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What is Strategic Planning Software?

When it comes to strategic planning software, what’s in a name? The term is used to describe everything from goals management to strategic execution to business management solutions. Some people relegate strategic planning software to defining the strategic vision and mission(s), developing plans, and/or tracking progress.

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Strategic planning software lets stakeholders decide on strategies and investments, monitor and measure progress, and easily make adjustments.
Strategic planning software lets stakeholders decide on strategies and investments, monitor and measure progress, and easily make adjustments.

The truth is that strategic planning software can operate as command central for executives seeking to drive strategy organization-wide. Like the Transformers of toy and movie fame, enterprises today need the ability to rapidly adapt to different situations. Strategic planning software can provide the means for making those adaptations at speed, which is a capability spreadsheets alone cannot provide.

Modern strategic planning software continuously links planning and execution, providing the intelligence needed to make critical decisions. In one place, executives, finance, enterprise portfolio management offices (EPMOs), and functional and business leaders can collaborate and execute on strategy at all times.

They can:

  • See status against key milestones and progress on strategic programs
  • Model trade-offs between proposed investments and other decisions
  • Implement changes quickly, organization-wide
  • Adjust dynamically as disruptions or opportunities arise

Selecting the Best Strategic Planning Software

The best strategic planning software is the solution that best fits your organizational needs. A more lightweight application may suffice if you have a small operation with a few projects. If you work in a large enterprise with many complex, cross-functional programs and initiatives, then a more robust solution is needed.

Enterprise-class strategic planning software: the bridge to strategic execution

Look for a solution that enables your organization to plan and provide visibility into key strategic initiatives successfully. Strategic planning software should provide the information, insights, and analyses needed to make the pivotal investment decisions that drive your business. Then, it will help you continually align these investments with your organization’s strategic goals, financial constraints, and resource capacity.

In addition, your strategic planning software should establish a clear, continual link between planning and delivery. It must enable you to drive high-level objectives and strategies into progressively more detailed components. These include tangible directives such as measurable goals, actionable roadmaps, and coordinated delivery across the enterprise.

The best strategic planning software enables continuous feedback loops and real-time intelligence. These should be drawn from across the organization, with the ability to roll up the work and push down the strategy for a comprehensive approach. Effective decision-making and timely course corrections require access to enterprise-wide status, spend, interdependencies, key performance indicators (KPIs), and other leading business performance metrics.

In today’s volatile environment, all of these capabilities form the foundation for the most important aspect of strategic planning software: The ability to rapidly respond to disruptions and other developments. Explore software that enables your organization to:

  • Adapt the strategic plan
  • Reallocate funding
  • Quickly reprioritize
  • Realign teams

Why Explore Strategic Planning Software?

Executing on strategy is a perpetual challenge for any business. Today, organizations are under more pressure to innovate, manage constant disruptions, address competitive moves, and face other factors. Consider a recent Gartner survey that found 69 percent of boards of directors accelerated their organizations’ digital business initiatives once the pandemic hit – and half are considering changing the business models of the companies they govern.

“I did not know that I would make 10 years’ worth of decisions in 10 weeks.” – Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, quoted in The Wall Street Journal about the company’s strategic pivot after the pandemic began

Executive teams and leaders are expected to manage and execute all this at speed. Yet even they struggle to align strategy with delivery. In other Gartner research, more than half the executives and managers surveyed (54%) strongly disagreed or were neutral to the statement: “My efforts are aligned with strategy.”

Adding to the challenge is the complexity of creating today’s digital, interconnected products, services, and customer experiences – often requiring cross-functional teams. Success requires coordinating a vast array of people, technologies, applications, locations, and other variables across the enterprise.

Managing all this complexity is difficult to do using spreadsheets and a strategic planning process that’s disconnected from execution. Spreadsheets have their place, but strategic planning software enables planning in a dedicated, configurable solution that is continuously linked to delivery.

Benefits of Using Strategic Planning Software

Organizations realize wide-ranging benefits from strategic planning software. These include everything from day-to-day productivity gains made possible by having a central source of truth to market dominance achieved through rapid delivery of a strategic vision. Customers using strategic planning software have reported measurable returns:

  • Grew portfolio value by prioritizing development of innovative new products and delivering those products 12 months faster than previously possible
  • Widened profit margins by shifting 20 percent more time to strategic roadmapping and creation of winning products for financial services
  • Saved $900,000 by automating the capital forecasting process for an education company, reducing the time to evaluate strategic capital plans from weeks to minutes
  • Increase agility by developing portfolio management capabilities for a major manufacturer, delivering products more quickly

The ideal strategic planning software solution accelerates strategic delivery enterprise-wide, across all work and resources. It provides the critical tools you need for a more accurate and agile continuous planning process. When you connect strategy to delivery, you can:

  • Increase revenue by reducing time-to-market
  • Grow portfolio value by prioritizing winning initiatives and killing non-strategic projects and technologies
  • Mitigate risk with improved visibility into technology and work portfolios
  • Optimize resource utilization to create capacity for innovation and transformation
  • Decrease costs with improved efficiencies from repeatable processes and streamlined reporting

Spreadsheets will continue to add value, but it’s no longer tenable for large, complex businesses to run strategy on them. Strategic planning software enables organizations to realize their goals via transparency and agility. The capacity and financial planning capabilities empower leaders to define roadmaps, set plans, and measure progress, while teams across the enterprise can collaborate to manage plans and drive the process.

Capabilities of Strategic Planning Software

Here is what an organization can do with the best strategic planning software:

  • Drive strategy and deliver enterprise-wide: Build top-down plans based on long-term, strategic business requirements. Align the people, projects, programs, applications, and technology with the organization’s strategic plans. Translate strategy into delivery on an organization-wide, cross-functional scale.
  • Manage strategic funding and performance: The right strategic planning software enables you to maximize the ROI from strategic initiatives. An investment-centric approach creates capital plans that integrate strategic and organizational financials to promote visibility and drive performance. Executives and others should be able to prioritize and rank investments based on their alignment with corporate strategies and financials.
  • Model trade-offs in constantly changing environments: Strategic planning software can help optimize funding and resource allocation to cross-functional initiatives. You can prioritize initiatives, evaluate funding alternatives, and compare trade-offs between proposed decisions.
  • Measure performance and share progress: Your teams need to track progress against the strategic plan. This includes executive-level visibility into the real-time status of portfolios and programs, as well as KPI performance. Leaders can use these insights to better track and balance financials, remove obstacles, drive business alignment, and plan and deliver on the most important initiatives.
  • Collaborate on the creation and execution of strategic plans: Bring cross-functional teams together to plan and deliver strategy. This is especially vital today as teams are more virtual than ever. Strategic planning software should provide simple ways for all stakeholders and contributors to stay aligned, drive the process and share key information.
  • Adapt plans as conditions change: Dynamic planning enables quick, informed shifts in strategies, priorities, funding, and resources enterprise-wide. With a strong strategy-to-delivery foundation already built, organizations can use their strategic planning software to pivot at speed.

What Are the Biggest Strategic Planning Obstacles?

For nearly 75 percent of strategists, the gap between strategy and delivery has become a major concern over the past three years. It’s difficult to bridge this gap with traditional planning processes. Adherence to annual plans, fixed budgets, unyielding strategies, and inflexible tools limit agility.

Desktop spreadsheets are the most common tools used for strategic planning, according to Ventana Research. The firm’s benchmark research found that 7 out of 10 midsize or larger companies use spreadsheets across a range of planning processes.

Given this entrenched position, you might expect favorable reviews. However, 58 percent of companies with more than 1,000 employees report that spreadsheets make the planning process hard to manage. It’s no wonder: Spreadsheets are difficult to manipulate when you have thousands of lines of financial data, and they don’t facilitate the analyses and collaboration required to make swift decisions, as strategic planning software does.

As one researcher observed, planning processes that are not well managed produce less accurate plans. Nothing undermines strategy faster than a plan with inaccurate information, often caused by spreadsheets that are rigid, static and quickly outdated.

There is some debate about how to make strategic plans more accurate. Some leaders think they need better tools, others think they need a better process, and most agree that it may take a combination of both.

About 56% of the Ventana Research respondents cite improving accuracy as the main reason for changing the strategic planning process.

Here’s why: Shifting from an annual planning process driven by spreadsheets to continuous planning enabled by strategic planning software not only makes plans more accurate but also improves business agility.

Adopting a continuous strategic planning model along with the appropriate toolset can solve the problems planners are most concerned about, by making the process easier to manage, more accurate, and more agile. Although Ventana Research confirms that spreadsheets cannot support a continuous planning effort, they do have their place in support of purpose-built strategic planning software.

Strategic Planning Software: A Central Source of Truth

Having a central source of truth not only ensures that your strategic plan is based on accurate data, but also ensures that the plan evolves with changing conditions and disruptions. Most organizations can’t keep up with the pace of change when they only revisit the plan annually or quarterly at best.

An annual plan can quickly become outdated when new information becomes available, projects are delayed, and new work is launched without regard to other priorities.

Shifting from annual to continuous planning can help your organization respond to market shifts with agility and be smart about identifying priorities, choosing optimal scenarios, and making the right trade-offs. To decide which initiatives will return the most value, you need to create multiple scenarios, perform what-if analyses, and compare trade-offs in time, cost, risk, margin, value, capacity, competitiveness, and other factors.

This gets unwieldy, if not impossible, using spreadsheets. Inaccuracies multiply when replicated spreadsheets become scattered, inaccurate fragments of the truth.

Strategic planning software allows you to draw upon a central source of truth to compare scenarios, prioritize initiatives, monitor progress, and iterate and execute to achieve your strategy. A continuous process empowers your business to pivot in response to rapid change and disruption.

Use Dedicated Software for Continuous, Dynamic Planning

Leaders looking to move beyond an arduous annual planning process using spreadsheets should consider strategic planning software as an alternative solution. This facilitates continuous, dynamic planning with portfolio management, capacity planning, and financial planning capabilities.

A $4 billion global network infrastructure provider shifted strategy around a new critical program; within a day, the executives received three scenarios for realigning their projects and resources, and as a result, they made decisions in one day that ordinarily would have taken three weeks.

Strategic planning software significantly reduces the time required to collect data and analyze the potential impact of every ripple. An enterprise-wide solution uses a centralized data repository to provide accurate, real-time reporting and analysis capabilities that support proactive decision-making.

Unlike spreadsheets, a purpose-built solution can help optimize and prioritize a portfolio plan by identifying the most efficient use of resources in the face of rapid change. Through each iteration of the plan, the software enables you to continuously manage the portfolio to achieve strategic goals.

Strategic roadmapping is one of the most critical planning tools you will use, aligning everyone to the strategic plan across departments and functions. Roadmaps connect strategy to the investments and outcomes that drive transformation and delivery, such as programs, projects, products, applications, services, and technologies. They provide access to the information needed to pivot the strategy based on:

  • Market conditions
  • Regulatory changes
  • Competitor launches
  • Technology advances
Connect strategy to delivery with strategic planning software: A roadmap view shows the whole picture across programs, features, and strategies.
Connect strategy to delivery with strategic planning software: A roadmap view shows the whole picture across programs, features, and strategies.

Strategic planning software provides the access to information you need to understand the impacts of changes to parts of a plan or the full plan. You can analyze various options for driving plan value and deciding what to fund, delay, kill, or continue based on targets and capacity. As you compare scenarios, you can ensure the optimal solution will be aligned with strategy and assigned the right balance of resources to execute on-time and on-budget.

The right strategic planning software empowers you to pivot with agility towards new or modified objectives. Leaders can trust that they are making decisions based on the most up-to-date, accurate information available, and can operationalize those decisions quickly.

Use Spreadsheets to Analyze Data and Visualize Results

Spreadsheets are integral to the financial planning component of strategic planning. They help organize data and crunch numbers using your own formulas. Most users agree that spreadsheets are the go-to application for creating the tables, graphs, and charts that help analyze data and visualize results.

Because they serve as a common reference format for collecting and analyzing data, spreadsheets can also be used to consolidate information and export that data to other planning tools. Spreadsheets work so well for financial modeling that there are countless templates available for strategic planning purposes.

That said, when used to perform functions that are beyond their capabilities, spreadsheets tend to break down. For example, consider how you would use spreadsheets to manage an investment portfolio. Strategic planning software more easily translates high-level objectives into specific investments necessary to realize your organization’s strategy.

To get an up-to-date view of the investment portfolio, you need to collect, consolidate, and analyze the data. The longer that process takes, the more likely you’re using outdated information to make reactive decisions.

Spreadsheets also make it difficult to manage the impact of changes in the strategic planning portfolio, because each change has a ripple effect. If you try to align resources, you eventually must maintain the alignment manually. If you want to optimize the portfolio, you have to cobble together a series of linked files that could generate hard-to-find errors and bad data.

And, if other users access the files to update their own progress against plan, they can inadvertently introduce errors by adjusting formulas, or overwriting or deleting data. Reporting progress updates becomes an exercise in interpreting reams of spreadsheets when the contents are suspect.

Capitalizing on Individual Strengths

Making the leap to strategic planning software doesn’t mean you have to leave your spreadsheets behind. A good planning tool will not replace spreadsheets. It will help make the most of their functionality.

Strategic planning software that can easily exchange data with spreadsheets will allow you to import data to and export data from the centralized repository. The best applications store data in a way that is accessible through spreadsheets, so you can store queries, create pivot tables, and easily generate your favorite visual reports.

In addition, the leading strategic planning tools provide a wide variety of reports, dashboards, and interactive visualizations. These can be tailored to the user, whether it’s an executive or project manager, to speed decision-making. Executives can deliver presentations to their boards of directors that are substantive and show progress being made on strategic initiatives.

After all, this is a time when 68 percent of public company directors believe current company strategy won’t survive the next five years (NACD survey). Investing in strategic planning software will cultivate the intelligence and flexibility needed to stay competitive.