Iowa DOT Strategic Plan


To better understand and avoid potential problems that can plaque strategic planning efforts, a review of research and publications on strategic plan implementation was done leading into the recent strategic planning cycle.

There were many accounts of organizations struggling with strategic planning efforts. Articles referenced strategic planning failure rates anywhere from more than half to nearly 90 percent. And these numbers related to private sector organizations - where success or failure of a strategic plan could have catastrophic impact.

Though the Iowa DOT is a public-sector agency, it was important to understand potential road blocks that had hindered successful implementation of strategic plans. Designed to identify areas needing attention and implementing approaches to improve an organization, a successful strategic plan can greatly enhance an organization's performance.

Below are a number of reasons identified as contributors to why strategic plans achieve far less than expected or fail completely (in no specific order):

COMMON PROBLEMS WITH STRATEGIC PLANS ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY: Past strategic planning was a waste. Have past plans really satisfactorily delivered on what they promised? Hard to overcome and often over-looked by leadership teams is the ingrained culture created by past action, or inaction, which can kill a plan before it is built. CONNECTION: The plan was out of sync with current trends/issues. In an effort to complete the "task" of strategic planning as quickly and painlessly as possible, management teams often decide "not to do the homework." How can leadership know what needs to change if actual conditions are not well understood? FOCUS: There were far too many goals. It is difficult enough to get expected work done let alone dozens of "new things." If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. Resources of the department are diluted to the point of not being able to effect change and can actually hinder accomplishing key results. FOLLOW-UP: The plan lacks follow-up and accountability. The notion that initiatives within a strategic plan are nothing more than top management's wish list is often supported by a lack of structure, process or oversight. If there is no follow-up or anyone responsible for implementation, how serious can it be? AWARENESS: Failure to communicate the plan. This applies to all aspects of the plan - content, rationale, and roles. If an organization isn’t aware of it, how is the plan supposed to affect change? Communication is often a key factor in moving from strategy development to implementation. UNDERSTANDING: There is no clarity regarding what, who or how things should be done. Without specifics on what is to be done, the effort probably will not result in change. If strategic initiatives are seen as a waste of time, it will be extremely difficult to build the sense of urgency needed to make critical changes. RESOURCING: Failure to provide continual support. Once the plan is in place, employees need to understand the importance it has; this is quite often assessed by the support provided to the effort. Without support, employees likely will see the plan as just another "fire and forget" effort they can wait out. LEADERSHIP: Uncertain whether leadership truly believes in the plan. If a strategic plan is important to leadership, it should help manage change in the organization. Without demonstrated commitment through behaviors that model the importance of and support for the plan, just how serious is leadership about the plan? How committed to change?