Most of my work involves either a corporate strategic plan or a personal strategic plan.

The core of strategic planning centers around deciding on priorities and allocating resources to those priorities.

A good strategic planning process is quite painful. It’s painful because resources are always constrained. This has been true in every strategic plan with which I’ve ever been involved.

This is as true for the Fortune 500 company as it is for the one-person company.

It is as true for a departmental annual plan as it is for a single person’s career plan.

Resources are always constrained. Period.

The key to effective strategic planning doesn’t come from assuming resources (e.g., time, people, finances) that you don’t have; but rather from making tough choices regarding which priorities are more important than others.

Somebody once asked me, “What is the one strategic planning tool that most people and companies don’t use that would make the biggest difference in the quality of their plans?”

My answer is very simple.

Rank order your priority list.

Most people’s priority lists look like this:

* Project A
* Project B
* Project C
* Project D

* Project E
* Project F
* Project G
* Project H

When you rank order your priority list, you’re forced to pick only one project to be your #1.

You pick another project to be your #2 priority, another for your #3, etc.

Rank Order Priority List
1) Project A
2) Project B
3) Project C
4) Project D

When it comes to resource allocation (such as finances or time on your personal calendar), the #1 priority gets ALL available resources needed to fully support the project plan.

It gets as much capital as it can effectively use.

It gets access to the top talent in the company.

It gets access to your most productive day of the week on your calendar.

It gets access to your most productive time of day in your schedule.

If your company uses a shared resources model (such as a centralized IT department that supports multiple divisions), the #1 priority gets to jump to the front of the line for any requests.

The leftover resources (that the #1 priority doesn’t need or can’t use efficiently) get allocated to the #2 priority.

The #2 priority gets access to ALL of those resources until it too can’t use any more resources effectively or efficiently.

Then the #3 priority gets access, etc.

Using this approach, the #1 priority in the company often gets access to 50% to 80% of the discretionary resources in the company.

In your job, your #1 work priority gets access to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings when you’re most productive.

In your personal life, your #1 priority gets access to all of your free time after work and on the weekends.

In the rank order model, there can only be ONE #1 priority.

This forces you to choose very, very carefully.

This is a difficult choice to make.

When you can only choose one, it forces you to agonize over it.

It forces you to think diligently about your goals.

It forces you to consider tradeoffs thoughtfully.

When you use this approach, you dramatically improve the chances your #1 priority will be successful.

You also dramatically reduce your chances that priorities #4 through #10 will succeed.

Given that likelihood, you also naturally come to the conclusion that maybe you shouldn’t have any priorities beyond your top 3.

Strategy is about making explicit tradeoff decisions.

Most people don’t like to make tradeoff decisions, so they don’t.

It doesn’t mean there won’t be a tradeoff. There’s always a tradeoff.

Every tradeoff involves positive and negative consequences.

The only question is whether you choose the positive consequences you want (and the negative consequences you can live with) or if you leave it up to chance and inertia.

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