The planning process always starts out with the gathering of facts. Though it is possible to make plans based on supposition and fantasy, as many do, it is always better to do the hard work of discovering the reality of your company or task at hand before making strategic and operational plans. You will need to identify your current circumstances and how your circumstances relate to the environment in which you are placing your plans.
The first step in the planning process is figuring out where you are at the current moment. Conduct a positioning session to define your goals, what you actually produce as your product, your target marketplace or customer, your production process and what you need to accomplish to meet your stated goals. This gives you knowledge of the realities of your company so you can go about planning how to create the company you want it to be at the end of your project period.
Taking the ideas and facts brought forth in the positioning session, perform a SWOT analysis -- analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing your company. This identifies the planning environment and evaluates the various directions you can take the company. Now you are ready to approach strategic and operational planning, which will define what direction you expect to take the company and how you will manage the company in order to achieve your goals.
Strategic planning takes the current facts of your company, applies the economic and industry environment information and examines the options at hand to come up with the best direction and goals to work toward in the project period. Strategic planning deals with concepts of how best to compete successfully in your industry, when to obtain financing in order to maximize opportunity while minimizing costs, and sets out marketing campaigns and seasonal production and sales requirements to achieve the goals of the project period.
Operational planning takes the concepts, defined in the strategic plan, to the action stage by dealing with timetables, benchmarks, quotas, budgets, facilities and equipment, administration, and human resources. The purpose of an operational plan is to create a road map for the project period that defines in detail the process of putting into action the strategies set forth by management.
Victoria Duff specializes in entrepreneurial subjects, drawing on her experience as an acclaimed start-up facilitator, venture catalyst and investor relations manager. Since 1995 she has written many articles for e-zines and was a regular columnist for "Digital Coast Reporter" and "Developments Magazine." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in public administration from the University of California at Berkeley.