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2016-03-31 | Strategic development and planning

Planning often is boring and hard, it consumes a lot of time. But this is the wisest investment because planning preserves 10 times more time in future. It happens by growth of efficiency. When planning you can inventory and allocate all resources in the best or nearly the best possible way. Through planning you will see interconnections between activities that are going to be executed and will be able to make use of it.

The importance of planning

Imagine some simple task, peeling potatoes let’s say. What images come to your mind? Do you vision your own hands holding some tool and gently removing skin from potato? This was probably the shortest possible session of planning. But would you agree that you plan in such way dozens of actions every day? Every person on earth plans but the horizons of planning differ greatly. The statistics speaks that success of any business depends on whether we plan for a week or a year or a decade. The Soviet Union planned for 5 years and post-soviet Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Armenia barely planned for 3. The results are known. Germany planned for 30 and the results are also well-known as this country became a symbol of quality.

Planning often is boring and hard, it consumes a lot of time. But this is the wisest investment because planning preserves 10 times more time in future. It happens by growth of efficiency. When planning you can inventory and allocate all resources in the best or nearly the best possible way. Through planning you will see interconnections between activities that are going to be executed and will be able to make use of it.

There are hard times in any business when you struggle to overcome obstacles or facing other challenges. Good plan helps to keep pace and continue even in hostile environment. Quite often planning can replace (at least for some time) motivation and helps to focus when you are frustrated by encountered hardship. And here arises second equally important part of planning - implementation (yes, we believe it’s an indispensable from any plan).

The only situation when planning is useless is when the plan is not going to be implemented. That’s real waste of time. That’s why it is vitally important to make realistic and not “attractive” plans. If you create good-looking but impossible plans you double-waste your time: first at the planning stage and second at the implementation (or better say - failure) stage. Think twice and rethink twice more to create concrete and useful plan.

Roots of strategy

In the introductory part we spoke about two major components of activity: planning and implementation. But what happens next? What are the reasons to plan and implement something? Nobody will deny that there is always an aim or mission of any project/activity and you can speak of plan only in relation to goals. For better performance and management organizations separate Vision, Mission, Values and Strategy. Let’s have a closer look at all these elements.

The vision is our rosy dream, our image of ideal something (depending on what we are doing). But what differentiates a vision from a dream is focus on details. For example: the dream is a new car and the vision is new Smart Roadster in silver and black colors. The dream is safe energy for all but the vision is use of RES (no nuclear, no fossils) and the highest achievable level of energy efficiency. To make explanation even more simple we can say that the vision is something you can draw in your imagination, you ca visualize it. WECF’s Vision is: “A Just and Healthy Planet for All”, i.e. we envision a world in which gender equality has been achieved and all women, men and children live in dignity, and share responsibilities for a healthy environment, and a just and sustainable world.

There are dozens of definition of mission: the mission statement is the core purpose.

But first of all we would like to mention that all this strategic plans, visions, missions and other hardly pronounceable stuff invented to help organisations perform better. It is not necessary to have a plan and if your task is just to buy a sandwich probably you can handle without defining a vision. The point is best practices from all over the world tell us that the more complex task you have the more additional points you will need to perform at your best. Coca-cola probably would not have achieved success without clear mission: “To create value and make a difference.”

A mission statement is a written statement of an organization about the self-image and its basic principles. It formulates a target state. Inwardly a mission statement is to provide orientation and leading and motivating for the organization as a whole and the individual members. Outwardly (public, customers), it should make it clear what an organization is. It is a base for the corporate identity of an organization. A mission statement describes the mission and the desired organizational culture. It is part of the normative management and provides a framework for strategies, objectives and operational actions.

The mission statement of WECF is: “Bringing women's priorities into policies and actions”. Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF) is implementing projects in 50 countries and advocating globally to shape an equitable and sustainable future.

Definition of a strategy

Strategy is the path that takes us from where we are now to where we want to be. A useful model is called the ‘hedgehog concept’, initially developed by Jim Collins’ work in the commercial sector. Like a hedgehog that has one very effective strategy when threatened (rolling up in a ball), strategy should be based on identifying what your organisation does better than anyone else, rather than trying to do everything well. He identifies three sets of questions to ask which can help identify this strategic focus:

  1. What are we most deeply passionate about? What is the vision?
  2. What are the unique strengths of our organisation? What can we do best compared to others? What is our ‘calling’?
  3. What drives our resources (human and financial)?

It is important to draw a tighter focus as you ask these questions, working down from a broad vision to looking at what you can do best and also find resources for. It requires relentless discipline to say ‘no thank you’ to opportunities that fail the hedgehog test – that take you away from the middle of three circles. It is all too easy to find yourself doing things that are useful, but not what you are called to do.

A strategic planningdefinition

Strategic planning is the process of making these choices and documenting them. An effective strategic plan makes choices based on:

  1. Knowing who you are;
  2. Knowing what brings change;
  3. Predicting how the environment is likely to change;
  4. Rigorous and honest self-appraisal.

A. Knowing who you are

Identifying your vision, mission and values i.e. answering the question “Why do we exist?” It is helpful to produce different answers to the row of similar questions to reflect all aspects of your entity. Identify major drivers for an NGO as whole and all members of the team: what motivates you best?

B. Knowing what brings change

A good strategy process is based on knowledge of what brings change to beneficiaries or to policy environment. The project system in which we operate encourages us to focus on activities and deadlines, rather than on what actually brings change. You should avoid this mistake. In any strategy process it is helpful to engage with the existing assumptions about what actually brings change and why. This can help focus on strategies that really make a difference. Use success stories and experience of other NGOs from your region/country.

C. Predicting how the environment is likely to change

An essential element of strategic planning is predicting the future and thinking through how this will affect the work. It involves listening out for the roaring lions (the threats) as well as identifying potential new opportunities, sometimes using tools like PESTLE (described later in the text). This is clearly not an exact science, but such future thinking is vital.

D. Rigorous and honest self-appraisal

It also includes things your NGO is good at and evaluation of your past activities and achievements.

To plan well, you have to know where you are starting from. An honest and open discussion about existing strengths and weaknesses is an important element of strategy. Brutal facts may need confronting. Self-delusion does not help anyone.

The essence of good strategic planning is deciding what you are NOT going to do.

A strategic plan should not be a ‘shopping list’ of things we want, but documenting choices that the organisation want to make. The strategic plan is a ‘big picture’, directional document which should last 3-5 years. It should be complemented by an operational plan which focuses on shorter term goals, most frequently over 12 months detailing who should do what, by when and how much will it cost.


The process of strategic planning will be much more fruitful if it will be planned itself. Consider next four elements as a pattern for a strategic planning process. Try to apply these elements to your organisation and discuss them with your colleagues before the planning.

  1. Important ingredients to consider in the process; (situation, identity (personal and organizational values), desired changes). It works like a food recipe: all ingredients are collected in the same place to process and cook. This part reflects “analysis” component of the strategic planning. You gather everything that is known for the moment and present it in a simple but consolidated form.

  2. Key stakeholders worth listening to. Strategic planning provides an excellent opportunity to gather the views and wishes of the NGO’s beneficiaries, staff, managers, donors, other NGOs and other stakeholders of the organisation. Indeed, acknowledging the views of different stakeholders during the process of strategy development, even if they are not accommodated, can lend some legitimacy to such an exercise. A participatory approach to strategy development can also have significant ‘spin-offs’ such as team building, improved organisational communication, and can even signal a commitment to changing the organisational culture. Participation creates a sense of ownership in the process of strategy development and ownership encourages commitment. Commitment to the strategy makes its achievement more likely.

  3. Common dilemmas to address. It is self-evident that the strategic planning process is all about making choices. After you thoroughly assessed current environment both internal and external, agreed on where do you want to go it’s time to make five strategic choices:

    • Do we give a little help for many or more intensive support for few?
    • Do we treat the symptoms or try to get to the cause?
    • Do we provide services or campaign for change?
    • Do we focus or do we diversify our services?
    • Do we hold virtuously to our beliefs or are we tempted by new resources?
  4. Useful tools for making decisions. A variety of tools are developed to help decision-makers at all levels. Pick the right tool and use it to ease adoption of choices that define future of your NGO.

To reach the highest efficiency of strategic planning process the next five principles should be considered:

  1. Ensure leadership driving. Somebody must facilitate the process of strategic planning and that people normally lead the organisation. To bring authentic strategic change may require leaders to change their views; their priorities and even themselves.

  2. Get staff ownership. It’s vital to involve all members of an organisation in the process of planning. In the end, it’s the staff who will be implementing new strategy. They have to understand the strategy and share its values. In the same time it does not mean that all employees must go through all stages of strategic planning process. But they have to feel involved.

  3. Listen and learn. Use your experience and experience of others, collect opinions of beneficiaries, staff, other NGOs etc. The process of organisational learning and evaluation is described latter in the text.

  4. Make hard choices to have easier life. Choosing is always hard but it relieves you from a lot of troubles ahead. Also making “big choices” (i.e. setting priorities) will save you from many smaller choices in future and help you to react rapidly.

  5. Keep it as simple as possible but not simplier. Do not let tail to wag the dog. Strategic planning is meant to bring in a clarity and not a confusion. That’s why it’s vital to focus on the purpose of the strategic planning and not the process itself. If it’s a small size NGO of 5 people you can just sit together and go through all steps of planning. However if we speak of huge umbrella body a general meeting or conference obviously will not be enough for strategic planning. The bigger organisation - the more preparational work before strategizing session must be completed.


To help with strategic planning a variety of tools exist. At the initial stages - gathering and analysing information - it may be worth using tools like:

  • Stakeholder analysis;
  • SWOT;

To help prioritize and decide on strategic direction at these other tools may be useful:

  • Two simple questions;
  • Portfolio analysis;
  • Prioritisation exercise.

Stakeholder analysis

There are many variants on the simple stakeholder analysis. In its most basic form it involves identifying all those groups who have a stake or an interest in your work. These can be drawn as circles of different sizes (illustrating power to influence the NGO) and placed closer or further away from the NGO (illustrating the extent of or frequency of contact). A stakeholder analysis can be useful in deciding who should be involved in the strategy development process.

SWOT analysis

The single most familiar tool for developing strategy is the SWOT analysis (the letters represent Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). The purpose of the SWOT analysis is to assess the organisation and its external environment and identify the forces that are likely to help and hinder its ability to achieve its mission. In conducting a SWOT analysis, the NGO needs to consider all aspects of its internal functioning – the organisation’s ‘programme’ (what it does) and its ‘process’ (how it goes about doing it).


In seeking to gather and interpret information about changes in the wider environment, PESTLE is a commonly used tool. It highlights the importance of identifying trends and anticipating changes in a variety of environments:

  • Political;
  • Economic;
  • Social;
  • Technological;
  • Legal;
  • Environmental.

A clear understanding of the environment could influence an organisation’s vision as well as whether and how to alter their strategy. It can help an organisation (re)position itself in a dynamic context.

Two simple questions

Much of strategic planning can be boiled down to two simple questions:

  1. Who do you exist to serve?

  2. If they knew what you could offer, what would they ask you to do (so that their lives would be changed in the long term)? ‘Help us…’

Getting NGOs to answer these questions through listening to stakeholders and then prioritizing themselves is the essence of much effective strategising.

Portfolio analysis

Some NGOs have used portfolio analysis to analyse and classify their different programmes into four broad categories:

Portfolio analysis matrix

  1. Stars

    Strong projects or activities with real potential for growth: dynamic, popular and creative. Stars may become ‘foundation stones’ or become short-lived ‘shooting stars’.

  2. Question marks

    New or innovative projects but not yet proven. They might become stars and move into Square 1. Alternatively, they may fail and move into Square; they need to be monitored closely.

  3. Foundation stones

    Reliable, safe projects or activities that provide the NGO with a degree of financial security and/or credibility; they provide a solid base. They may start by being popular with funders but may become less attractive later as they are not seen as innovative.

  4. Dead ducks

    Take up management and financial resources and provide little or no added value for the effort required. Often organisations have problems dealing with such activities because they may be closely bound up with the organisation’s earlier history.

Implementing a strategy and learning

Good, looks we have a plan now and we ready to implement it. Let’s see what comes after. One of the best existing models for quality management is called PDC(S)A or also the Deming Cycle (Because it was made popular by Dr W. Edwards Deming). PDC(S)A means Plan-Do-Check(study)-Act. Thorough completion of all 4 stages ensures quality of the final product or, in our case, activity. But what’s is more important is a frequency of these stages, the cycle:



Establish the objectives and processes necessary to deliver results in accordance with the expected output (the target or goals).


Implement the plan, execute the process, make the product. Collect data for charting and analysis in the following "CHECK" and "ACT" steps.


Study the actual results (measured and collected in "DO" above) and compare against the expected results (targets or goals from the "PLAN") to ascertain any differences. Look for deviation in implementation from the plan and also look for the appropriateness and completeness of the plan to enable the execution, i.e., "Do".


If the CHECK shows that the PLAN that was implemented in DO is an improvement to the prior standard (baseline), then that becomes the new standard (baseline) for how the organization should ACT going forward (new standards are enACTed). If the CHECK shows that the PLAN that was implemented in DO is not an improvement, then the existing standard (baseline) will remain in place. In either case, if the CHECK showed something different than expected (whether better or worse), then there is some more learning to be done... and that will suggest potential future PDCA cycles.

The other way to look at the planning circle is the 4MAT - a learning model developed by Dr. Bernice McCarthy in late 70th.

The model is mostly applicable to personal learning. However we see it as suitable to describe organisational learning as well. Very important to distinguish that 4MAT should be applied only to something directly related to you. Your reflection to the recently adopted legislation should not be considered as part of cycle because it have nothing to do with learning. But if you start planning (conceptualising) any action in response to the enacted laws then you start the cycle. Let’s have closer look at all parts and use abovementioned example of action:

  1. Acting means direct implementation of what was planned before. Or it can be reaction to some unexpected event. Example: You planned and carried out a demonstration to show your opposition to the law.

  2. Experiencing is what you feel or discover in the acting phase. The processes of acting and experiencing can happen simultaneously. Example: citizens expressed support to your demonstration.

  3. Reflecting is when you analyze obtained experience and derive new knowledge from it. Example: you understand that citizens also feel opposition to the law and are ready to support your cause.

  4. Conceptualising is when you apply conclusions from the reflecting stage to improve what you do i.e. activity. Example: you plan new actions which involves signing a petition by citizens.

In most cases, the 4MAT cycle is started by Acting or Conceptualising (planning) stage. Once it’s started it can be repeated many times and this is probably the only way of evolution of organisation. You err, analyze mistakes, fix them and make new mistakes - it’s naturally. Very seldom you can act without making any mistakes so there is no reason to afraid them and it’s wise to treat them not as faults but as an experience and areas of growth.

Summing up in the very beginning of any planning and strategizing processes lies answer to the question “Why?”. The conscious answer to this question is vital for the future success of any organisation or project.


!Hometask: Take the latest activity done by your NGO and try to partition it according to stages of PDC(S)A and 4MAT. Describe how your activity looks like at every of the four stages of these models.

  1. What are the key steps to develop a strategic plan for which period?

  2. Developing a Vision/Mission/Strategy.

  3. Developing a template for a strategic plan.

  4. Introduction to Project Cycle Management and Result-Based Management (RBM):

    • Project Cycle management: How to plan and design a project:

      • Needs assessment;
      • Planning and programming;
      • Monitoring and Evaluation.
    • RBM and the result chain: whether the project is on track and what is has achieved.

This training for this module includes short lectures, many exercises, group work on case studies and facilitated discussions.

We believe that in most CSOs the cycle starts somewhere between Experiencing and Reflecting. Because all CSOs try to solve some issue in the society, which means that they experience and/or reflect on this issue. And only after they start to plan how to solve it.


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