“Our executives have started their annual strategic planning sessions. This involves sitting in a room with inadequate data until an illusion of knowledge is attained. Then we’ll reorganize because that’s all we know how to do.”
—Dilbert’s boss explains strategic planning
Why should science organizations do strategic planning? Conventional businesses often struggle with it, and their products and services are much easier to understand and predict than the compounds in development in a lab. Science organizations understandably overlook strategic planning because their focus on their science absorbs the lion’s share of their interest. “Of course we have a strategic plan,” a biotech start-up CEO told me. “It’s ‘get the experiment to succeed.’”
Yet it’s important for science organizations to do strategic planning because it addresses the most crucial organizational issues that enable—or obstruct—science. Effective strategic planning involves three kinds of work scientists do well—analysis, innovation and thoughtful action. Analysis assesses the key data that describes the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, often with the shorthand SWOT. Innovation comes into play in clarifying the organization’s Vision, Mission, Values, and Goals. Thoughtful action closes the gaps between the SWOT and Vision with several initiatives that address problems and/or explore opportunities.
Strategic planning can help science not only in organization-wide issues but also in a wide range of applications. For project managers, team leaders, and department supervisors, strategic planning provides a handy tool to increase individual focus on group goals and improve the complex communications essential for translating individual efforts into organizational results.