strategic planning in healthcare



Think, plan, execute. Strategic planning in healthcare is not this simple. One of the reasons is that planning itself prevents strategic success!

Detailed and rigorous planning and project management often do not lead to the desired results. Strategic planning in healthcare often even prevents them. In general, planning is not the problem. But plans focusing on mid to long-term goals are counterproductive.

The costs involved in developing ideas to put them into action and make them a reality are high. At many organizations, only about 10 – 30 percent of an intended strategy is usually realized. Instead, managers change strategies during their implementation. This so-called emergent strategy results from management adaptations to the external circumstances. This can be a deliberate process and is today known as agile strategic management. But when it is not deliberate, it is a problem. For example, when individuals interpret the original strategy in diverse ways and therefore change the plans.

Organizations who follow their strategic planning efforts with detailed and rigid project plans are likely to increase complexity. Such organizations slow down execution and often never meet their goals. Our human inability to manage uncertainty is the reason for our desire to plan. Consequently, we list every step in our strategic plans and focus on actions rather than results.

We focus so much on executing our plans and actions, in fact, that we ignore new facts and changes that emerge over time. Consequently, teams stretch the plans and loos considerable time. To speed up the execution, the project responsible decides to involve further experts, which increases complexity. In most cases, such plans are never finalized. If project managers reach the planning endpoints, managers wonder why the plans and the connected strategies were unsuccessful.

Paralysis by analysis. 

Organizations like plans not only because they give an overview and are a means of communication. People like plans because following them is comfortable.  Plans list every single step, and if something is missing, the plan was wrong. People feel safer with plans because they don’t have to carry the responsibility for the project’s success if the plans don’t work. Whenever managers inflict such responsibility on the project team, the teams continue to plan indefinitely to make the plan safe. This, however, is impossible.

Executing long- and mid-term plans is much more comfortable than working on short-term goals with tight deliverables directly linked to results. Short term agile goals can change quickly, may require re-thinking and new short-term planning. This type of project execution may be more uncomfortable. But this methodology will increase execution speed, avoid unnecessary actions. It focuses the team’s efforts on what matters: the results.

Short-term goals and agile execution are the answer.

Strategic planning in healthcare is a multidimensional process. It starts with rational analysis, embraces intuition, experience, and emotion. The process continues with the development of smart strategies and tactics. It then seamlessly transitions to the implementation of shorter-term objectives. This way, objectives and, ultimately, the strategy is constantly adjusted and revised in light of the experiences made along the way.