One of the biggest time variables in any strategic planning process is the amount of stakeholder involvement you choose to have. With limited or no stakeholder involvement, a smaller organization with a limited scope of work might be able to measure the length of their planning process in weeks rather than months (dependent upon an aggressive meeting schedule and strict deadlines along the way). However, it is not unusual for larger organizations, or those with many active stakeholders, to anticipate a planning process that might stretch over six months or more. Colleges, universities, and school systems often find that engaging all of the stakeholders and getting them on board takes time and can’t always be hurried.
Another variable to account for is the time it takes to develop the action or work plans. At the end of a board retreat, for example, it is easy for the volunteers to think, “Our work is done here,” but, in many ways, the work is just beginning for the staff. Taking strategies and/or objectives developed by the board and turning them into work plans that describe how the objectives will be achieved (what, by when, by whom) takes time and a considerable amount of work. Don’t underestimate the time involved here or make assumptions that place tremendous pressure on the staff. If you have an expectation that the strategic planning process will result in a detailed plan of action for achieving your strategic priorities, be realistic about the time involved in doing this work.
So while we are not aware of one simple rule of thumb when it comes to judging how long a strategic planning process should take, anticipate that most processes take longer than expected and that if you finish in under 3 months, your process has been speedier than most. A planning period of 3 to 6 months is more the norm. And if you anticipate that your planning process could take longer than 6 months, be aware that it is hard to maintain energy and enthusiasm in a long process and that you may exhaust your volunteers and your staff along the way.
Strategic planning is a core aspect of our business at Starboard Leadership Consulting, and you can find additional information about our planning process, how-to information, and more on our website: www.starboardleadership.com. If you are preparing to launch a strategic planning process, use our contact form to let us know if you might need help. We would love to hear from you!