Strategic planning for start ups is just a game. Literally, in our case. We don't do long term, 3 or 5 year strategic plans. We create a "Game" and then we play it full on. Play up! Play up! And play the game.
A lot of companies produce sophisticated 3 year plans, full of precise detail and copious spreadsheets. Business schools churn out battalions of MBAs capable of producing a 3 year plan at the drop of a hat.
But our approach is different. We define two things. One is the "Enduring Purpose" and the other is "The Game".
The Enduring Purpose gets defined once and never changes. It is a statement of why the company itself exists, what its ultimate purpose is. It is a single, clear, carefully thought through sentence and it is aspirational. You may never achieve it but that doesn't matter, it serves as a guiding light that you are constantly working towards.
The Game gets defined frequently. It typically has a 12 month timeframe, but it can be shorter (Garlik's current Game is a 6 month game) or longer. However its best to think in terms of 12 months.
The Game starts with a sentence, usually along the lines of "By the end of 2010, we will have...." and it needs to be a clear step towards achieving the Enduring Purpose.
Underneath the sentence or two that defines The Game you will write some Conditions of Satisfaction. There may be 3 to 5 conditions of satisfaction and these are the statements that make it clear how you will know whether you have "won" the game.
For example, if you are running an environmental company, GreenCo, then...
Enduring purpose..."GreenCo will change the world by giving families real power over their impact on the environment around them and inspiring them to reduce the harm they cause."
The Game..."By December 2009, GreenCo will launch its GreenHome online platform to consumers across three continents and establish itself as the leading player in consumer green issues".
Conditions of satisfaction....
a) GreenHome will be launched in USA, UK and India by December 2009
b) GreenCo will acquire a critical mass of users by December 2009
c) GreenCo will be recognised in the environmental industry as a thought leader in the USA
This whole structure should fit onto a single side of A4. If it's much longer than that then it probably isn't clear or focused enough to be useful. Underneath each condition of satisfaction, you will list 1 to 3 "measures" that make it absolutely clear what you mean by "critical mass" for example or "recognised in the ... industry".
The final step is to allocate accountabilities to each condition of satisfaction. Whilst there may be several people involved in each item, you need to give someone (including yourself) the primary accountability to hit that CoS.
The process of putting this together should take you 2 to 3 days of debate and discussion and plenty of flipcharts and if you can you should tackle it off-site so that you can clear everyones mind of the hassles of the day to day. In fact you might want to start off by having some discussions that help people to get their immediate angst out of the way.
As you get into the debate, you and your leadership team should test each word to make sure it says what you mean it to say. Words are important here because you need to get clear on what matters to you. There may be some debate amongst the team about the wording so remember that ultimately the Chief Executive gets to decide and the rest of the team aligns behind the CEOs decision.
But what about years 2 and 3 I hear the MBA's chant. Don't worry about them. Play your Game full on for the short period you have defined and as you get to the end of that period, define the next Game, consistent with the Enduring Purpose, for the following period. Nothing matters except The Game.
So, Play up! Play up! And play the game, and everything else will look after itself.