This is the second post in a series highlighting different aspects of strategic planning in the Federal Government. Today, we will meet Agency Alpha, a fictional agency that will help us learn more about the strategic planning process.
Last week, we met Carson and learned how she used strategic planning to land a new job. We talked about how this same process applies to government agencies and leaders, who use strategic planning to determine their vision for the future and create a strategic plan to serve as their roadmap.
The strategic planning process that agencies follow is more in-depth than most of us use for our personal goals. Today we will be following Agency Alpha, a fictional federal agency that will help illustrate the strategic planning process. While each federal agency approaches strategic planning a little differently and there is not a single best approach, a sound strategic planning process includes the following 7 key steps.
Step 1: Environmental Scan
The first step of any strategic planning process starts with research. Agency Alpha conducts an environmental scan, a process where they identify and monitor factors that may impact the long-term direction of the agency. Agency Alpha starts by looking at the incoming administration’s priorities and potential new regulations. They identify climate change, customer experience, and equity as a few Administration priorities that they would need to incorporate into their future vision.
Step 2: Internal Analysis
Research doesn’t stop after assessing the environment outside of an agency. Agency Alpha also needs to complete an internal analysis, including a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) assessment. They utilize their annual review process to evaluate performance across the agency and engage with staff and senior leadership. They compare their operations with the Administration priorities they identified in step 1, and in this instance they focus specifically on climate.
Step 3: Strategic Direction
Agency Alpha uses what they learned from their environmental scan and internal analysis to create a strategic direction. They meet with staff and stakeholders and use that input to build a vision for the future that is both idealistic and high-impact. They theorize how to align Administration priorities like equity, customer experience, and climate with agency operations. They determine what is actually achievable and what the agency should strive for. Climate is important to the agency employees and those they serve. They see it as a big part of the future, and thus a big part of the vision for Agency Alpha.
Step 4: Develop Goals and Objectives
After determining their strategic direction and vision, Agency Alpha engages with internal stakeholders and senior leadership to create a focused set of goals and objectives. They facilitate focus groups and meet with subject matter experts to come up with strategies, indicators, and desired outcomes for each goal. They use existing processes like staff engagement, communities of practice, and quarterly reviews to get buy-in from across the agency.
Step 5: Define Metrics, Set Timelines, and Track Progress
After the goals and objectives are set, Agency Alpha adds details to their plan. They determine the responsible offices and bureaus for each goal. They identify the necessary resource allocations, create actionable timeframes, and define metrics that best measure success. Agency Alpha appoints Team Beta to lead clean energy initiatives and Team Cobra to lead climate literacy initiatives. They set milestones and timelines to ensure they stay on track.
Step 6: Write and Publish a Strategic Plan
Once Agency Alpha gathers the information in step 5, they write an informed strategic plan that captures the voice and purpose of the agency. Their engagement with staff and stakeholders in steps 2 through 5 gained agency-wide support for the plan to help ensure that the strategic plan does not end up as a stand-alone document.
Step 7: Plan for Implementation and the Future
While drafting their plan, Agency Alpha begins to prepare for how to implement it after publication. They include performance measures that track progress and create a formal system for leadership and staff to annually review the plan and update goals and objectives as needed.
Every agency follows a slightly different process, but most have gone through these 7 steps over the last year and a half. Last month, federal agencies published their strategic plans for 2022 to 2026 on performance.gov.
Stay tuned as we explore the importance of strategy and performance in the Federal Government and share agency success stories. The next post in this series will feature the National Endowment for the Arts and look at how staff and external engagement shaped their overall vision for the next four years.