Tools to Jump Start the Strategic Planning Process
by Tim Brooke and Dan Schultz
This is the first of a two-part series of HowTo articles on strategic planning. Part one will address ways of identifying new standards activities through internally focused or membership-based approaches. Part two (in March) will address external ways by assessing industry and government needs outside your committee membership.
No one would argue that strategic planning is an important management tool. Organizations use it to focus their energy, ensuring that members of the organization are working toward the same goals and assessing and adjusting the organizations direction in response to a changing environment. Strategic planning is a disciplined effort to produce decisions and actions that shape and guide an organizations future.
Strategic planning is also one of the most important processes carried out by ASTM International technical committees. It maximizes the committees' ability to develop relevant and timely standards. Through strategic planning, committees set major standardization objectives and develop comprehensive plans to achieve those objectives. Successful committee strategic planning:
Leads to action;
Builds a shared vision;
Is an inclusive, participatory process in which stakeholders take shared ownership of standards;
Is externally focused and sensitive to the needs of the industry;
Requires an openness to questioning the status quo; and
Is a key part of effective standards development.
Three tools to jump-start the strategic planning process are provided below.
The first tool is a survey. When the input of a large audience needs to be known, a survey can be very useful and is well suited for obtaining information about new standards activities from all committee members, not just those in attendance at a meeting. In general, surveys should contain concise directions, a clearly stated purpose, that is, what kind of information the committee is looking for, and information about what will be done with the results. Survey questions should be open-ended to allow respondents to think independently and introduce new topics. It may also be worthwhile to make the survey anonymous in order to allow members greater freedom in their responses. Sample open-ended questions include:
What are the important issues or problems facing your industry?
What future technology do you see being used in your industry?
What new standards do you think are needed in your industry?
What are the potential barriers that might impede a new standardization activity?
Surveys are typically one to two pages in length and should not take a substantial amount of time to complete. Be sure to include clear instructions for returning the survey and provide an easy way to respond. Keep in mind that the ASTM staff manager can assist in the development and distribution of a survey, as well as in data collection and analysis.
Another tool for gathering information is brainstorming. This tool is well suited for committees that have solid, representative attendance at meetings. Brainstorming is effective because it promotes idea generation without limits. An obvious advantage of this technique is interacting and feeding off each others comments or suggestions. One idea may trigger another, regardless of the link between the two.
There are a few main rules that govern a good brainstorming session:
No evaluation ("That's great!" "That's terrible.") of any kind is permitted when ideas are being generated. Individual energy is spent on creating ideas, not defending them.
The quantity of ideas takes precedence over the quality. Emphasizing quality may lead to judgment and evaluation.
Participants should build on or modify the ideas of others. Sketchy ideas that are added to or altered often become usable ideas.
Committee D20 on Plastics has held several brainstorming sessions. Paul Sample, the committee's chairman, gives his thoughts about the process and its success in the sidebar right.
Workshops and Seminars
The third tool is to sponsor a workshop or seminar on a topic of technical interest in conjunction with the standards development meetings. These information exchange forums allow individuals the opportunity to present new information or research related to a particular standards development area. This approach is especially successful when enough information has been gathered to allow for in-depth discussion. The discussion and information provided can then be used as a springboard for a new standardization activity. Committee C16 on Thermal Insulation has successfully used the seminar technique to grow standards development activities. Committee D01 on Paint and Related Coatings, Materials, and Applications has successfully used the seminar technique to grow standards development activities for the analysis of volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants.
The information received utilizing any of the tools mentioned above can be overwhelming. Thus, it becomes important to analyze, sort and prioritize the information into a structured framework with some type of oversight accountability. This will ensure that the planning process moves beyond the plan toward implementation. //
Copyright 2003, ASTM