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Strategic Plan Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Posted Aug 16, 2018

By Adrian Evans-Burke

For the past four years Adrian Evans-Burke has worked as a Management Analyst in the Office of Strategic Planning and Management at HUD. Originally from San Diego, CA, Evans-Burke received a BA in Communications from Cal State San Marcos and a Master of Public Policy from Duke University. Evans-Burke is currently on a detail in NASA’s Performance Branch in the Strategic Investments Division.

Agencies face many challenges when developing Strategic Plans. First, there is a tension between developing a Strategic Plan that is comprehensive of all of an agency’s many activities, and one that concisely communicates an agency’s vision to the end-user. Second, OMB guidance for the strategic plan is long on basic requirements, but leaves much to an agency’s discretion. This sometimes results in a wide range of strategic plan lengths, designs, and content inconsistencies. The following blog will provide an overview of a comprehensive analysis, strategic best practices and lessons learned related to developing strategic plans.

Overview of Analysis

I analyzed the 21 CFO act agency Strategic Plans published during the fiscal year 2018 reporting period; 13 non-CFO act plans; and interviewed staff from 14 agencies, to identify content trends, best practices, and lessons learned. These findings may inform future planning activities and may be applicable to other public-facing GPRAMA reports.

Strategic Plan Graphic

Sixteen design and content best practices were identified including (but not limited to):

  • Identification of performance metrics
  • Definitions of GPRAMA terms (Image 2)
  • The use of tables to efficiently convey strategic goal and objective information (Image 3)
  • Effective incorporation of human capital, risk, and research into each goal section.

Strategic Plans with the largest number of identified best practices (ex: Architect of the Capitol, Treasury, Transportation) also tended to be more visually appealing, with a focus on concise strategic goals and objective language.

Of those interviewed about the planning process, most performance team staff did not have any internal guidance, relying instead upon Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and institutional knowledge. This resulted in a wide variety of approaches in developing content.

Best Practices

Agencies with efficient strategic plans used some of the following methods:

  • Leveraged working groups to draft the strategic framework for incoming leadership to review
  • Ensured working groups drew from all levels of an organization, including managers with organizational influence, subject matter experts with specialized knowledge, long-tenured staff with institutional awareness, and new staff with fresh ideas.
  • Involved management-level staff in particular paid dividends when their influence needed to help expedite approvals with other managers.

Lessons Learned Graphic

Lessons Learned

about the reader’s knowledge, and feature a visually appealing layout should be prioritized. A comprehensive but information-dense plan may provide lots of information, but may be equally difficult for stakeholders, colleagues, and the public to digest. A well designed Strategic Plan provides employees with a clearer sense of their purpose and added value as agents of the agency’s mission, and clarifies for the American public and stakeholders the agency’s purpose.

AOC Strategic Planning Process ExampleDetail step-by-step Strategic Planning process to support transparency and for posterity. Source Architect of the Capital FY 2017-21 Strategic Plan, pg. 24.

Best Practice ExampleBest practice: Illustrate a generic performance management framework and provide clear definitions. Source: Department of Commerce FY 2018-22 Strategic Plan, pg. 29.

Best Practice ExampleBest practice: Provide a table summarizing contributing programs by strategic objective. Source: Department of the Treasury FY 2018-22 Strategic Plan, pg. 2.

The opinions expressed in this guest post are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Performance Improvement Council or U.S. General Services Administration.