The Questions That Underpin Every Successful Plan

Eugene Ionesco once said ‘it is not the answer that enlightens but the question.’ In framing strategy there are some fundamental questions that help bring focus to the planning process. The following questions we have developed have emerged in the education, corporate and government sectors. The list of 15 questions is by no means exhaustive but goes a long way to zeroing in on the critical elements of a school’s strategic planning process. We hope you find them useful starting points for planning or for reviewing your current plan.

1. Is your Mission/Purpose Statement fit for purpose?
• Is it clear – do the words mean something to stakeholders?
• Is it congruent – does the intent match the strategies required for the future success of the school?
• Is it credible – does what has been expressed reflect what actually happens in the school?

2. What is the core strategic challenge? What is the most pressing challenge that the plan must address and that we can actually do something about?

3. Is the school you envisage in the future distinctively different from the school now? What words would you use to describe the school now? What words would you hope people might be using to describe the school in ten years’ time?

4. What would people miss if your school disappeared? If your school disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow would your students’ and parents’ worlds be torn asunder? If they won’t miss you then why do they need you now?

5. Are our values truly lived out?
• What do we really believe in at this school?
• What do most value?
• What do we stand for in the eyes of stakeholders?
• What does any disparity in response mean for future direction?

6. What are the critical success factors?
• What do parents, students and stakeholders most expect of us?
• Where are the major costs in this school?
• What do the most successful of our competitors focus on?
• These questions help with allocation of resources and identifying the key performance indicators to focus on a monitor?

7. What do you most want to know about the future of education? This question is designed to uncover vexing or critical issues and opportunities to resolve or at least address in your plan?

8. What factors and forces are having (or likely to have) a favourable impact on the school? What internal factors (systems, procedures, expertise etc.) are working for us? The internal forces are capabilities to leverage off and the external factors are catalysts for growth to exploit?

9. What factors and forces are having (or likely to have) an adverse impact on the school? What internal factors (as above) and external forces (as above) are working against us? The internal factors are constraints to address and external forces are challenges to thwart.

10. Ask, What? So what? Now what? For each of the major capabilities, catalysts for growth and constraints and challenges ask what? (the issues and opportunities) So what? (the implications) and Now what? (the ideas/ initiatives for consideration in the plan.)

11. How much effort and expense is required for each idea/initiative and how much effect will that idea have? To ensure your plan is effective run your ideas through an Effort/Effect Grid. Obviously, an idea that is how in effort and high in effect should be implements first.

12. What are our four or five strategic priorities? You need to clearly identify the four or five areas that will have most impact on future direction – big picture, long term, significant educational or financial impact?

13. What is our point of difference? Ensure the distinctive feature/s you identify are:
• Desirable – sought after by parents, students, and stakeholders
• Distinctive – sets you apart from competing and comparable schools
• Durable – sustainable not biased on a transient trend or fad
• Defensible – any competitors who try to imitate you can be warded off

14. How will we know we’ve been successful? What you can measure you can manage. For every strategy, continually ask ‘How will we know if…?’

15. Can you write the essence of your strategy on the back of a business card? If you can’t write your strategy on the back of a business card, it is not concise enough.

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