Tactical vs. strategic planning: Why you need both

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
 and 
  —  
January 5, 2024
A woman standing in front of a screen showing several charts, with an audience of several people sitting around a table in an office space

When deciding whether your organization should do tactical planning or strategic planning, the answer is… yes.

Most organizations have a long-term strategy on how they can improve over three, five, or 10 years. However, creating a clear pathway for realizing those goals requires more than an agreed-upon direction. 

Understanding the differences between tactical and strategic planning helps your organization not only decide on where it's going over the next few years, but also establish defined steps to get there.

Tactical planning

Tactical planning is a process that outlines clear, specific, and actionable steps to help an organization realize its short-term goals. Your tactical plan could cover a month, a quarter, or a full year. Once you get over a year, you lose the agility to enact your tactical plan effectively.

Tactical planning focuses on your daily priorities, what your team accomplishes each week, and your KPIs for the month. But it’s often missing the intentional mapping to your overall strategy. 

Benefits of tactical planning

Your tactical plan helps you break down your larger strategy into easy-to-implement steps. It helps your team prioritize initiatives and campaigns that need to happen right now in order to meet future goals. 

For example, if your company has a goal to expand into a new market, your tactical plan will have KPIs on completing market research in Q1, establishing appropriate messaging in Q2, and designing marketing campaigns in Q3. Your team can identify resource gaps in the moment, such as needing to hire a research firm or additional budget for your creative agency.

The short-term nature of your tactical plan allows you to focus on the current business environment. You can do small tweaks on a monthly basis to respond to changes in the industry while still aligning with the larger strategy. 

The shorter time frame also enables your tactical plan to be highly measurable. You can see within a few weeks if a tactic is working or if you need to change course.

How to create a tactical plan

Here are the five steps to creating a tactical plan:

  1. Identify goals: Select the goals from your strategic plan that you want to focus on. Choose goals whose progress can be measured within the next year, preferably within a quarter or two. To help you choose which goals to prioritize, use Mural’s prioritization matrix template.
  2. Define the tactics: These are the specific actions required to meet the goals you identified. If your goal is to increase your close percentage, your tactics should include evaluating lost deals and updating your sales training. Use Mural’s work breakdown template as part of your planning workshop to help you break your larger goals into specific tactics.
  3. Create a timeline: Set specific deadlines for the stages of your tactical plan. Parts of your plan will build on tactics completed in previous phases, so it’s important to set a realistic timeline.
  4. Identify and assess resources: Once you have your tactics and timelines outlined, review your staff, software, and other resources that'll be required for your tactical plan. Identify gaps and incorporate steps to fill those resource gaps.
  5. Measure and refine: Review progress metrics regularly, such as during your monthly team meetings or quarterly reviews. Adjust your goals based on how well you are reaching your KPIs, as well as new changes in your industry, such as a new competitor.

Strategic planning

Strategic planning defines how an organization or individual team will accomplish its mid-term goals as part of a longer-term strategy. Your strategic plan connects the dots between the next year or two and what you want to achieve over the next five or 10.  

The process of creating a strategic plan is time-consuming. You need to forecast not only a realistic organizational growth curve but also what outside forces you'll need to contend with during that period. Those decisions shouldn't be made quickly or in a vacuum.

To do this effectively, you need representation from across your business as well as stakeholder alignment to help you prioritize the most important themes.

Related: How to create a stakeholder map [templates & examples]

Benefits of strategic planning

A successful strategic plan brings people together from across your company. Since everyone is part of the discussion, your strategic plan aligns everyone around the same goals. They understand why the priorities outlined in the strategic plan are important and how they work together.

The process of creating a strategic plan helps your organization narrow its focus on what it can realistically achieve within a specific time frame. By taking a broad view of your goals, you can see everything that'll go into achieving them. Your strategic plan helps you set goals to improve the onboarding experience and increase the time to delivery for system updates.

How to create a strategic plan

Here are five steps that should be part of creating your strategic plan:

  1. Define your vision: Use your long-term strategy to determine what the organization should accomplish. You'll likely come up with more options than you can complete within the next year.
  2. Assess your current state: Complete a SWOT analysis to understand your organization’s strengths and weaknesses as well as what the opportunities and threats are in your industry. Use Mural’s SWOT template to organize the brainstorming and make it easy to refer to throughout the planning process. 
  3. Determine your priorities: Based on your vision and current state, begin ranking which initiatives make the most sense to prioritize for this strategic plan. What gets you closest to your long-term goal? Use Mural’s OKR planning template to manage the different options and use the voting feature to decide the priorities.
  4. Outline specific goals: Translate those priorities into goals. If your priority is to improve your Net Promoter Score, what goals can you set that'll move that number in the right direction? 
  5. Document your plan: Put the final goals in writing, including how you'll measure and manage your progress. Keep this document in a central place, such as a shared drive or an intranet page, so all stakeholders can refer to it as needed. Link out to your Mural boards to provide the necessary context.
Related: 6 strategic planning activities for your organization

Tactical vs. strategic planning

Tactical and strategic planning play different roles in your organization’s long-term success, though both are important. They work together: A tactical plan can’t exist without your strategic plan, and it’s difficult to achieve your strategic goals without intentional short-term execution.

Strategic planning must happen first to set the direction, with tactical planning providing a clear roadmap. Your strategic plan creates goals, while your tactical plan creates specific steps. The goals created by your strategic plan explain why you’re taking each of those steps in your tactical plan. 

Your strategic plan focuses on the organization’s mission and aspirations, while tactical planning deals with daily operations. Because of that, your tactical plan can better react to changes in the industry or competitive landscape while still keeping the larger strategy in perspective.

Related: OKRs vs KPIs: What's the difference?

Improve your planning with Mural

The long-term success of your organization requires both tactical and strategic planning. Whether you are setting your long-term direction or identifying specific metrics to meet next quarter, you can’t have a productive meeting without collaboration. 

Planning meetings should allow different stakeholders to share the trends they're excited about, the changes in the competitive landscape they are watching, and the opportunities they see for growth.

Mural provides a space for everyone in your meeting to collaborate, making both your tactical and strategic planning meetings more productive. Use our library of ready-to-use templates to encourage the great ideas that'll help your organization grow. 

Learn more about using Mural for your tactical and strategic planning.

About the authors

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.

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