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How a strategic planning framework can help you achieve your big goals

Don’t worry — it’s not nearly as complex as it sounds

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A strategic planning framework is a tool you and your team will use to focus on and fill in a specific element of your strategic plan.

You’ve got big ideas and bigger goals for your company. Maybe you’re set on making the world a better place (hey, aren’t we all?). Or maybe you want to be known for unmatched customer care. Regardless of your specific aim, your whole team is gung-ho about your mission. 

But now’s the hard part: How do you transform that idea into an actionable strategy?

The strategic planning process can be daunting, but a strategic planning framework can help. You’ll use your framework (or frameworks) to tackle a specific piece of the strategic planning process with zero confusion and eyerolls, and plenty of energy and enthusiasm.

Who needs a strategic planning framework?

Here’s the short answer: Anyone who’s completing a strategic plan, whether it’s a strategic plan for a single project or an entire organization.

The good news is that these frameworks are way more straightforward than you think. Anyone from your grandma to your dog will be able to use them. 

Alright, maybe not your dog…but you get it.

What is a strategic planning framework?

A strategic planning framework is a tool you and your team will use to focus on a specific element of your strategic plan. 

Your entire strategic plan needs to cover a lot, including:

  • Where you are now
  • Where you want to go
  • How you’ll achieve those goals

Pulling all of that together can be overwhelming, but a strategic planning framework will help you chip away at that iceberg.

For example, you could use the objectives and key results (OKRs) framework to iron out the goals included in your strategic plan. Or, you might use the framework called Porter’s five forces (we’ll cover this later) to dig into your competition and understand how competitive factors will impact the future of your organization.

Strategic planning frameworks help you dig deep into a specific section of your plan, so you can create something comprehensive that actually helps you turn ideas into action.

Arrows going in different directions

Strategic planning frameworks vs. models: One of these things is not like the other

Many people use the terms “strategic planning framework” and “strategic planning models” interchangeably. However, the terms represent two parts of a whole.

Your strategic planning model provides a high-level overview of all of the elements of your strategic plan. Your model comes first, as it dictates the structure of your entire plan. 

Tom Wright, CEO and co-founder of Cascade Strategy, a strategy execution platform, likens it to building an airport. “A model of the airport would show you at a high-level how the approach roads connect to the departure hall, and how the departure hall connects to immigration, which then connects to the terminals, the runways, etc.,” he writes in a blog post

In contrast, frameworks help you fill in different elements with specific information. 

“In our airport example, we might apply a building framework that is designed to maximize the speed at which people move through the airport for efficiency,” Wright adds. “Or alternatively, we might apply a framework which is designed not to maximize speed, but rather to maximize the amount of time people spend in the airport shops.” 

The model encompasses all pieces of your strategic plan, but your framework is your approach for a specific piece. Think of your model as the forest, and your different frameworks as the trees. You’ll only use one strategic planning model, but you can use numerous frameworks.

8 strategic planning frameworks to hash out your strategy with confidence

You’ll use different frameworks for different aspects of your strategic plan, from developing your action items to evaluating your competitors. 

Here are eight of the most common strategic planning frameworks, and which piece of your strategy they can help you with. 

1. SWOT analysis

Use this framework: To grasp what internal and external factors can impact your strategy

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal factors (meaning you have some control over them), while opportunities and threats are external factors (and you have little to no control). 

Get your team together for a brainstorming session where you can tackle each category. Using our customer service example, you might determine: 

  • Strengths: We have a new and innovative product that people love. 
  • Weaknesses: Our customer ticketing system is outdated and ineffective. 
  • Opportunities: Customers have a growing interest in chat support, which we could roll out relatively easily. 
  • Threats: All of our competitors are prioritizing customer service. 

You’ll use this framework at the beginning of your strategic planning process, as it helps you understand where things are going well for your company — as well as where you need to improve. That’s important information as you hash out your strategy.

Balance weighing items

2. Issue-based strategic planning

Use this framework: To build a strategic plan that addresses your organization’s biggest problems

While most of the strategic planning frameworks start with objectives (where you look to the future), this one starts with problems (where you look to the present). You’ll identify the challenges your organization is facing right now and create action plans to address them. 

This is another framework that you’ll use at the very beginning of the strategic planning process, as it will shape your entire plan. 

Start by asking: What are the biggest problems our organization is dealing with?

Perhaps you’ll realize that your customer feedback scores are plummeting. From there, your strategic plan should detail the steps you’ll take to resolve that issue.

3. Balanced scorecard

Use this framework: To define your goals and the steps you’ll take to get there

A balanced scorecard (BSC) outlines what your team or organization is trying to accomplish, as well as what work everybody needs to do in order to make it happen. It’s helpful for understanding objectives, connecting and prioritizing day-to-day work, and monitoring progress using established metrics.

With this framework, you’ll need to identify:

  • Objectives: The goal you want to achieve (i.e. be looked to as the industry standard for quality customer care)
  • Measures: How you’ll define success (i.e. average customer feedback score of B+)
  • Initiatives: Programs established to achieve objectives (i.e. launch a new customer ticketing system to manage your customer support cases)
  • Action items: Individual steps one person or a small team will take (i.e. Rico will research ticketing software, Sarah will complete the migration from our current platform, etc.)

See how you move from the big, seemingly unattainable goal all the way down to bite-sized actions you can take? That’s the beauty of a balanced scorecard — it connects your organization-wide goals to the daily tasks of everybody on the team.

4. Strategy mapping

Use this framework: To understand how all of your company’s objectives fit together

A strategy map is often used as a supplement to your balanced scorecard. You’ll list every objective from your balanced scorecard on your strategy map. It should be represented by a shape.

Next, you’ll group objectives into different perspectives. Think of these as buckets or themes for similar goals. The most common perspectives are:

  • Financial
  • Customer
  • Internal business processes
  • Learning and growth

Once all of your ovals are drawn out, you’ll draw arrows between them to show cause and effect. Does one objective have a direct impact on another?

For example, perhaps boosting the expertise of your customer service team (perspective: learning and growth) directly impacts your ability to provide top-notch customer care (perspective: customer). 

Your strategy map can become a living resource, and you can color-code your objective bubbles (green, yellow, and red) to show your progress toward that objective. 

5. Objectives and key results (OKRs)

Use this framework: To keep a close eye on progress

Objectives and key results (OKRs) is a popular goal setting methodology to help teams go after audacious goals. With this framework, you’ll identify: 

  • Objectives: What you want to achieve
  • Key results: How you’ll measure your progress

Keep in mind that your key results need to be quantitative, measurable outcomes and not tasks or to-dos. So, sticking with our example of world-class customer service, a key result could be, “Secure 25+ five-star reviews by the end of Q2.”

OKRs are designed to be ambitious, and you don’t want to overdo it and overwhelm your team. Set only three to five at a time (this template can help) to make sure they’re motivating, and not anxiety-inducing.

6. Porter’s five forces

Use this framework: To understand the ins and outs of your existing and prospective competitors 

Most strategic plans include a section for competitive analysis, and Porter’s five forces is a framework you’ll use to fill in that section. The five competitive forces you’ll identify are:

  • Competition in the industry: Are your competitors growing rapidly?
  • Potential of new entrants into the industry: Are a lot of new players able to easily enter your market and thrive? Or is it tough to get going?
  • Power of suppliers: How much bargaining power do your suppliers have to pressure you to lower costs?
  • Power of customers: How much bargaining power do your customers have to pressure you to lower costs?
  • Threat of substitute products: Is your product easily replaced with another product? Or are you one-of-a-kind?

Your competition will shape your strategy, and this framework will help you understand how. If you realize that there’s a high threat of substitute products, then maybe differentiating yourself needs to be a key piece of your strategic plan.

Map with pins

7. Gap planning

Use this framework: To determine how you’ll close the gap between where you are and where you want to be 

You have a strong vision for your organization. Maybe that vision feels like it’s within arm’s reach, or maybe it feels like it’s still miles and miles away.

Either way, bridging the gap between where you are now and where you want to be is no easy task. That messy middle is where all of the hard work happens.

That’s where gap planning (also called a needs assessment) comes in. It zeros in on everything you need to do to move from your current state to your vision. When you analyze a gap, you need to challenge yourself to think about why you haven’t achieved your ideal state. What’s the root cause? 

Here’s a very simple example of what this could look like:

Vision: Reputation for industry-leading customer service

Current state: Good customer service, but not great (average feedback score of B-)

Gap: Customer service representatives are using outdated software

Improvement: Implement a new ticketing system to support the customer service team

This framework is another way to break your vision down into more tactical steps and improvements. 

8. PEST analysis

Use this framework: To understand the external factors that can impact your company 

When drafting your strategic plan, you can’t just think about what’s happening internally — you also need to think about what’s happening externally. A PEST analysis will help you take a holistic look at the environment your company is operating in.

PEST stands for political, economic, sociocultural, and technological, and this framework requires that you determine how each of those factors could impact your company’s overall health. Here are a few (of many) examples: 

  • Political: Are there a lot of government regulations that dictate how your industry can correspond with customers?
  • Economic: Are customers in your industry watching their wallets closely? 
  • Sociocultural: Do customers expect an increasingly fast response? 
  • Technological: Are you operating with outdated customer ticketing software? 

These are important considerations to make, so you avoid hashing out a strategy that doesn’t align with what’s happening around you.

Strategic planning frameworks vs. models: One of these things is not like the other

There are plenty of strategic planning frameworks to choose from, and one isn’t inherently better than the others. They all serve different purposes.

So, when you need to choose a framework, start with your goal and work backward from there. 

Do you need to identify clear action items? Then gap planning or a balanced scorecard are your best bets. Do you want to understand the impact of outside forces? Look at a PEST or SWOT analysis. 

Keep in mind that you don’t have to choose only one. You can use different frameworks for different stages and elements of your strategic planning process. Plus, strategic plans are often revisited and reevaluated. You might require a different framework as your plan and company evolve over time.

Regardless of which framework(s) you use, you’ll want to keep your strategic plan and all of your supporting documentation somewhere organized and accessible. Your strategic plan doesn’t do any good if it sits and collects digital dust. A collaborative workspace like Confluence makes it easy for your entire team to reference that information whenever they need it.

Goals require strategy (and action)

Coming up with goals is easy. The hard part is figuring out how you’ll achieve them. 

Your strategic plan takes your high-level vision and breaks it down into actionable steps you’ll take to make it happen.

The strategic planning process itself can sound dry and daunting, but a strategic planning framework makes it way easier to dig into the details of every element of your strategic plan. 

Use one (or even a few) of the eight frameworks we discussed here, and you’ll be ready to take action on your company’s most ambitious goals. 

Document all of your company’s goals, plans, challenges, and more. Check out the Confluence template gallery to make knowledge sharing even easier. 

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