Strategic planning made easy

January 8, 2007

Panic tends to accompany talk of developing a strategic plan, which is often viewed as a long and tedious process. This need not be the case. Having described in this column a number of strategic thinking tools over the last few months, tools that will be outlined below, you and your team are in a position to put together, in a straightforward manner, the essentials of a strategic plan.

Panic tends to accompany talk of developing a strategic plan, which is often viewed as a long and tedious process. This need not be the case. Having described in this column a number of strategic thinking tools over the last few months, tools that will be outlined below, you and your team are in a position to put together, in a straightforward manner, the essentials of a strategic plan.

Strategic thinking, the process of "doing the right things," is a precursor to strategic planning, the process of "doing things right." The purpose of the strategic thinking process is to provide the team with the tools to organize its thinking while considering all members' viewpoints. The tools help team members to focus on the same thing at the same time, thereby building consensus around the key opportunities and challenges facing the team.

Having at hand a number of tools, we must consider which tool might be a good way to get started. A meaningful place to start is often with the vision statement tool (DI SCAN, 7/3/06, Strategic thinking tools). The vision statement serves as an umbrella for the planning process by articulating a project's purpose and mission. After these are in hand, the team must address whether the mission strategies are both necessary and sufficient to achieve the purpose within a given time frame.

It is highly probable that one of the mission strategies will deal with a competitively advantageous strategy to serve the customer. The High 5 tool (DI SCAN, 4/7/06, High 5 highlights importance of understanding the competition) can help identify that strategy. This tool considers the key reasons a customer would buy a given product. By using these factors to evaluate its product versus that of the major competition, the team can readily size up its competitive position, understand its strengths, and note where it needs to improve.

Often a team is concerned with the best approach to bringing a product to market and with questions associated with product adoption. When discussing the 2 x 2 table tool (DI SCAN, 8/9/06, Successful technology implementation makes medical imaging tick), we noted the importance of helping the customer modify behavior when applying new technology in order to achieve optimum results. By providing the required customer training, a team can often differentiate itself from competition even though the technology is comparable.

When the team is faced with major investment needs, the Real-Win-Worth tool (DI SCAN, 6/2/06, Real-Win-Worth) assists in sorting out the key questions to consider in support of the investment decision.

  • "Real" considers the market situation, as well as the product's ability to meet market needs;

  • "Win" considers the product's technological competitive position (per the High 5), as well as the company's overall ability to achieve the goals;

  • "Worth" deals with the strategic value provided to customers and shareholders.

It is very difficult for a company to develop all pertinent technology in house. Therefore, strategic partnerships are often important to maintaining a leadership position. The Core tool (DI SCAN, 12/11/06, Romancing the Core) provides a way for the team to understand the significance that partnership candidates can play in expanding the critical technology of the company. Based on this analysis, the team can decide on merger, acquisition, or investment to insure that the candidate technology is secured.

The strategic planning process most often is tied to achievement of a numerical goal (a given sales target [for vendors] or patient target [for providers]) within the purpose section of the vision statement. Reaching the target often requires a series of steps. The growth development tool (DI SCAN, 9/25/06, Planning sets framework for evolving medical practice) is a good way for the team to agree on the significant steps and their relative timing.

Editor's Note: We have seen how the strategic thinking tools discussed in previous issues of DI SCAN can come together to form the essentials of a strategic plan. As questions arise in your application of this method, contact Ron Schilling, an editorial advisor to Diagnostic Imaging and president of RBS Consulting in Los Altos Hills, CA, at ronald11341@aol.com. Schilling invites you to share with him your favorite tools and how they fit into the planning process.