Aligning and Streamlining Your Planning Efforts for Long-Term Success

April 2017

By Bonnie Noble, PhD, RN, The Ondina Group

We’ve all heard that familiar quote, “Failing to plan is planning to fail." This is likely a contemporary paraphrase of one of Benjamin Franklin's quotes: "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." And then, of course, Winston Churchill said, "He who fails to plan is planning to fail."
 
OK. You get it. You know planning is important. But, sometimes it feels as if we can spend so much time planning that we don’t have time to get anything done. And, what about all those plans required when we’re seeking funding? Just the other day, a client commented on how the funding agencies “require an odd collection of similar-looking documents—Strategic Plan, Logic Model, and Action Plan.” She groaned when I replied, “Don’t forget about the Evaluation Plan and the Sustainability Plan.”
 
This “odd collection of similar-looking documents” each have a specific purpose and make an important contribution to program and organizational success. Moreover, it is helpful to understand how these various plans fit together in a sort of “less is more” approach that provides simplicity, clarity, and good design while streamlining your planning and writing efforts. 

First, let’s briefly examine the key purpose for each one of these plans.

  • Strategic Plan: The key purpose of a Strategic Plan is to establish a common goal, set priorities, focus energy and resources, establish agreement around intended outcomes/results, and assess and adjust the organization's direction in response to a changing environment.[i]
  • Logic Model: The focus of a Logic Model is to provide a visual matrix describing how a program is intended to work, how the various components relate, and what measures are required to evaluate effectiveness.[ii]   
  • Work Plan: A Work Plan provides a detailed roadmap for how an individual or group will implement a program or project and accomplish a related set of tasks within a specified timeframe.
  • Evaluation Plan: The question of how you will monitor and evaluate a program is described in an Evaluation Plan. This plan will also detail how you intend to use evaluation results for program improvement and decision making.[iii]
  • Sustainability Plan: The types and sources of funding you are going to pursue to maintain your project or organization are detailed in the Sustainability Plan.[iv]

So, how do these plans overlap with and link to one another? The following Planning Crosswalk describes, visually, how these various plans are related.

It is important that these plans are aligned and integrated. For example, your three- to five-year program goals and strategies identified in your Strategic Plan align with the program-specific impact and outcomes in your Logic Model(s). Likewise, your Work Plan is a more detailed description of the initiatives outlined in your Strategic Plan and the activities described in your Logic Model.
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The usefulness of each of these planning tools is enhanced by regularly consulting and comparing them. Developing, linking, and using these planning tools will help to ensure that your programs, and your organization, remain focused on its core mission and reaches its goals and vision.
 
Two important Baldridge program concepts are especially useful here—alignment and integration. 

  • Alignment refers to the consistency of plans, processes, information, resource decisions, actions, results, and analyses to support key organization-wide goals. Effective alignment requires a common understanding of purposes and goals. It also requires the use of complementary measures and information.
  • Integration refers to the harmonization of plans, processes, information, resource decisions, actions, results, and analyses to support key organization-wide goals. Effective integration goes beyond alignment and is achieved when the individual components of a performance management system operate as a fully interconnected unit.[v]

Examples of alignment and integration include linking key goals and objectives in your overall organizational Strategic Plan and your program Logic Model(s). Then, the Work Plan provides more detail on how your stated objectives will be achieved and who will be responsible for doing the actual day-to-day work. Likewise, the Evaluation Plan is a drill-down on how you will collect, analyze, and report data to ensure you remain on target towards reaching stated goals. Finally, the Sustainability Plan describes what actions you will take to ensure long-term viability of your program.
 
There is great value in aligning and integrating this “odd collection of similar-looking documents,” and doing so will enhance the effectiveness of your organization and its various programs. And, of course, you will more efficiently utilize the most precious resource—your time.

Bonnie Noble, PhD, RN, has an extensive background in the healthcare industry, with more than 30 years of experience working in a variety of healthcare organizations. She has expertise in many quality and performance improvement methodologies, is certified in patient safety, and is a certified professional in healthcare quality. Bonnie has served a National Examiner for the Baldrige National Quality Award and also has managed large federal contracts with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). She currently serves as the project director for the Mendonoma Health Alliance, a grantee of the Rural Health Network Development Planning Grant Program through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

[i] Balanced Scorecard Institute. Retrieved March 1, 2017 at http://www.balancedscorecard.org/Resources/Strategic-Planning-Basics
[ii] W.K. Kellogg Foundation. East Battle Creek, Michigan. 2004. https://ag.purdue.edu/extension/pdehs/Documents/Pub3669.pdf 
[iii] Developing an Effective Evaluation Plan. Atlanta, Georgia: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, 2011.
[iv] The Grant Helpers.com. Five Key Elements of an Effective Sustainability Plan. 2014. Retrieved on March 2, 2017. http://www.thegranthelpers.com/blog/bid/204687/The-Five-Key-Elements-of-an-Effective-Sustainability-Plan-for-Grants
[v] Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. 2017. 2017–2018 Criteria for Performance Excellence.
Gaithersburg, MD: U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology. http://www.nist.gov/baldrige

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