Patricia Esslinger, Groupware Facilitator
Strategic Planning

Pat's overall approach to strategic planning is to

The process usually begins by identifying assumptions which must be built into the strategy; outlining the business lines, organizations, or projects the strategy is to cover; documenting the forces driving the need for the strategic planning; and clearly defining what the client needs to accomplish with the strategy.

Pat then facilitates planning teams including key managers and stakeholder groups using a technology-enabled planning process tailored to the customer needs. Steps in the planning process vary depending on the customer's need, but they typically include

  1. an environmental/context scan to identify internal and external driving forces affecting the organization or business line. Included in this environmental scan are budget considerations and projections.
  2. a SWOT analysis to identify internal strengths, internal weaknesses, external opportunities, and external threats to success. We establish timelines and milestones for the planning process and facilitate the identification of accountable parties to be included in the process.

In facilitating these groups, Pat prefers to use groupware (collaborative meeting technology), which she can provide. This technology enables full participation of all team members; anonymous input from stakeholders; collection, organization, and analysis of a large volume of information in a short time; considerable reduction in the time that managers and stakeholders must devote to the planning process; and expedited full documentation of collected information and deliberative processes.

With creative and effective deployment of the technology, Pat facilitates planning teams while educating them to strategic planning concepts and approaches through

  1. Examining the current mission statement, vision, and goals, using such probing questions as
    • What is the business line for?
    • What is your core business?
    • What is its ultimate purpose?
    • What value does it bring?
    • Who are the stakeholders in the business line?
    • What do they think the purpose should be?
    • In what ways does the business line need to change in order to serve its ultimate purpose better?
  2. Conducting a gap analysis.
    • Determining where the organization is today with respect to the achievement of its strategy
    • Exploring obstacles facing the organization
    • Identifying obstacles that impede the organization from making strategic changes
    • Exploring actions needed to make the necessary changes occur and to overcome those obstacles
    • And identifying the accountable people who have the responsibility and authority to take those actions
  3. Finding ways to leverage organizational strengths and internal best practices.

Pat introduces team members to the groupware technology by asking them a question like "What makes your agency successful?" In a matter of moments, we collect ideas from all participants, along with comments on those ideas. The groupware screen looks like this.

Screen Shot 1

The groupware technology enables assessment of the potential effectiveness, value, feasibility, and cost of proposed actions, resulting in a collaboratively-developed, consensus-supported prioritization. Through the very quick polling feature of the groupware, individual participants can prioritize ideas, and the group results are instantly calculated and displayed.

Screen Shot 2 (Specific solutions are masked in this illustration to protect client confidentiality.)

Planning teams can be quickly scanned for ideas and information about potential sources for resources required to implement the plan. The documentation on proposed actions provided by the process is sufficient to support identification of points of accountability, development of resource estimates, and validation of working time frames.

Past successes in Pat Esslinger's strategic planning projects include