25 Essential Strategic Planning Tools

With so many strategic planning tools out there, it can seem confusing. We list 25 key tools, and break them down to help you make sense of them.

In an ever-changing world, strategic planning is a vital process for helping organisations understand the world in which they operate and how it is changing so that they can focus on those things most likely to lead them to future success.

But strategic planning can be confusing. There are so many tools, models, frameworks and theories around it can be difficult to know when to start.

In this post, we outline the most essential tools for strategic planning and how they fit together.

How it all fits together

Strategic planning is a combination of four different activities, which can further be subdivided into two sub-categories:

  1. Strategy Development - what should the organisation focus on, and why?
    1. Analysis: Before developing a strategy it is important to develop a shared understanding of the industry in which a business operates and its relative strengths and weaknesses. The industry in which it operates includes its customers, distributors, partners and suppliers, competitors, regulators, governments/politicians, etc. Its strengths and weaknesses are relative to its customers' needs and its competitors' capabilities.
    2. Decision-making and direction-setting: Armed with that understanding the next step is to choose what the organisation will focus on and priorities. This is often called choosing where to play and how to win. Where to play can be defined in terms of which markets to compete in, which customers to target, and where to play within the industry value chain. How to win can be defined in terms of what the organisation needs to have or be able to do uniquely well (or at least better than the competition) to succeed in those markets.
  2. Strategy Execution
    1. Planning: Planning entails working out exactly how you will execute the decisions you made above. Crucially, it entails mapping out who will do what and when, as well as how much it will cost.
    2. Tracking results: Often overlooked, it is vital to track progress both of your plans (are you doing what you said you would do within the costs and timeframes you'd planned?) and outcomes (is your strategy having the intended effect)? If the answer to either of those questions is 'no' you may need to go back to the drawing board and adjust your strategy.

As we outline the key tools you need for strategic planning, we will place them within the context of these four activities.

Strategic Planning Tools for Analysis

1. SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis is one of the oldest and most widely used strategic planning tools. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Its elegant simplicity is both its greatest strength and weakness, as a result it often best used in conjunction with some of the other models mentioned below. It is particularly useful as a starting point, in order to work out where to focus your analytical efforts, as well as a summary of the analysis before moving on to decision-making and direction-setting. (See What is a SWOT analysis?)

2. PESTEL Analysis

PESTEL analysis is a macro-scanning tool - that is, it helps you to scan the environment for relevant trends. These trends can then inform the Threats and Opportunities on your SWOT analysis. PESTEL stands for Political, Economic, Social (or socio-economic), Technological, Environmental, and Legal (and regulatory). These are the six domains to scan for relevant trends. (See How to do PESTEL Analysis)

3. Porter's 5 Forces

Porter's 5 forces is a framework for understanding the factors which might make an industry more or less attractive. The 5 Forces are the bargaining power of suppliers, the bargaining power of customers, the threat of substitutes, the threat of new entrants to the industry, and the intensity of rivalry between players in the industry. Industries in which those forces are strong are likely to be less attractive, because profit margins are likely to be narrower and growth harder to achieve. Like the PESTEL analysis, Porter's 5 Forces is also useful for highlighting Threats and Opportunities on your SWOT analysis. (See How to do a Porter 5-Forces analysis)

4. McKinsey 7S

The McKinsey 7S framework looks at the degree of alignment between the 7 organisational factors within an organisation (which all happen to begin with an S). These are further divided into hard factors like Strategy, Systems and Structure, and soft factors like Style, Staff, Skills and Shared values. It is important to understand not only how the organisation addresses each of the 7 categories, but, possibly more importantly, the extent to which their is alignment between them. As these factors are more internal, McKinsey 7S is useful for identifying Strengths and Weaknesses on your SWOT analysis. (See Using the McKinsey 7S Framework to assess strategic alignment, strengths and weaknesses)

5. Porter's Value Chain

Porter's Value Chain is a simple way of describing how value is added. When applied to an organisation, it simply describes the key organisation capabilities, dividing them between the primary functions which turn acquire inputs, turn them into outputs and deliver them to customers, and supporting functions like finance, HR and infrastructure management. When applied to an industry, it can also be used to describe the broader supply chain, and the role different organisations play within that supply chain. (See Value Chain Analysis)

7. Business Model Canvas

The Business Model Canvas is a more recent way of describing how a business works which has become very popular. It's a great tool for summarising how a business works across all functions. As such it can be a helpful starting point when getting people together from across different silos to take a more holistic view of an organisation and its strategy. There are a number of alternative canvases that have since sprung up: the most popular of these is probably the Lean Canvas, which targets early-stage startups.  (See The Business Model Canvas)

8. Boston Consulting Grid (BCG)/Matrix

If your business consists of more than one product or service, the Boston Consulting Grid help you understand the nature of each and the different strategic options which might be suitable for each. (See The BCG Matrix)

9. Pareto Analysis

The Pareto principle states that 80% of effects arise from 20% of causes. You can apply this in many situations. Especially to understand which of your products or services drive your profits and which may be loss leaders. (See Pareto Analysis)

10. Strategy Canvas

Blue Ocean Strategy's Strategy Canvas shows how an organisation compares against its competitors or alternatives according to the factors which its customers use when choosing to buy or not to buy from it. It can be used in for Analysis (showing how an organisation does compare) or Direction-setting (showing how an organisation aspires to compare). The objective, in both cases, is for the organisation to differentiate itself from the competition, rather than to compete head-on. (See The Strategy Canvas)

11. Scenario Analysis

We can't predict what the future will bring. But we can anticipate different things the future could bring, and plan around that understanding. Scenario planning is a structured approach for doing this which draws on other analysis, especially from the PESTEL analysis. As it deals with the future, it also creates a bridge between analysis and Direction setting. (See Working with scenarios)

Strategic Planning Tools for Decision-making and Direction-setting

12. Mission Statement

A mission statement describes why an organisation exists. What is its purpose? What would the world miss if it ceased to exist? (See Mission and Vision Statements)

13. Vision Statement

A vision statement describes what the organisation and the world in which it operates would look like if it were completely successful in its mission and strategy. It should paint a clear and vivid picture of an ideal future. With the mission statement, it should inspire those who work there, and encourage others to want to do business with the organisation. (See Mission and Vision Statements)

14. The Balance Scorecard/Strategy Map

The balanced scorecard is a technique for mapping out an organisation's strategy goals, objectives and KPIs in 4 different perspectives: financial, customer, internal business process, and learning and innovation. The strategy map implies a causal relationship between these perspectives: the learning an innovation perspective creates the capability required to improve internal business processes; internal business processes are what delivers value to customers; and delivering value to customers drives financial results. The 'balance' in a balanced scorecard ensures, amongst other things, against too much emphasis on one aspect of a business at the expense of others leading to unintended consequences. (See The Balanced Scorecard)

15. Shared Values

Values describe what is important to an organisation regardless of its strategy. They represent the lines you can't paint outside of. They can be negatives - things you wouldn't do no matter how profitable they are - or positives - things you believe to have intrinsic, self-evident value. (See Corporate shared values)

16. The Strategy House

The strategy house is a visual representation of a strategy in which the shared values are shown as the foundations, the vision or mission is shown as the roof, and the strategy is shown as (usually) 3 to 4 pillars which rest on the foundations and hold the roof up. The pillars represent themes and typically include a combination of goals and strategic initiatives. The inclusion of strategic initiatives means the strategy house acts as a bridge from direction setting to planning. (See The Strategy House)

Strategic Planning Tools for Planning

17. The 3 Horizons model

The 3 Horizons model classifies activities as relating to maintenance and improvement of the current, expansion and growth into new areas, and transformation into something new and different. It helps organisations to avoid becoming too focused on immediate threats and opportunities at the expense of the future, whilst also avoiding becoming too focused on a future it might not survive to see.

18. The Ansoff Matrix

The Ansof Matrix focuses specifically on growth, distinguishing between growth within existing products and markets, growth into new markets, growth by adding new products or services, and growth by doing both (the riskiest of all!) helping you to understand the different requirements and balance the risks of each. (See Planning for growth with Ansoff's Matrix)

19. RASCI

RASCI is a framework for assigning responsibility to individuals as being Responsible for getting it done, Accountable for the outcomes, Supportive, Consulted, or merely kept Informed. It provides a way of ensuring full participation without allowing "too many cooks to spoil the broth". (See The RASCI framework)

20. Kanban or Ideas Funnel

Kanban or an Ideas Funnel is a visual representation of how individual ideas get moved from inception through to different to completion and all stages in between. It provides insight into the different processes and governance required for ideas at each stage on that journey

21. Gantt Chart

The Gantt Chart is borrowed directly from the project management discipline. It shows when you will do what you plan to do, with time shown across the top (x-axis) and each activity shows as a bar from its start to end date, making it easy to represent sequence, concurrency and dependency between activities. (See Using the Gantt chart view)

22. RAID log

Another model borrowed from project management, the RAID log lists out, and categorises the Risks, Actions, Issues and Decisions inherent in your strategy execution plan. (See The RAID Log)

23. Status Report

A status report tracks whether people are doing what they are supposed to do. It lists all the key strategic initiatives with projected completion dates, Red/Amber/Green traffic lights indicating status, and supporting notes, allowing an organisation to decide what is on track and where some form of intervention or change is required. (See The Initiative Status Report)

Strategic Planning Tools for Tracking Results

24. Strategy Scorecard

A strategy scorecard tracks whether your strategy is delivering the intended outcomes or whether an adjustment is required. It typically shows the performance of each strategic KPI as a line chart with a common horizontal time axis. Variances on the scorecard are typically fed back into the Analysis phase so that the cycle can be repeated. (See Creating a Strategy Scorecard on StratNavApp.com)

25. KPI correlation matrix

A KPI correlation matrix calculates the correlations between pairs of KPIs. This is used to test for and confirm hypothesised cause and effect relationships inferred from the strategy map (see Balanced Scorecard above). The correlation calculations may need to allow for delays between causes and effects. (See Correlations between your Performance Indicator Results)

Linking them all together

You probably wouldn't use all of these tools in every strategy. But you will at least need to use several.

And to develop and execute a coherent strategy you will need to integrate and link them together so that information flows through them in a logical way and your strategy remains internally consistent.

You can do this manually, of course. But it quickly becomes quite onerous and errors creep in. That's where a tool like StratNavApp.com comes into its own. It will ensure that local flow of information and internal consistency for you. Leaving you to focus on the higher value add activity of generating strategic insights and translating those into focused action that delivers tangible results.

See also:


If any part of this text is not clear to you, please contact our support team for assistance.

Updated: 2023-09-21

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