Winter 2013
Issue Map
The Public Manager

Align Strategic Plans to Reduce Fragmentation and Redundancy

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The value of a strategic plan lies in precisely defining what is to be accomplished, explaining the rationale for the priorities, and sending employees clear messages to guide the allocation of resources to build agency capability that meaningfully drives expected performance.

Over the past 20 years, federal agencies have produced strategic plans to meet legislative requirements, with limited focus on using the plans to align the use of precious agency resources. Agencies often produce many strategic plans, to include an agency-level strategic plan, program plans, information technology plans, as well as functional- or organizational-based plans.


These are well-intentioned efforts but frequently may be undertaken independently and with limited attention to the cumulative direction being set. All plans within an agency should align from the top down to ensure appropriate focus and coordination of effort to achieve desired outcomes.

The plans also need to align horizontally across the organization. When this alignment doesn't happen, the multiple plans can inadvertently create tensions across organizational objectives, sub-optimize one program or process for another, and drive fragmented or redundant activity and investment with limited improvement to agency capabilities.

This can undermine the very purpose and value of doing the strategic planning in the first place, by clouding direction, fragmenting activity and investment, limiting meaningful capability development, and ultimately diminishing short- and long-term performance.

Aligning Plan and Agency Mission

In one federal civilian agency, MITRE applied qualitative yet exacting analytic methods to assess the strategic alignment of the agency's numerous strategic plans and the capability development implied by the objectives and strategies within those plans. The analysis was intended to guide agency leadership to openly discuss and strategically consider the effects of the independent decisions reflected in the plans on individual unit and overall agency performance. The analysis recognized that even achieving the objectives reflected in the individual plans ultimately may not support the agency's intended longer term outcomes.


Agency leadership had recognized that the numerous strategic initiatives being launched to transform the agency were, in fact, confusing employees: managers, supervisors, and employees were unclear on the rationale for emerging changes, the priorities, and the implications for their work. Despite the number of changes underway and the challenges of aligning activity across the agency, leadership had been reluctant to use its strategic plan as a means of driving alignment, execution, and performance; instead, leadership had intended to simply re-date the outdated plan.

Recognizing these challenges, MITRE analyzed the plans to provide evidence that might influence leadership's thinking about the use of strategic planning to drive alignment and results. The analysis entailed two complementary approaches.

  • The first approach examined the alignment of all available strategic plans, examining goals, objectives, and strategies from the top down. We started with the department plans above the agency and incorporated all of the plans within the agency as well as the various lists of priorities developed by leadership.
    The analysis required rigorous scrutiny of language to discern meaning and determine the appropriate relationships among the objectives and priorities (approximately 80 statements) across the sources. The output of the project was a visual map illustrating alignment and highlighting misalignment.
  • The second approach examined all of the strategies to discern whether any mission or mission-enabling capabilities would be developed, and to what extent, by executing the strategies. MITRE used an established federal capability reference model to guide the analysis.
    MITRE quantified and aggregated the results to visually portray the distribution of investment across capabilities implied by the strategies in the strategic plans. This comparison allowed agency leadership to recognize that the collective strategies implied over-investing in some capabilities and under-investing in others.

The analysis revealed limited internal alignment within the existing strategic plans and brought to light the fact that implementing the current plans would mean investing in areas that were not the agency's current and publicly stated priorities. MITRE documented the findings with text and visual representations of the analysis and discerned alignment.
The two approaches used in the analysis underscored the importance of using strategic planning to send clear signals about what is important, and of explicitly considering capability development when developing strategic plans. Based on the analysis, the agency's leadership launched a new strategic plan that anchored planning and execution around the capabilities needed to achieve long-term outcomes.

About the Author

Marie Muscella has more than 25 years of experience in management and providing business strategy and organizational change services to both the private and public sectors. She currently leads MITRE's Center for Connected Government-Enterprise Business Strategy department focusing on strategic planning, governance, performance management, investment and portfolio management, and privacy service offerings. Contact her at [email protected].

About the Author

Amy Squires is a member of MITRE's Center for Connected Government-Enterprise Business Strategy department and provides technical guidance to the federal government in the areas of strategic planning, governance, performance management, and investment strategy.

About the Author

Yashoda Bhavnani is a member of MITRE's Center for Connected Government-Enterprise Business Strategy department and provides technical guidance to the federal government in the areas of strategic planning, governance, performance management, and investment strategy.

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