What is Strategic Planning?

“I always skate to where I think the puck is going to be.”       – Wayne Gretsky

“It’s not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning.”       – Dr Graeme Edwards

Strategic planning is a process for setting priorities, allocating resources and identifying the changes needed to achieve a shared vision. The planning process is important because it encourages everyone to embrace common goals, by helping to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Strategic plans are usually implemented over a long period of time, typically five to ten years. Strategic plans allow us to prepare for new developments in our economy, environment and society, instead of simply reacting to them. The planning component is strategic because it encourages us to prioritize our actions so that we can best respond to an increasingly dynamic environment. One of the key advantages of going through the process is that it encourages us to anticipate threats, and develop plans to mitigate them.

It’s important to realize that strategic plans aren’t static documents. While we can certainly make a series of best guesses, it’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen ten years from now. As a result, a strategic plan must be constantly monitored to make sure that its ideas are still relevant, as well as to make sure that its objectives are being met. Over the years, some ideas may have to be adapted, and others may no longer be realistic. The important thing is that the plan must be used to shape decisions, policies and priorities over its lifetime. This ensures that we focus on priorities, instead of getting distracted by other items that are not relevant. For this reason, the plan must be regularly monitored and evaluated by a project champion to ensure that it remains a priority.

Strategic Planning does not:

  • Predict the future.
  • Involve creating a “shopping list” of business ideas.
  • Mandate decisions that are firm and that can’t be changed.
  • Look after itself.

The Planning Process: Step-by-Step

In order to determine where we want to be, we first need to develop a status report that describes where we stand now. Part of the process of strategic planning is developing this status report, which tells us what assets we have and what we’re capable of internally given our set of external circumstances. To gather and organize this information, we went through several steps including:

Environmental Scan: We considered Timmins’ cultural, social, economic, political and natural environment.
SWOT Analysis: We analysed Timmins’ current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Economic Impact Analysis: We examined the impact of the upcoming Xstrata Mine closure, expected in 2017.
Communications Plan: We ensured all residents had access to information related to the planning process so that everyone remained on the same page.
Public Consultations: We encouraged people of all ages, cultural-linguistic backgrounds, industry sectors and interest groups to attend sessions held in June 2011. We made sure everyone had opportunities to provide their input.
Research on Best Practices: We analyzed several other communities who had gone through the adjustment process from a one-industry town to a more diversified and healthy economy, looking for best practices that we could apply to Timmins.
Academic Literature Review: We scoured university research papers looking for information on community development to see if any could help Timmins set and achieve ambitious and high-impact goals.
Data Analysis: Having collected a lot of information through the aforementioned steps, we sorted, organized and distilled it into data useful for determining final objectives.
Synthesis: We used the results of our analysis to develop recommendations for strategic directions and projects that would produce the best results for Timmins.
Reporting: We kept the City, the Chamber and the TEDC informed of our progress throughout the process, and, once complete, we presented the final report to City Council in November 2011.