Monitoring your strategic plan - Quarterly reviews & annual updates
Jipe Kelly, Co-founder & Consultant at AfriDev Exchange

Once you have completed your strategic plan for a specific period, how often should you go back and look at it to determine that the plan is still valid; heading you in the right direction, keeping you on the course you have chosen and indeed helping you to meet your goals?

We suggest you revisit your plan and the assumptions you made while developing the strategic plan at least once a quarter, as well as revisiting the entire plan annually. Why? Very simply, your strategic plan is based on your knowledge of your organisation and the sector/environment in which you operate, and the assumptions you and your team have made about what will happen in that operating environment.

Look at each of the areas in which you made assumptions. First, in each of your strategic areas of importance, you made specific assumptions about the challenges you foresee in the upcoming years. You made assumptions about any threats, which could adversely affect your organisation or the issues which you are set to address. You also made assumptions about the opportunities, which can foster growth in your organisation. Which of your assumptions is occurring and to what extent? Is the overall sector changing or still the same?, and is it doing so at about the rate you thought would happen? While this might be difficult to discern on a quarterly basis, if you are close in your assumptions to the actual rate of change, then you likely will not need to make any changes to your strategies. If it varies widely, or the direction of challenges, opportunities etc. is opposite to that which you predicted, then you need to step back and re-analyse the situation and possibly modify your strategies for the planning horizon and/or objectives for the year.

Are there any big impacts which have occurred which could have an impact on your future direction? For example, a change in government policy, which can affect the way your organisation operates.

In addition to changes that can affect your strategic areas of importance quarterly reviews are where you evaluate any new opportunities that have bubbled up since your strategic planning sessions. For instance, the government has set up a new programme in your sector, which can increase the visibility of your organisation, and which you didn't make asumption on– you evaluate it against the objectives that you have chosen and, if it has higher priority, you add it and take off another, lower priority objective. If it does not have a higher priority, you save it to re-evaluate it in the next strategic planning annual cycle. During the quarterly reviews, you are reviewing the full strategic plan and this is where the items that were deemed “business as usual” or “normal course of business” are checked to make sure they haven’t fallen off the radar screen and are still progressing. It is a chance to pull your team together to think strategically and pull back from the day-to-day activities.

You also made assumptions about each of your strategic areas of focus. How is reality playing out relative to the assumptions you made? Again, if your predictions are close, you may not need to change anything, but if they are not, this review is an opportunity to make a mid-course correction.

You also made assumptions about your organisation’s sustainability - beyond the business plan. How is that assumption holding up? Note that this does not mean your organisation's level of success, but rather the general direction of the sector as a whole which may be influenced by external factors such as the economic climate, the political environment etc. Does the sector have strong potential to survive the current economic climate? Should you emphasize more, or less, than originally intended in your strategic plan?

Finally, is there something on the horizon which might hinder your work on some or any of the strategic areas of importance you have identified in the strategic plan?

One of the outcomes of this monitoring and testing of assumptions could be the realization that you need to develop sector information gathering approaches that allow you to better discern what is going on.

Having gone through a review of your assumptions which you made about the sector you need to decide what to do and when to do it. If your assumptions are close to reality, you likely won’t want to change anything significantly. On the other hand, if your assumptions are at wide variance with reality, you and your team should go back to the drawing board and re-analyse the strategic areas of importance on which to focus your energy, to adjust your predictions to the latest reality. Where you have made significant changes, you should review your strategic plan for each goal, possibly changing your strategy to reflect the changes that have occurred. If those changes in strategy will affect your Objectives, and thus your action plans, you should modify each changed Objective and action plan to reflect the latest reality, recasting each to take advantage of your new assumptions.

Monitoring and Evaluation Process

You should consider this process in terms of a continuum

The inputs are the resources that you need to implement your plans.

The outputs - are the activities that you undertake and (related to your objectives).

The outcomes - are changes that take place as a result to your work (and related to your aims)

The impacts - are the broader longer-term changes your organization is having related to your mission and vision.

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