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The Use of Tactical Planning in Broader Business Strategies

Updated on July 8, 2014

"If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail."

- Benjamin Franklin

Business owners, executives, and managers often spend copious amounts of time making plans. These actions often produce different types of plans. For example, business owners may develop startup plans to begin a new business venture. Executives will create strategic plans for long-term business operations. Managers often make plans for executing specific actions in their department. Tactical business plans are typically different than each of these other type of plans. And yet, they are often the most useful on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

Prior to learning about tactical business planning, however, we must look at setting business goals and strategic planning. These elements provide a solid base for creating tactical business plans.

Classic Zig Ziglar Resource on Goals

Setting Business Goals

A brief overview on goal setting is necessary prior to working through the nuts-and-bolts of tactical planning. A common method for creating business goals is using the “SMART” method. This acronym stands for:

S – pecific
M – easureable
A – ttainable
R – elevant
T – ime specific

These rules apply to all types of business planning. The two broadest categories where “SMART” goals apply are strategic planning and tactical planning.

Goal setting defined in this manner is fairly self-explanatory. If a goal fails to meet a few or most of these elements, it will like result in crucial time lost on misdirected efforts. If you have trouble setting business goals, you should learn about how to succeed there prior to writing any type of business plan.

Strategic planning session
Strategic planning session | Source

Strategic Planning vs. Tactical Planning

Strategic planning represents a macro-level approach to business plans. Many owners, executives, and managers refer to these plans as the “big picture.” In business, strategic plans typically last for three to five years, although some plans may be seven to nine years.

Put in other terms, strategic planning will answer the following questions: Who? What? And Why? The “big picture” thus defines who a business is, what it hopes to accomplish through its plans, and why it desires to accomplish its previously set goals. While it is always good to have these issues defined on paper, strategic plans often require some added information to flesh out the plan’s details. This is where tactical business plans are helpful.

Tactical planning is a more micro-level management process. It is also a short-term process, such as three to six months or six to eighteen months. Other time frames may be used as well, depending on a company’s industry.

A formal definition for tactical planning might be “the systematized scheduling of short-term actions necessary to execute a strategic plan.” Wow. That is a mouthful. Less formally, tactical planning answers the question: How? In other words, what is the process a company will use to accomplish the goals listed in strategic plans?

Now that we know the difference between strategic business plans and tactical business plans, let’s get into the specifics of tactical planning.

Quick Definitions on Business Planning Types

Strategic Planning
Who, What, Why?
Helps a company define itself, what it wants to accomplish, and why it wants to accomplish set goals
Tactical Planning
Details the methods in which a company accomplishes its goals

Dr. Leo Marvin Explains "Baby Steps" to Patient Bob Wiley

The Specifics of Tactical Business Plans

Tactical plans often have another name: action plans. Think of these plans as baby steps. To quote Dr. Leo Marvin from What About Bob?, don’t think about everything you need to do in order to accomplish a strategic plan. Instead, think of only the step in front of you. For example, set a 30-day sales goal. Then, refine the market from which you will meet the sales goal. And then create a sales team to work the defined market; develop the method for the sales team to use; finally, measure and review the sales goals and subsequent processes.

Naturally, the above example is quite simplistic. Yet it does capture the essence of tactical planning. Another good example comes from the military. In this scenario, let’s imagine a U.S. Special Forces team is going to “take out” a bad guy. This obviously takes some long-term planning. But once the intelligence comes in and the larger plan is fleshed out, the mission plan – or tactical business plan – comes into existence.

In a U.S. Special Forces strike, several steps are necessary in the detailed mission plan. For example, the following steps might appear in the group’s action plan:

Ingress – identify the specific spots to land individual team members
Neutralize – remove any immediate threats to team members
Secure – ensure the entire area or compound is safe to move forward with the mission
Remove – “take out” the target as defined in the strategic plan
Wrap Up – gather all team members and get ready for egress
Egress – exit the area safely and move to the predetermined safe zone

Again, this is a very basic outline of a larger plan. Each step, however, represents the need for a tactical plan. How will the team accomplish each step? This is the nuts-and-bolts of tactical planning.

Business Success Diagram
Business Success Diagram | Source

Final Thoughts

Tactical planning is usually a detailed process. As the old saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” While it may help to have several people involved in tactical business plans, it may not be necessary. For example, an executive may hand a strategic, broad-based plan to her retail manager. It is then up to the retail manager to decide how to execute the plan. Obviously, the retail manager should have prior training that helps him complete the tactical plan necessary to meet the business’s goals. This process could repeat itself for each front-line manager in the organization.

Other times, companies may decide to be more centralized in their planning processes. This requires a top-down, executive-driven tactical planning process. At this point, front-line managers simply complete the steps as detailed by upper management. A problem here is the inexperience of upper management on daily tasks. Well-developed plans may fail if required actions are impossible on the front lines. This results in wasted time, manpower, brainpower, and, more importantly, sunk costs (money spent that cannot be recovered).

Having a vision and mission for your business is commendable. But do not forget to have a method for accomplishing your vision and mission. This method – or methods – is what require tactical business planning.


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