or corporate planning. In those organizations he studied, the full strategy was rarely written down and the processes used to arrive at a corporate, or strategic plan, were typically fragmented, evolutionary and largely intuitive. “The real strategy,” according to Quinn, “tends to evolve as internal decisions and external events flow together to create an new, widely shared consensus for action among key members of the top management team.”

My own skepticism about strategic planning comes from many years of helping create plans for others. In most cases, these plans did not go anywhere, or they went in the wrong direction.

These biases are part of a philosophy about strategic planning that increasingly recognizes planning as a management prerogative and responsibility. This doesn’t deny the importance of planners, economic models, and quantitative data in the planning process but it does suggest we put them into proper perspective. Strategic planning, as Drucker reminds us, is “the continuous process of making present entrepreneurial (risk taking) decisions systematically and with the greatest knowledge of their futurity; organizing systematically the efforts needed to carry out these decisions; and measuring the results against the expectations through organized, systematic feedback.”7

7 Drucker, p. 25

Strategic planning is, intrinsically, a political process. It requires continuous learning, intense interaction between those who control the resources and those who need them, and the on-going examination of underlying values and basic assumptions that lead to administrative and political behaviour (ergo: strategic plans and their implementation).


I want to return to something Russell Ackoff said about the planning process in a book he wrote about corporate planning nearly two decades ago. His thoughts put into perspective some of the oft unspoken assumptions that either drive strategic planning, or should. At that time, Ackoff was saying that most planning is dominated by one of three points of view: satisficing, optimizing, and adaptivizing. Having said this, he quickly admitted the terms were not very good because their connotations were vague and ambiguous. “Satisficing,” a term coined by Herbert Simon, means to “do well enough but not necessarily as well as possible.” The level of attainment that defines “satisfaction” is one the decision maker is willing to settle for.

“Optimizing” is an effort to either: (a) minimize the resources required to obtain a specific level of performance; (b) maximize the performance that can be obtained from resources that are, or expected to be, available; (c) to obtain the best balance of costs and benefits.

“Adaptivizing,” when Ackoff was writing about it nearly two decades ago, was, by his own admission, “not prevalent...because we have neither developed a clear and comprehensive concept of it nor a systematized methodology for carrying it out”.8 While adaptive planning was not generally practiced at that time, according to Ackoff, he nevertheless defined its main characteristics:

(a) It is based on the belief that the principal value of planning does not lie in the plans that it produces but in the process of producing them. From this follows the notion that effective planning cannot be done to or for an organization or its managers, it must be done by them.

(b) Since planning needs of ten arise out of the lack of effective management. Ackoff contends that most of the messes that planning tries to eliminate or avoid are man made, the principal objectives of adaptive planning would be to design management systems and processes that minimize the future need for “retrospective” planning. Planning in this context becomes directed toward creating a desired future - not fixing a current mess created by past endeavors.

(c) Adaptive planning recognizes that our knowledge of the future falls into three categories: (i) certainty; (ii) uncertainty; and (iii) ignorance. Each of these requires a different kind of planning. When certain aspects of the future are virtually certain (e.g., increased levels of pollution), we should carry out commitment planning. When there are aspects of the future we are relatively certain are uncertain (e.g., shifting patterns of drought), then we should engage in contingency planning - the “what if” kind of getting ready to exploit the future when it makes up its mind.

8 Russel Ackoff, A Concept of Corporate Planning, New York, Wiley - Interscience, 1970, pp. 6-22

Finally, there are things about the future that we cannot anticipate (e.g., political catastrophes or technological breakthroughs). While we can not prepare for them directly, we can do so indirectly through responsiveness planning. This kind of planning directs its attention to designing organizations and management systems that can more quickly detect deviations from the expected and respond to them more effectively. Responsiveness planning builds into the system a greater ability to detect the subtle nuances of change and prepares the organization to be more responsible and flexible in its operating behaviour.


It seems that a realistic approach to strategic planning in most developing countries is one that adheres to the tenets of adaptive planning in its variations as defined by Ackoff, with a strong orientation to both satisficing (decisions and actions we can live with) and optimizing (getting as much out of our resources as possible to achieve a satisficing level of performance).

Adaptive strategic planning is based on some fundamental values and assumptions about the management process and how things get done in complex organizations. By “getting things done,” I don’t mean the creation of comprehensive, multi-year planning documents that make their first and final stop on the shelf behind the chief executive’s desk.

Tom Peters, who co-authored A Passion For Excellence and followed it with a “handbook for a management revolution,” Thriving on Chaos, says that a good strategic planning process: “(1) gets everyone involved; (2) is not constrained by overall corporate “assumptions”; (3) is perpetually fresh, forcing the asking of new questions; (4) is not left to planners; and (5) requires a lot of nodding time and vigorous debate.” As for the planning document, per se, Peters says it “is succinct, emphasizes the development of strategic skills, and, is burned the day before it is to go to the printer - that is, it is a living document, not an icon.”9

9 Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1987, p. 510

This sounds a bit heretical, I suppose, but Peters has been taking the pulse of a wide range of organizations in the Western world for some time now and is convinced that flexibility is the necessary watchword for strong and vibrant organizations.


Flexibility, rather than predictability, is important to the strategic planning process. Here are a few reasons to remain flexible:

(a) There are multiple goal structures within every large organization. If there aren’t, there should be. Otherwise, the system becomes top heavy, stodgy and ultimately moribund.

(b) Strategic decision making is a politicized process that involves competing for scarce resources by a myriad of individuals, work units and organizations.

(c) As the stakes increase, so does the managerial bargaining and negotiating for position, power and access.

(d) Satisficing becomes a norm in decision making. Realism sets in. Managers recognize the importance of getting something rather than nothing and, therefore, strive for a position of relative satisfaction.

(e) Coalitions become increasingly important in the act of making large scale decisions. The world is increasingly messy as more and more institutions, organizations, groups and individuals lay claim to the development process and the shrinking resource base. If things are going to happen in development, it means cutting a deal or, maybe, cutting many. This doesn’t mean corruptive deal cutting but rather a realignment of territorial and resource boundaries based upon the shifting nature of the development process. (Unfortunately, “cutting a deal” has negative connotations in much of the world today because it has been, and continues to be, a corrupt and corrupting process.) Building coalitions and engaging in interactive, intertwining strategies is critical once the resources reach the point where they attract attention beyond the boundaries of the manager’s office.

(f) Finally, “muddling through” has, in large measure, become the norm in large scale public decision making. This process, among other things, assumes an incremental building on to that which exists. (Rarely do we have the luxury of starting anew. Nor does it try to separate the ends from the analysis of the options because “one doesn’t know what he wants until he knows what he can get.”)10

10 Charles Lindblom, “The Science of Muddling Through,” Public Administration Review, (spring, 1959) p. 87

If we accept these assumptions about how organizations and managers operate, then we begin to appreciate the breakdown of logical, formalized planning processes constructed largely through the analytical manipulation of information and data in the hands of staff planners rather than operating managers. It also provides a springboard for constructing a model of strategic planning that is more dynamic and responsive to the needs of operating organizations.

To help understand how the strategic planning process is being used in other places and contexts, I have included the following examples. The first “case study” is a review of strategic planning as it is advocated for local governments in the United States (by a national organization responsible for providing local governments with technical assistance) and practiced by many of those governments.


The process of strategic planning has become more important in recent years in the management of cities and counties in the United States. Public Technology Incorporated (PTI), a non-profit organization created to serve local governments’ needs for access to new technology, has published a strategic planning guide for use by its members. The following is a summary of the main points covered in Strategies For Cities And Counties.

According to PTI, “Strategic planning is a systematic way to manage change and to create the best possible future. It is a creative process for identifying and accomplishing the most important actions in view of strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities - implementation is the key to strategic planning, as opposed to long range planning and goal setting.”

PTI clarifies their definition of strategic planning by spelling out the following characteristics:

(a) It is a focused process that concentrates on selected issues.

(b) It explicitly considers resource availability.

(c) It assesses strengths and weaknesses.

(d) It considers major events and changes occurring outside the organization and community.

(e) It is action oriented, with a strong emphasis on practical results.

Another way to express these criteria is to say that strategic planning, as they advocate it for use in U.S. cities and counties, is practical, realistic and focused. By contrast, the “comprehensive planning” movement which was funded by federal government grants and embraced by U.S. local authorities in the 1960s was: all encompassing; often times idealistic; didn’t always take into consideration the environment in which it would be implemented; and was characterized as a planning document, not a management tool for achieving practical results.

PTI sees the strategic planning process as a useful technique to broaden understanding of available resources and to stimulate fresh thinking about options and resources, not only within the control of the local government - but the broader community, including the private sector. It also defines resources broadly to include tangible ones, like funds and equipment, and intangible resources (e.g., authority, political influence, historic characteristics of the community, and civic spirit). The process, as defined by PTI, is designed to integrate activities and resources - not to supplant the obligatory financial budgeting process.

The PTI approach to strategic planning, as defined for American local authorities, includes seven steps:

(a) Scan the environment: The process begins by identifying key factors and trends important to the future of the organization and community. It looks at the potential impact of external forces on local events.

(b) Select key issues: On the basis of the environmental scan, those involved in the process select a few key issues whose successful resolution is critical.

(c) Set mission statements or broad goals: General goals are set to establish the direction for the strategy development process.

(d) External and internal analysis: This step looks at outside forces affecting achievement of the goals and identifies strengths and weaknesses of the organization and community along with the availability of resources.

(e) Develop goals, objectives and strategies: Based on the external and internal analyses, decisions are made regarding what can be achieved with respect to each issue and how it will be achieved.

(f) Develop implementation plan: Specific timetables, resources and responsibilities for carrying out strategic actions are determined.

(g) Monitor, update and scan: The final step ensures that strategies are carried out, adjusting them as necessary in response to changing circumstances. Finally, PTI advises their clients to be prepared to update, the plan when major changes occur in the environment.11

11 These Notes and others are from Strategies for Cities and Counties: A Strategic Planning Guide, Public Technology Inc., Washington, D.C., (undated)


PTI outlines the following benefits to be derived from strategic planning.

(a) Strategic planning helps accomplish the important things. By putting the spotlight on longer term, high priority concerns, it puts day-to-day operational problems into perspective. In San Francisco, for example, there was widespread agreement that deferring infrastructure maintenance and replacement was unwise. And yet, it was not seen as a pressing problem. During development of a strategic plan for the City, the business community documented the growing backlog of infrastructure requirements and the Mayor, with private sector support, was able to make a case for spending $45 million more on infrastructure the following year.

(b) Strategic planning enhances community education and consensus building. Philadelphia, a city with racial, economic and ethnic diversity and attendant problems, made community education and consensus building an integral part of a strategic planning process that was tied to its 300th anniversary as a city. By creating twelve task forces (each formed to examine key issues such as economic development and housing) with 20 active members at the “core” and another 60 to 100 people in an outer “ring” of less active participants, they were able to involve over 1000 citizens directly in the strategic planning process. Each task force included representatives from business, government, civic institutions, universities, labor, neighborhoods and other community organizations. The major strength of the effort was its ability to bring a diversity of citizens together to sit at a single table to compare information and perspectives. As they met, a degree of consensus began to emerge about actions the city needed to take to move forward.

(c) Strategic planning helps to develop a shared vision that extends beyond “the next election.” In this respect two issues are important. One, the need for a shared vision about what the city should be; and two, a process that minimizes the inertia that often accompanies elections and a change of local government. One secondary city in the United States had lost its primary economic base (rubber manufacturing) and used the strategic planning process to determine how they could rebuild a more stable and diverse economic base. It was essential to “paint a picture (vision)” of what the future might look like without the economic base they had taken for granted over the years - one which disappeared rapidly as a result of world wide shifts in manufacturing systems.

(d) Strategic planning helps position cities to seize opportunities. Peter Drucker says, “The first thing to do to attain tomorrow is always to be sloughing off yesterday.” While this is not as easy to do in public organizations, it is still good advice. Strategic planning must be proactive if it is going to serve the organization in the future, even the near future. San Antonio, Texas, used strategic planning as a way to position themselves more favourably to attract high-technology business. Their economic plan was both strategic (e.g., developing research parks and attracting foreign investment) and tactical (e.g., publicizing the city through speeches by the Mayor and other officials as they traveled around the country).

(e) Strategic planning can shed new light on important issues through rigorous analysis. Strategic planning is a process that is supported through good data collection and analysis (as opposed to a process driven by data). Often the unearthing of data can help cities gain a new perspective on thorny issues. Mombasa Municipal Council (Kenya) through an action research project which featured a large number of interviews and a survey questionnaire, learned that nearly all sectors of their community, including the formal business sector, believed the informal economy is important and should be supported. Actual confirmation of this consensus should help their political leaders take further action to provide such support.

(f) Strategic planning helps to identify the more effective use of resources, including public funds. By focusing on projects and programmes that have been identified as “most important” and have widespread support, the local government can optimize the effective use of all resources. Strategic planning should provide answers on the relative costs and benefits (not just monetary) of alternative approaches to define problems and opportunities.

(g) Strategic planning can provide a mechanism for public-private cooperation. Involving key decision makers and opinion leaders from major sectors of the community in the formulation of the strategic plan will: (a) increase their understanding of the issues and opportunities; (b) heighten their commitment to addressing them; and (c) surface new alternatives for decision making and problem solving, including more active involvement by the private sector. More and more cities in developing countries are recognizing the potential and benefits of involving the private sector more directly in the delivery of public services. The strategic planning process is a way of exploring these alternatives and their consequences before decisions are made.


The use of seminars or workshops has become an important means of carrying out strategic planning efforts for key leaders and executives. The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) uses its Leadership Effectiveness and New Strategies (LENS) planning seminar to help organizations world wide formulate strategic plans. Their clientele have involved a diversity of organizations, including: Quantas Airways; The National Small Industries Corporation, India; Barclay’s Bank, Zambia; Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training, Chicago; and National Plantations, Indonesia. The seminar combines team building and decision making based on the assumption that practical solutions to issues and constraints within an organization are to be found within the organization itself. They focus on a much shorter time frame than most strategic planning efforts, with action for implementing key plans to be carried out within a 90 day period following the seminar. LENS consists of five, 4 hour sessions. Session topics are:

(I) Practical vision: Based on a focus statement (the specific purpose for which the seminar is being held), the participants in small and total group work sessions describe a 3 to 5 year picture of where the organization or community wants or needs to go.

(II) Underlying contradictions: Through small group and total group exercises, seminar participants identify the major blocks to effective action in achieving the visions outlined in Session I. From individual insights about constraints that will hinder action, the group aggregates and categorizes them and prepares a chart of the organized data. Major blocks to effective action might include such issues as inadequate manpower development policies or unclear consensus on role or purpose of the organization.

(III) Strategic proposals: The third step is to brainstorm individual suggestions for effectively and strategically responding to the contradictions from the previous sessions and organizing these into future actions.

(IV) Scheduled tactics: From strategic proposals the group moves to practical activities by: (a) giving priorities to the proposals from Session III; (b) defining specific actions required to implement the proposal (with emphasis on practicality and catalytic effects rather than sequential steps); and (c) organizing the tactics into “tracks,” actions that are similar either in nature or intent.

(V) Focused actions: The final step in the process is to organize teams to take one track from Session IV and write focused action paragraphs. These are the initiating programmes that describe in detail the activities to be pursued in the first three months following the seminar. These paragraph statements include: (a) the name of the programme or project; (b) the intent to be addressed; (c) anticipated benefits; (d) detailed components of implementation (who, what, when, where and how); and (e) what is at stake if the programme or project is not done.


I have had many opportunities to help organizations and communities carry out strategic planning efforts. One of my more interesting experiences involved a Regional Planning Commission in a medium sized, midwest city in the United States. The Commission asked me to help them organize and conduct a strategic planning conference on economic development for the metropolitan area. The overall mission of the conference was “to provide a forum within which public and private leaders in the Miami Valley could reach consensus on (a) the major economic development challenges and opportunities to be addressed within the next five years; and (b) a strategy for further consideration and action.”

The conference was two days in length and involved just over 200 leaders, representing public organizations, private corporations, neighborhood groups, elected officials, non-profit agencies, the media, professional and business organizations, and agricultural associations.

The conference was initiated by a formal presentation and open discussion about the economic conditions of the metropolitan area. The past decade was reviewed in terms of: shifts in employment (they had lost several thousand jobs in primary manufacturing over a 7-8 year period); retail and service trends; and the role of support institutions (e.g., government, education, social service) during that period. The presentation, which was based on a research document, also framed the regional economy within the context of national and international economic trends and made certain projections about the near future.

Within this background, each individual participant was asked to identify the five most important economic development challenges or opportunities facing their region at that time.

The terms challenge and opportunity were defined in the following manner.

A challenge is an economic circumstance which is currently detrimental to the short term and/or long term viability of the region and needs to be eliminated or diminished (an economic liability).

An opportunity is an economic circumstance which is currently advantageous to the short term and/or long term viability of the region and needs to be exploited (an economic asset).

Twenty small work groups of about ten members each were formed with the task of discussing their individual lists for clarification and understanding and reaching a group consensus on the five most important economic development challenges and opportunities for the region. Each subgroup presented their list to a plenary session, which involved all 200 participants.

As you can see, there was a potential of 100 different issues. As it turned out, there were many duplications and the final list involved 31 different statements. These were organized by the workshop staff into a survey questionnaire (during the late afternoon tea break!) and each participant was asked (following the tea break and prior to adjourning for the day) to once again vote for what he or she considered the five most important from the combined list of 31 and to rank order them from one to five: one being most important; two, next important, etc. The staff tabulated the results that evening by cumulative weight (e.g., a number one vote was given a weight of five) and by the number of individuals voting for any single statement of challenge or opportunity. From the voting results, eight issues were clearly top priority, taking into account both methods of calculation.

On the following day, the results of the voting and tabulation were announced to the group and eight work groups were formed to address each of the top priority issues identified in the previous day’s sessions. Each participant was given an opportunity to self-elect the topic he or she wanted to help address based on their interest, experience and potential contribution to its resolution. As it turned out, we had one very large group, several medium sized groups and one with only “a handful” of participants. While this concerned me (I tend to think groups of more than 10 participants are a bit unwieldy and unproductive), each group performed to our expectations and satisfaction, and carried out the following tasks:

(a) identified the desired outcome of the challenge or opportunity their group was considering (the goal or objective to be achieved);

(b) identified alternative courses of action that could be taken to achieve the desired outcome;

(c) developed an action plan for achieving their desired outcome or goal.

Each work group reported its recommendations to the total membership of the conference toward the end of the second and final day. At that time, there were discussions about each of the recommendations and proposed action plans. Decisions were made to assign responsibilities to specific officers and organizations to begin implementing the recommendations.

The final proceedings of the conference were published and made available to the participants and a wide range of citizens and organizations in the region. The strategic economic development plan, forged in those two hectic days of discussion, became both policy and a work plan for the Regional Planning Commission. In a return visit to the region nearly a year later, I learned that many of the recommendations had already been implemented while others were still in progress.


Conferences, of this kind, do not happen serendipitously. They take careful planning, and rigorous managing once they are underway. This conference was particularly difficult because it involved so many people with varied backgrounds, experience and expectations. Some of the things that were done in preparation for the conference (which are applicable to most planning conferences) were:

(a) To be clear about roles and responsibilities (who will do what when)

(b) To enlist help and to train them in what I wanted them to do. (In this case, it meant identifying and training 20 small work group facilitators who would be responsible for helping each group accomplish the tasks assigned them.) The training only took two or three hours on the afternoon before the conference opened because most of the facilitators already had experience in leading small task group discussions.

(c) To be clear about the group tasks and to be certain they would be conveyed to each group in a consistent, clear and unambiguous fashion. If the group tasks are unclear or ambiguous, the products of group efforts will probably be unclear and ambiguous. If the group facilitators each describe the task differently, the products become impossible to assemble into a coherent plan.

(d) To adhere to the overall time table. Because the schedule was tight, the tasks difficult and the expectations of a successful conference high, it meant we had to manage not only the task groups but also the time allotted to each task and conference event.

(e) To be willing to make changes, as needed, as the conference progressed. While it is important to plan in a rigorous manner, it is just as important, at times, to change those plans as they are being carried out. There is nothing like the implementation of a well laid plan to expose its frailties. Planning workshops and conferences of the kind just described, have a way of creating a life of their own. The effective facilitator must not only be aware of what is happening but to take advantage of it. For example, we had assumed that work groups for the final day should be fairly uniform in size to work effectively. As it turned out, the participants wanted no part of being assigned to a group arbitrarily. They preferred to self select around their individual interests. To have insisted on uniform groups would have demotivated many individuals who had a valuable contribution to make to the discussion and final recommendations. Given this, we made changes in our own thinking about what was important and how the conference should be managed.

Conferences and workshops are excellent vehicles for helping organizations and communities carry out a strategic planning process. They can become the center piece of the planning process, as was the case with the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission efforts, or they can be one of a number of events organized to facilitate the overall strategic planning process.


We have looked at many different interpretations of strategic planning, and even some ways of doing it. Nevertheless, you may be still asking the question, “Why plan?” The question is not naive given the history of planning in developing countries - or elsewhere, for that matter.

One study of national planning and budgeting efforts in a dozen poor countries12 concluded that the efforts at comprehensive planning had done more damage than good, and communist countries, noted for their ability to carry out comprehensive, centralized, multi-year planning efforts, have also been notorious for their ability to create high levels of economic and social stagnation. So, why plan? If we’re talking about centralized, planner dominated, rational-analytical projections of current needs and public assets into an uncertain future, as a means of influencing the allocation of scarce resources, then perhaps there is little reason to do so, based on past experience. If, by contrast, we see strategic planning as a management process, one which determines allocation priorities and designs realistic implementation strategies, then planning makes sense and the time invested in doing it will be well spent.

12 Naomi Caidem and Aaron Wildavsky, Planning and Budgeting in Poor Countrries, New York, John Wiley & Sons, 1974

The key to effective strategic planning is in the process not the product - or the plan. For the process to be effective, it needs to be:

(a) participative (being done by decision makers and problem solvers, not for or to them);

(b) interactive (involving a confrontation of what is and what can be);

(c) integrative (fusing bottom up with top down thinking about what should be done, how it should be done and who should do it); and,

(d) continuous (recognizing that purposeful systems and their environments are continuously changing and no plan retains its value over time).

As John Friedman reminds us, “planning is not merely concerned with the efficient instrumentation of objectives, it is also a process by which a society may discover its future.”13 I might also add, a process for organizations and communities to discover their future.

13 John Friedman, Retracking America, a theory of Transactive Planning, New York, Doubleday, 1973, p. 4


Who should be involved in the strategic planning process depends on what is to be accomplished. If the plan is to address only the implementation of projects or programmes already approved by the policy body, then it may be appropriate to involve only the management team. Of course, “the management team” concept is elastic, depending on how far down in the hierarchy the chief executive decides to reach in the decision making process. There is increasing belief that first line supervisors, and even workers, have valuable contributions to make in decisions affecting the day-to-day operations, and there is concrete evidence to support their involvement. The manager who does not tap the experience and ideas of the work force in the planning process is denying the existence of a valuable resource. The question is not whether to include them, but how. Obviously, it makes little sense to take the entire organization to a remote site for a three day strategic planning workshop. On the other hand, the manager needs a strategy for communicating with line personnel on a routine basis.

When the strategic planning process involves the longer term definition of community goals and the allocation of scarce resources among various programmes and services, it is advisable to go beyond both the management team and the elected leadership. As we have seen from the examples stated earlier (from those detailed in the PTI manual on strategic planning and the Miami Valley Economic Development Conference), the net can, and should, be cast broadly to involve all sectors of the community. It is a recognition that good ideas about community development and strategic planning are not limited to a few chief officers and elected leaders. It also recognizes the importance of involving others who have a stake in the successful implementation of programmes and services. Active participation by those outside the formal organization not only brings good ideas and experience to the planning process, it assures greater understanding of the plan once it is adopted. This understanding, in most cases, gets translated into commitment to the plan.

Local customs and traditions about who makes decisions on behalf of the organization and community will dictate, in large measure, who gets involved in any strategic planning process. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that cultures, norms and customs are not only reinforced but also invented by those who practice them. If past decisions have been held tightly by a few key individuals, it may be time to “invent” a new way of decision making in your organization or community, particularly when it comes to planning the future.


Strategic planning, in its most basic form, is the articulation of future goals and objectives and the allocation of resources to meet them. But, to arrive at these decisions should involve much more. Here are a few of the elements that go into effective strategic planning.

(a) The organization and/or community needs to analyse its own internal situation - its strengths, weaknesses, capabilities and problems.

(b) It also needs to look at the external environment and what it means in terms of challenges and opportunities. No organization or community operates in a vacuum. They are constantly being challenged, supported, threatened, and affected by outside influences and forces. To plan in isolation of these influences and forces, is initially naive and ultimately disastrous.

(c) Strategic planning requires vision - not just analysing what is but dreaming about what can be. It requires, as Drucker says, “sloughing off yesterday” and inventing the future. Strategic planning requires innovative thinking, new ideas, risk taking into the unknown. As I sit here writing about strategic planning, my thoughts are drawn to contemporary events. The Communist world is in ferment and it presents two radically different pictures of the planning process. Russia, under the dynamic leadership of Gorbachev, is currently plunging into the unknown, fueled by a vision of what that country can be, given new ideas and direction. Gorbachev is practicing pro-active planning in its most dynamic form. Far to the east of Moscow, in the Peoples Republic of China, we see a very different brand of planning - what Ackoff brands “reactivisim.” “Reactivists prefer a previous state to the one they are in, and they believe things are going from bad to worse. Hence, they not only resist change but they try to unmake previous changes and return to where they once were... Reactivists are moved more by their hates than their loves...they do not ride with the tide; they try to swim against it back to a familiar shore.”14

14 Russel Ackoff, Redesigning the Future, New York, John Wiley & Sons, 1974, pp. 24-25

(d) Strategic planning identifies the gaps between where we are and where we want to be - as organizations and communities.

(e) It communicates. It gathers ideas, data and insights from up, down and across the organization and community and communicates them back as assumptions, goals, strategies, and policies that make up the plan.

(f) Strategic planning generates proposals from those who are destined to carry them out and formulates them into viable alternatives for action.

(g) Strategic planning puts a high premium on institution or capacity building to assure that those who have the responsibility for implementing the plans also have the necessary resources. The greatest and most consistent fault of strategic plans is the inability of organizations and communities to carry them out. Strategic planning must involve planning for implementation (including the on-going operation and maintenance of programmes, facilities and services) not just the pleasant experience of announcing to the world what great things we plan to do. Long range plans often spell out the need for future funds to meet specific, and sometimes not so specific, goals and objectives but ignore such details as the numbers and quality of personnel required to carry out the goals and objectives and the equipment and materials required to maintain and operate facilities and infrastructure projects once they are built.

(h) This means multi-year budgets as an integral part of long term plans. Capital and operating budgets are required to assure that projects can be built, according to plans, and can be maintained and operated for the life of the project.

(i) Strategic planning, as a process, focuses on implementation strategies and the formulation of action plans. It outlines tactical steps for near future events and broader strategic plans for projects and programmes, defined over a more distant time frame.

(j) Finally, strategic planning addresses the monitoring and evaluation of performance within acceptable time and resource parameters. Monitoring is an ongoing effort to determine if you are doing what you said you were going to do. Evaluation, also an ongoing event, is the act of judging performance against predetermined standards and criteria. Both are important management tools for maintaining initiative and progress.


Several steps are involved in the strategic planning process. While they are described below as a sequence of events, the process is, or should be, dynamic and therefore not always predictable. This could mean moving back and forth among the steps outlined below as the strategic plan evolves from ideas and data into decisions and actions.

Phase I: Organizing: This is the pre-planning stage - a time when you plan to plan. It requires decisions about:

(a) Who should be involved in the strategic planning process? As mentioned earlier, it depends on what you want to achieve.

(b) What kind of information and data will be required to develop an effective strategic plan? While an analysis of past performance is important, so is the ability to project one’s experience into the future, the unknown.

(c) What is the most effective way of assembling the information, data and ideas required to assure a successful planning venture?

(d) How long should the strategic planning process take - and when will it be completed? While strategic planning is an ongoing process, it also requires a concentrated, time bounded effort to make those major decisions that will guide future actions. Planning to plan includes determining how many person days of involvement will be required by whom and establishing a realistic deadline for accomplishing the planning task.

(e) What kind of “plan” is required - or most desirable? Strategic plans range from comprehensive statements of future intent about the organization or community to more specific strategies, such as economic development - to implementation plans for operating agencies.

(f) What kind of resources will be required to carry out the planning process? Will you require an outside consultant-facilitator? Do you plan to hold meetings in a facility that will need to be rented? Will those individuals involved in the planning process require overnight accommodations? What about clerical assistance? Printing costs? Others?

(g) What will be required to staff the planning effort? Who will chair work sessions? Who will be responsible for writing the final document?

These and other questions need to be answered before you begin the actual planning effort.

Phase II: Assessing: Strategic planning requires an assessment of past efforts and future opportunities. These two assessment perspectives require two different organizational and leadership skills - awareness and vision. Awareness often requires hindsight - the ability to analyse past efforts and to assess their role in future plans. Vision operates with foresight - the ability to see a future which is not yet invented.

Awareness often requires convergent thinking - focusing in on data, or information which exposes patterns and trends requiring future attention. Vision, on the other hand, is best achieved when our thoughts diverge from the beaten path.

Strategic planning, to be effective, must have one eye on the past, using its experience as a bench mark for what is. The other eye must be future oriented, not necessarily based on past experience. The past is often problem centered while the future is seen as targets of opportunity.

Most strategic plans, realistically, are a blend of problem solving and opportunity tapping. One is reactive - the organization or community has a problem and we react to solve it. Opportunities require a pro-active style of thinking and behaviour.

· Problems are often oriented toward maintenance (fix it, solve it, get on with it). By contrast, opportunities are focused on development.

· Opportunities are problematic. They always involve some risk and uncertainty. Is it feasible? Will it work? If it works, will there be any benefits? If there are benefits, will they outweigh the costs? Problems, on the other hand, only become risky and uncertain when they are not solved.

· Opportunities live in the future and the risks must be calculated against a future not always predictable. Problems live in the past, resulting from actions or inactions that have or have not already happened. The results of solving the problem or not solving the problem is often more predictable.

· Opportunities require foresight - a vision about what can be. Problems, more often than not, require hindsight - determining what went wrong.

· When tapping opportunities, the critical question is: What if? The important question, when solving problems, is: Why?

· When dealing with problems, you seek solutions; with opportunities, the search is for benefits.

· Finally, opportunities can be ignored. Problems cannot be ignored.

The assessing phase of strategic planning requires both a look at the past, based on concrete data and experience, and a projection into the future, based on wisdom and vision.

Phase III: Deciding The Big Picture: After assessing the past and the potential future (using quantitative and qualitative data, information and ideas) it is time to make decisions about what is important, and what is not, regarding the future direction of the organization or community. This means transforming problem and opportunities into goals and objectives, statements about future outcomes. Goals and objectives, to be effective, must be specific, realistic, measurable, results oriented and time bound. Once future goals are defined, using these criteria, the next step is to consider the various options or alternatives available for achieving your stated goals. Focusing in on goals, and alternatives to meet your goals, are the critical decision making stages of strategic planning. They set the course of action to be taken and determine the ultimate allocation of scarce resources. This is also the time to think about the consequences of your goals and alternative actions.

Phase IV: Deciding The Details: Strategic planning also involves specifying who needs to do what with whom, at what resource cost, within what time period to achieve goals (end results) as stated in the strategic plan. While some strategic plans do not spell out these details, the danger of not doing so results in plans never being implemented. Non-implementation is the scourge of the strategic planning process.

Phase V: Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation: While implementing plans is theoretically not planning, it is, nevertheless, the most important step in strategic planning. Plans which remain plans are not worth making.


Strategic planning is a potentially powerful policy and management tool. The potential is only realized in concrete actions which result from the planning process. It is a process which requires active involvement of many individuals and groups, including key officials and officers, as well as those who may be outside the formal boundaries of the organization or community.

Finally, it requires active communication - the communication of ideas and information as inputs to the plan and the communication of goals and action strategies resulting from the planning process. Without effective communication, there is no way to assure wide spread understanding of, and commitment to, your statements of future intent. Without understanding and commitment, plans often remain just plans. And, plans are not development.