Local governments love to plan.

The arsenal of plans and strategies active in a city at any point in time can be overwhelming: for residents, who participate in the creation of these plans; for elected officials, who commit to achieving the goals of the plans; and for staff, who execute and manage the plans.

To make matters more complicated, these dozens of government plans and strategies are subject to a perpetual cycle of planning, updating, reporting and reviewing.

In a city I used to work for, we once counted no fewer than 37 active plans and strategies… and this was after we had already closed off several strategic and tactical level plans to host a major international event in our community.

We definitely weren’t unique.

From long-range plans, such as comprehensive plans, to short-range plans that power the local government’s annual budget process. From core service plans, such as EMS, Fire or Police, to emergency management and disaster recovery plans. Plans for capitalizing on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities (such as hosting the Olympics!) and internal function plans such as talent management or technology plans. There are just a lot of plans needed to effectively run a local government organization.

So how do you know if what your team is achieving on a day-to-day basis reflects the intent of all your plans?

More importantly, how can you ensure that what you are doing in one part of the business aligns with the big picture and is not generating unintended consequences in other priority areas?

Ideally, different municipal plans are aligned under a single organizational strategic plan that reconciles timeframes, priorities and resource constraints for a period of 3 to 5 years. But, with so many plans at hand, governments tend to shy away from yet another plan to manage plans. I totally understand this instinct but it’s really the wrong way to be thinking about strategic planning (more on that in a future post).

So if your organization doesn’t have a strategic plan or is working towards one that is some ways away, here are 5 things you can do in the meantime to bring all your plans to life and under control.

1. Get your plans off the shelf 


First, clean up house.

Make an inventory of all plans and strategies in your organization. For any plans that have expired or are about to expire, consider whether they need to be renewed.

Come up with a schedule to report out on and retire any special project plans that are about to conclude.

Document the inter-dependencies between your various plans and strategies and establish an updating and performance reporting schedule for your entire active plans inventory. This one is important. You will end up with a clear picture of your organization’s planning universe, so that whenever a new plan or strategy is added or an existing one gets put on hold or retired, you will have the full context and will be better equipped to assess the impacts to other areas of the business.

Unintended consequences gone!

2.  Make all your plans executable


Next, make sure that all your new or refreshed plans have an execution framework to deliver on the vision and goals they set out to accomplish.

Execution for different types of plans takes different forms.

For a long-range comprehensive community plan, execution comes in the form of updating and aligning sub-area plans, zoning ordinances and service infrastructure schedules to support the long-term vision for the entire community.

Execution for mid-range strategies, such as a 5-year parks or economic development strategy, may be a suite of programs and capital investment projects designed to grow visitors or jobs.

Annual departmental plans that power budgets rely on SMART Actions to track progress towards program outcomes and process efficiencies.

Sadly, government plans and strategies without a built-in execution framework are nothing more than glossy paper weights collecting dust on the shelf.

3. Build performance accountability


Introducing performance-based decision-making will make a huge difference to how effective you are at delivering your plans and the impact they have in your community.

If you are a local government, chances are you are drowning in data. All this data, if aligned with the priorities of your strategies and plans, can not only help build accuracy and flexibility in your planning process but also become a powerful tool to communicate success.

In building performance measures, stay focused on the few key measures that matter – the measures that support the outcomes that the plan or strategy is aiming to achieve.

4. Update, track and report


Updating, tracking and reporting on your plans is the best way to keep plans relevant, to ensure you are making progress, and to keep current and stakeholders engaged and aligned with what needs to happen.

In government, so much effort goes into engaging citizens and stakeholders in the creation of plans and strategies. But once the plan is adopted, typically a lot less effort goes into showing how the plan is being implemented and whether objectives are being accomplished.

Which is kind of missing the point.

So ask yourself: does that legally-mandated annual report really tell the story on how you are achieving your community’s long-term vision? Does a specific program or service level report in support of a request for funding increase really show how other vital service areas may be compromised?

Updating, tracking and reporting on all your strategies and plans is what enables you to achieve your vision without unknowingly cannibalizing other priorities. This is the big picture that residents actually care about.

5. Centralize it all


Finally, save hundreds of hours of staff time and resources by investing in a tool to manage all your plans in one central place.

A few of the features we had in mind when designing our strategy management software for our local government customers were: 

  • The ability to easily update, track and report on multiple plans and strategies, with customizable planning structures 
  • Individual dashboards for individual plans (as various plans have different audiences)
  • The integration of performance measures with strategies and plans. 

Make sure you look for these features to get value out of whatever system you choose.


Operational Planning Guide Download