There are a number of business frameworks that can be applied during the strategic planning process. Let’s analyse the differences between them, their advantages and application areas.
Comparative Table of Strategic Planning Frameworks
The table below shows where each framework contributes most to the strategic planning process.
|Strategic Planning Tool||Step 1. Mission, Vision, Values||Step 2. Strategy Formulation||Step 3. Strategy Description||Step 4. Strategy Cascading||Step 5. Strategy Execution|
While the contribution score is quite subjective, we can see that conceptually, there are two types of frameworks:
- Strategy execution frameworks. Such as the Balanced Scorecard for the overall strategy and the more lightweight OKR framework for specific challenges.
- Strategy formulation frameworks. SWOT, Three Horizons, Constraints Analysis, PESTEL, etc. that help organizations to generate new ideas (step 2 of the strategic planning process). Most of such frameworks also help to describe those ideas on certain diagrams (step 3 of strategic planning) but provide no guidance for strategy cascading.
Understanding Strategic Planning
- Step 1. Define top-level goals. In this step, an organization defines its mission, vision, core values, strategic priorities.
- Step 2. Formulating business hypothesis. Following the ideas formulated in step 1, we can now focus on more specific goals that would help us to achieve the vision.
- Step 3. Strategy description. Any strategy is better when it is written down in some form. In this step, we use strategy maps and similar techniques to articulate strategy.
- Step 4. Strategy cascading. Having a single top-level strategy is not enough. We need to find ways to explain it to all business units, teams, and individuals.
- Step 5. Strategy execution. In this step, our focus is on action plans and performance indicators. We also learn during execution and will use those insights in step 2.
Strategy Execution Frameworks
Strategy execution frameworks address a wide range of strategy-related challenges, from strategy formulation and description to strategy cascading and execution.
Balanced Scorecard Framework
- The main part of a properly designed Balanced Scorecard is a strategy map
- A strategy map includes strategic themes and four categories (perspectives)
- Goals on the strategy map are connected by cause and effect logic
- Leading and lagging performance indicators are aligned with the goals
- Action plans or initiatives explain how exactly the goal will be executed
- The strategy is cascaded (aligned) across the organization
Like any business tool, in the wrong hands, it might not work as expected. Before starting the Balanced Scorecard project, it makes sense to understand its advantages and possible drawbacks.
- OKR framework suggests focusing on a few important goals (“Objectives”) and tracking their execution with several lagging indicators (“Key Results”)
- The OKR process consists of four steps that end with a results review
- The recommended process cycle time is one quarter
The comparison of BSC and OKR frameworks indicates that the frameworks solve similar business challenges on different levels. BSC is more suitable for overall strategic planning, while OKR works better on the lower levels and during the execution stage.
- The framework focuses on continuous improvement (Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle)
- Underlines the importance of strategy alignment and discussion (Catchball)
- Suggests tracking an individual’s performance
The Hoshin Kanri Matrix provides an alternative tool for strategy description by giving a one-page overview of the top-level strategic priorities and their connection to the specific improvement goals and targets.
- They should be ordered according to their importance
- They have to be quantitative
- They have to be realistic
- They have to be in line with organizational policies
- They have to be compatible with each other
The framework is not as sophisticated on the strategy description step as BSC or Hoshin Kanri, but on the level of strategy execution, its simple approach adds value.
Strategy Formulation Frameworks
As the comparative table shows, many popular business frameworks are excellent tools for formulating business strategy. Those frameworks help to have a different perspective when looking at the challenges of the organization.
McKinsey’s Three Horizons
- Now. Something that an organization needs to do today, e.g. innovating its core business
- Near-term future. Innovations that address the challenges in the comfort zone.
- Future. Focusing on trends that might soon become disruptive.
The framework is strong in the context of strategy formulation, especially when we are talking about innovation strategy.
- Match strength and opportunities, or
- Convert weaknesses and threats into strengths or opportunities
With the SWOT+S framework, we make SWOT analysis more specific by focusing on different projections of its components. For example, instead of simply talking about strengths, we are looking at the strength from a customer, internal, innovation, and financial perspective.
Such an approach also makes it easier to use the results of SWOT analysis for further strategy description on a K&N strategy map.
- Hard Ss – Strategy, Structure, System, and
- Soft Ss – Shared Values, Skills, Style, Staff
Can a 7-S framework be used together with BSC? The findings of 7-S can organically form the business goals that are mapped on the strategy map. Here is what Robert Kaplan, one of the authors of the BSC framework, said on the topic:
I believe that the BSC is not only fully consistent with the 7-S framework, but that it can also enhance it in use.
Robert Kaplan in “How the Balanced Scorecard complements the McKinsey 7-S model” 
The findings of PESTEL analysis can be used on the strategy formulation step of strategic planning process either as an input to other business tools, like, for example, SWOT or directly, as strategy map goals that address specific challenges.
The key idea of Pareto analysis in the context of strategic planning is to compare:
- Resources needed to try certain hypotheses versus
- Expected benefits from successful validation of the hypothesis (achieving business goals)
By focusing on the most promising hypothesis, an organization could achieve expected results with fewer resources.
Constraints Analysis or TOC theory was formally introduced in “The Goal” book by Dr. Goldratt with some good examples from manufacturing.
This analysis helps to determine the constraints (bottlenecks) of the system and optimize performance following these five steps:
- Analysing constraints
- Response plan in the context of constraint
- System update to fulfil response plan
- Updating constraints
- Getting back to step 1
Shifting from manufacturing to a technological economy, we are still facing constraints, but their number increases and their impact is often not clear. Similar to Pareto Analysis, the main focus area of constraints analysis in the context of strategic planning is step 2 – strategy formulation.
- Gap Identification. Understanding where the organization is now and how its actual performance is compared to the expected performance.
- Root-cause Analysis. Understanding the reasons of gap.
- Improvement Plan. Developing the improvement plan.
Here is how Gap analysis helps in the different steps of the strategic planning process:
- On the strategy formulation step, gap analysis will help to come up with improvement direction based on historical results
- During strategy description, the results of gap analysis are presented in the form of indicators and the gap (the difference between the indicator’s current value and target value)
- On the strategy execution step, understanding where the gap is (based on indicators’ data) helps to introduce corrective actions quickly
Depending on the strategic planning model, the need for automation software change. Here are some thoughts about the effective use of automation tools:
- Understand the concept first. Automating wrong things will do more harm than good. Give a new framework a try on paper before moving to automation software.
- Write down rationale. In many cases, we get the results from the strategy formulation framework (for example SWOT or Three Horizons) and add it as a goal to the strategic plan. What is important is to write down the reasoning behind those findings. It will be helpful in the review stage.
- Focus on one tool. If we look at strategic planning tools from an abstract perspective, then everything rotates about three artefacts – goals, indicators, and supporting documentation. Your organization will benefit if it uses one tool to manage all the artefacts related to strategic planning instead of supporting various software that approach the same problem from different sides.
Where BSC Designer can help in the context of automation
- Our main focus is Balanced Scorecard framework and its strategy map
- We do excellent support for Key Performance Indicators
- In the templates section, you will also find some examples that will help you to get started with other business frameworks easier.
Most business frameworks could provide additional value to the organization. The question is, how to pick the right one and use it for the correct challenge.
In this article, we analyzed the most popular frameworks for strategic planning and discussed their best application areas.