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Prioritizing Critical Planning Issues

Arguably, the most difficult step in a strategic planning process is the identification of critical strategic issues to guide the strategy development phase. At its core, strategic planning aims to allocate scarce resources  to areas that most positively impact the organization. Therefore, identifying and subsequently prioritizing the issue list is critical to the overall success of the strategic plan.

Coming out of the environmental assessment, where internal and external data is analyzed, a clear current organizational picture is developed, and assumptions about the future environment have been made, there will likely be a lengthy list of potential issue areas to address. The first step to narrow this list is to separate potential critical issues from other operational or non-strategic issues. Critical issues have the following in common:

  • Central to the achievement of the vision
  • High-impact, strategic area
  • Cannot be addressed easily or resolved near-term

Other non-strategic issues are still relevant and important for success, and should be dealt with in a separate, parallel process with operations leadership and management, outside of the strategic planning process.

Once the list is narrowed to potential critical issues, the list can be prioritized by developing and applying a unique, organization-specific set of criteria. Example prioritization criteria categories include:

  • Financial criteria (e.g., ROI, capital investment required)
  • Volume or new market growth
  • HR (staffing or physician) impact
  • Alignment with key services or ability to fill care continuum gap
  • Time to completion/difficulty of completion

Leadership or the strategic planning steering committee should choose at least five, but no more than ten, criteria to score all of the potential issues. Additionally, a weighting system can be applied based on the organization’s need and unique situation. For example, financial criteria can be given a higher weight if financial return is valued above volume growth, or vice versa.

Finally, apply the desired weighting system and score each issue. The top scoring three to five issues (approximately, depending on complexity and available resources) are the critical planning issues for strategy development.

What are other ways your organization prioritizes critical issues to address in the strategic planning process?