I have heard delegates at our annual strategic roadmapping conference say “We have started our roadmapping process, but it has been delayed by more urgent issues,” or “We are having a major re-organization and will not be doing our strategic planning until that is complete.” Of course there will always be tactical problems to be dealt with immediately and quite rightly they should be given priority. That does not automatically preclude the need to allocate some time and resources to longer term goals and objectives on a continual basis. Those longer term plans and visions will never come to fruition if we do not give them our regular and active attention.

What I sometimes put down as giving deliberate and careful thought to before starting a project is often just pure procrastination. Although strategic planning involves looking far out into the future it should not mean that it can be continually postponed. Most organizations have an annual planning cycle and this can lull us into thinking that we only need to think about these plans once a year. In the same way that you cannot get fit by visiting the gym every six months you will not get good at achieving your ideals and strategic aims without spending some time to regularly review them.

Despite many statistics I can quote that show how much more effective, innovative and profitable companies are with a formal strategy or roadmapping process in place, I am always surprised by how many huge organizations continue to try and manage without them. Even those that have adopted them into their culture will readily admit the need to continually review and improve them and gather input from an ever widening group of employees, partners and customers. This evidence is encouraging as it means there is still plenty of scope for improvement in this arena for your business to become more competitive in your particular marketplace.

So how do we make our strategic roadmapping or long term planning process more effective? You can learn most from talking to other people who have actively been engaged in developing and monitoring these plans as I and my colleagues have learnt from our clients. Remember that you are going to need other people to engage with you who have the same objectives from other departments and other locations and that will take time to organize. You are going to need commitment from senior management to give people the authority to spend the time on these activities and if you are the senior management you need to encourage your colleagues to continually review their roadmaps and plans. You may wish to engage independent outside experienced facilitators to help kick-start the exercise and you will need to select them. You need to get all the stakeholders to agree a timetable and some tangible objectives to achieve.

Whether you want to implement such a process within your organization or help improve an existing one, or even set some new more ambitious goals then the most urgent thing is to get started. Rather than try the “big bang” approach it is usually more effective to start small with a selective number of like-minded colleagues and just address a cross section of the business to begin with. This way if you can show early success you will find that others will be only too keen to join in and speed up the rate of adoption.

One of the most exciting things about setting long term goals or creating roadmaps is that it there is always plenty of uncertainty about how you are going to achieve your objectives. The quicker that you start creating and discussing the roadmaps the faster you will find a clearer path to achieve your visions.

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