Corporate Planning Process
Where We Started
The City of Spruce Grove was looking for a new strategic plan. The clear expectation from the outset was to not just to identify high level priorities, but give focus and attention to what it would take to deliver on the strategies that emerged.
What They Needed
The City of Spruce Grove is a community of more than 34,000 people, located west of Edmonton in Alberta. The City has experienced significant growth in its residential population over several years, creating shifts in expectations and challenges in sustaining effective service delivery. Previously, planning outside of the strategic planning process primarily focussed on the fiscal plan, and annual operating budgets for each department.
The City needed a planning process that bridged the strategic plan and fiscal plan, going past operational requirements to look at the investments and work required to support effective and sustained municipal growth. The strategic plan needed to focus on the broad changes required to deliver on the City’s aspirations. Clarity was required on the investments and projects that would effectively support growth. The work of creating new capabilities, enhancing existing processes and services and effectively managing change needed to be understood.
Historically, there was little proactive planning of projects. Priorities responded to political imperatives, emerging throughout the year. Every additional expectation got added to an already overloaded organization. Where progress on any project occurred, it was incremental. Effort was spread across dozens of priorities, with little movement forward on any one initiative.
The City needed to get clear on what was important. Work needed to get prioritized to focus on the priorities that managed most. Projects needed to be evaluated based upon the capacity of the organization to deliver. For projects that went ahead to be successful, other projects needed to be stopped, deferred or cancelled.
What We Did
Our work with the City started with their strategic planning process, and extended to encompass the development of an entire strategic framework for corporate planning.
We facilitated the development of the strategic plan with Council and senior management for a number of years, building strategic focus and identifying the broad changes that were needed as the City evolved and grew. We continued to work with senior management to define corporate priorities to respond to the strategic plan, and supported the broader management team in defining departmental priorities and plans. We collaborated with the City Finance department to completely rethink the fiscal planning process, building as much discipline into the planning of strategic priorities and projects as existed in defining operational budgets.
The corporate planning process evolved and matured over the first three years of our involvement, as we both facilitated the plan development and helped embed the process in how the organization operates. Our proudest moment was when, four years into adopting the corporate planning process, we transferred responsibility for its ongoing support, facilitation and management to an internal corporate planner. This was a new position, hired specifically to support the on-going process of plan development, including everything from coordinating the strategic planning process to collaboration with Finance on the development of the fiscal plan.
The corporate planning process in the City of Spruce Grove has been an enduring success story. For more than a decade, the corporate planning process guided how strategy was developed, business plans were formulated and work got done within the City. From an early start where each step of the process was heavily facilitated, the process gained widespread managerial and supervisory support as they recognized the value of the process in supporting the identification and approval of priority work.
Every opportunity considered for inclusion in the corporate plan was jointly and collectively prioritized by the management team. This reflected a shared commitment to identifying those initiatives that were the highest priority for the community and the corporation, not simply what was important for a particular department. The willingness to lead corporately has been an enduring victory, as has been the willingness to focus only on what the City can succeed in taking on. From a time where virtually every request turned into a project, more than half of the initiatives in any given year are deemed “below the line” and deferred for consideration in future years.
The process has continued to be embedded in the organization, with an internally developed system used to support opportunity definition, prioritization, plan preparation and on-going monitoring.
The adoption of the corporate planning process has also made possible a number of other innovations within the organization. Finance successfully transitioned away from the extensive use of reserve funding, except for those few reserves required to be maintained by law (e.g. utility reserves), in favour of ensuring that organizational funds were invested in the areas of highest priority in any given year. In recent years, Finance has also been able to radically transform their budget and actual financial reporting process, establishing a continuum of reporting from plan development through to year-end financial results that is consistently structured and presented.