Monday, 28 March 2016

The Classic 4 Step Approach to Strategic Planning

Have you heard of the classic 4 step strategic planning model?

I heard about it from an old management lecturer of mine, and the model was so 'sticky' for me that I have never forgotten it, and have used it with great ease with clients. Clients like it too, because of its simplicity.

I pass it onto my current students, but am often surprised that my students have not heard of it before.

The model is very simple, and I know it as consisting of the following four questions:
  1. Where are we now?
  2. Where do we want to go?
  3. How will we get there?
  4. How will we stay on course?
Because of its time structure, the model walks us from the 'now' into our desired future.

When we first start to plan, we often forget to think about what our current state is. By the disciplining ourselves to benchmark the now, it gives us something to compare with our future achievement. Then we can see our progress as it happens.

Second, we put down our goals. That's usually the easiest part.

Third, we fill in the steps between the now and the future. The chunks that will tell us that we are on the right track.

And last, we write up our KPIs - all those little tell-tales that will let us know how we are doing - and decide how often we are going to monitor them.

In realising that a generation of management students haven't heard of this immensely simple planning model, I suddenly realised that I had no idea whose intellectual property this model was. The approach was so simple, I had assumed it to be generic, but someone must have put in the skull-sweat to think of it in the first place.

So I did some digging. Gamble and Thompson (2010) and Thomas (1996) both list the first three questions, but provide no source for the model itself. I have found no text or journal source for the model at all, unfortunately.

However, I found an online article by Schmidt, Enock & Laycock, who say this model was developed in the 1980s by the accounting firm, Price Waterhouse, for strategic and change management planning (presumably with PW clients).The questions that Schmidt et al list are very similarly worded to the questions which I have listed above, and included in my diagram.

As I have yet to find a "formal" name for the model, or a verifiable text source, I will keep looking and will update you at some stage in the future.

Any clues would be most welcome :-)




  1. according to one source, it was Price Waterhouse accountants:

  2. Thanks very much for your reply David: yes, that article had been one of my sources.

    I am hoping - eventually! - to get a source from within PWC themselves to verify that they were indeed the developer of this idea, and maybe a bit of history as to how it came about... and whether I have the name of the model correct, and perhaps a creation date.


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