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Five best practices for strategic planning

By David Garcia, Matthew Troy | May 17, 2021

One year after a presidential inauguration, federal agencies release new strategic plans. These plans lay out agency goals and priorities, identify how they will be achieved and specify how staff will measure progress along the way. If done well, strategic planning can help agencies develop a vision for the future—and a road map to get there—that informs, inspires, and guides staff and external stakeholders alike.

To help agencies develop their 2022-2026 strategic plans, the Partnership for Public Service and Grant Thornton are hosting a three-part workshop series with strategic planners from across the federal government. Participants share best practices, learn how to incorporate evidence into strategic plans and devise ways to implement them once they are completed. The first two workshops were held in April and May, and a third will follow in June. In August, the Partnership and Grant Thornton will publish a paper summarizing the findings from the workshop series.

Five high-level takeaways from the first two sessions:

1. Plan for the plan.

Strategic planning teams should develop a “plan for the plan.” That means investing plenty of time upfront to map out the strategic planning process. Key tasks include identifying and consulting with critical stakeholders, deciding when and how to engage them, and locating the resources needed to create a good plan.

2. Creatively engage a diverse group of stakeholders.

To generate buy-in, it is important to do a robust stakeholder analysis before the strategic plan is developed. Doing so can help ensure the plan reflects the priorities of those impacted by, influencing or overseeing an agency’s work—both the political leaders who set policy and the career staff who manage important programs. Agencies should also consider talking to stakeholders who didn’t shape previous strategic plans.

Seeking feedback in creative ways can also be productive. For example, one agency inserted specific questions into its budget hearings to solicit congressional input about a strategic plan.

3. Don’t forget the operations side of the house.

Operations teams, such as IT and human resources, should be included in the strategic planning process. Staff from mission-support offices can help strategic planners ensure their strategies are not only aspirational, but practical.

When developing learning agendas—a new aspect of the strategic planning process introduced by the Evidence Act—agencies should include research questions that focus on how to improve their internal operations. Some questions, for example, might cover how to recruit, hire and retain more science, technology, engineering and math employees. Too often, learning agendas exclude these types of operations-focused questions.

4. Build a cross-agency coalition.

The most effective strategic plans emerge from close collaboration between an agency’s strategic planning teams, research and evaluation shops, and program offices. While intra-agency collaboration can be challenging, leaders should expect staff to work across the organization and model the behavior themselves.

5. Maximize value and minimize burden.

Strategic planning teams can streamline their work, reduce duplication and lighten the workload for their colleagues by staying up to date on relevant work happening across the agency and incorporating it into the strategic plan. For example, teams can use data that the agency has already collected rather than issuing a new data call or plug in content from plans that have already been developed to comply with recent executive orders. If agencies’ goals overlap, existing interagency groups such as the Council on Environmental Quality can be good places to network and form partnerships.

These takeaways can help agencies launch ambitious strategic plans that enable effective government and outline creative solutions for the people of this country. As agencies work on their strategic plans, they should keep these five best practices in mind.

Register for our June 22 strategic planning workshop here. The session, held virtually from 3-5 p.m. EDT, will feature best practices for developing performance measures, designing quarterly performance reviews and tracking the implementation of a strategic plan.

This post was co-authored by Matthew Troy, a manager at Grant Thornton Public Sector LLC.


David  Garcia