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8 Weeks to Get Juiced – A Better Strategic Planning Process for Consulting Firms

If you develop an annual plan for your consulting firm, there’s a decent chance you sit down with your senior team and/or advisors for a day or two to hammer out your objectives, strategies and tactics.

(If you don’t engage in any strategic planning for your consulting firm then, as the old saying goes, “When you don’t know where you’re going, any road could end up in Newark.”)

The annual rigmarole requires substantial effort, time, M&Ms and endurance. It’s a chore.

Plus, if your team is sizable, you pull everyone together for an expensive couple of days–no mean calendaring feat, after which your team walks out tired rather than fired up.

Do you want to trudge into your consulting firm’s future tired? Heck no! You want to be excited. Raring to go. Totally juiced up.

There’s a better approach.

The problem is viewing strategic planning as a point-in-time activity that should be mostly completed in one, fell swoop.

Stop felling and swooping. (Kvelling is okay.) You’ll develop a more effective, more energizing strategic plan for your consulting firm if you build it in small pieces, over eight weeks.

Commit to eight, 90-minute sessions over eight weeks attended by you and any senior team or advisors at your consulting firm.

You can run the sessions via Zoom or a similar platform, which means no travel time involved. Though, depending on your consulting firm’s culture, you may need to shower and dress (from the waist up).

8 Weeks to Get Juiced

Week 1: Report the Facts

Present key data about your consulting firm. If you have a team, then different people can be responsible for different facts.

The key here isn’t to debate the implications—it’s to gain clarity on reality.

Of course, during the 90-minute session you may identify a few data gaps that you’ll want to fill before the next session. That will be true every week.

Week 2: Lessons Learned and Implications

Each member of your consulting firm’s strategic planning team brings questions and conclusions from the previous week’s data review.

Having had time to sit with all the data for a week, each participant can express his thoughts coherently, and in priority order.

It’s tougher to create those clear, prioritized conversations when everyone’s reacting to the data in the moment.

Week 3: Revisit Mission, Vision and Values

Missions and visions change in response to the environment, which is why you review them in Week 3.

Ideally, of course, your values don’t change over time; however, if Week 1 revealed you have alarming churn at the analyst level, and Week 2 you concluded you need to be more family oriented, then you may want to revise your values.

By the end of this session, agree to any changes in your consulting firm’s mission, vision and values. You can make final tweaks, etc. in Week 4.

Week 4: Goals, Gaps and Objectives

Agree on your:

  • Goals. These are the results you want to reach over the next 12 months. Achieving your goals is largely a result of your consulting firm’s behaviors and activities, but the goals are not necessarily within your firm’s control.
  • Gaps. These describe the difference between your goals and where your consulting firm is now. Focus on the meaningful gaps you want to close.
  • Objectives. Your objectives are the activities that are at least 90% within your consulting firm’s control. Such as, for instance, your marketing activity and your staff.

In all three areas, you and your team should prioritize from most-to-least important.

Week 5: Strategic Initiatives and Success Metrics

One month into the process you have everything you need to drill down into the handful of strategic initiatives that will guide your consulting firm’s efforts for the upcoming 12 months.

What are the key projects, undertakings and focus areas that will help you nail your objectives, and close the gaps to your goals?

I recommend no more than 10 initiatives, and at least one in each of the major contributors to consulting firm success: Business Development, Profitable Value Creation, and Infrastructure.

Week 6: Quarterly Objectives

After addressing any lingering questions on your strategic initiatives, your strategic planning team can break each strategic initiative into three-month sprints.

I’ve found that setting quarterly objectives establishes a good cadence for most consulting firms. The objectives are not so far out as to be ignorable, nor so immediate as to conflict with pressing client issues.

Week 7: Budgets and Resources

Now that your consulting firm’s desired activities are well defined, you can calculate your budget and plan for any resources required to hit your objectives.

During this part of the exercise, devote ample time to considering outside partners, automation opportunities, and other investments that will help your consulting firm thrive.

Week 8: Desserts

Finalize your plans. The budgeting phase may have raised challenges in your objectives or your strategic initiatives.

After a week of individual thought and deliberation, your consulting firm’s planning team will come together to resolve any challenges, finalize the details, and celebrate with chocolate fondue.

The eight-week approach offers your consulting firm a couple of key advantages:

  1. You have time to think, to react, and raise new questions between sessions
  2. You don’t have to find two days to pull everyone together. Full days are tough for consulting firm leaders. Ninety minutes a week, though, isn’t so bad.

What changes would you make to the eight weeks outlined above?

  1. Craig Solid
    October 2, 2019 at 7:36 am Reply

    David, how would you alter the schedule/sessions for a solo consultant? Thanks!

    • David A. Fields
      October 2, 2019 at 8:09 am Reply

      The schedule is exactly the same, Craig. What changes is the people “in the room.” As a solo consultant, you don’t operate alone–that is, you’ll enjoy more success if you don’t.

      Run through the eight weeks with an advisor, or an advisor and a colleague, or with your virtual assistant, or even with a hired gun who’s a good, strategic thinker that will push back on your assumptions and provide critical insights.

      Thank you for raising the solo question, Craig.

  2. Edythe Nash
    October 2, 2019 at 8:30 am Reply

    Great idea that is likely to lead to much more useable results. No more 3-ring Strategic Plan binders gathering dust!

    • David A. Fields
      October 2, 2019 at 8:51 am Reply

      Behind the scenes, the consulting community quietly continued their campaign to put 3-ring binder manufacturers out of business.

      Let me know how the process works for you, Edythe, and thanks for posting your reaction!

  3. Chuck Martz
    October 2, 2019 at 9:39 am Reply

    David, do you ever see a need for a recycle loop between week 7 & week 5. In my experience, many times achieving all of your strategic objectives may be more costly in $$ & people than you can handle. Which then leads to a reprioritization. Have you seen this or is there a different way to handle it instead of recycle loop.

    • David A. Fields
      October 2, 2019 at 9:51 am Reply

      Excellent point. Recycle loops are part of the process and one of the advantages of the week-long break between sessions. Yes, it’s likely you’ll have to adjust priorities and quarterly objectives once you realize what your ambitious goals require in terms of resources. Week 8 is a good time to make those final adjustments.

      (You can always schedule a second round of desserts for Week 9, too.)

      I love your insightful question, Chuck!

  4. Sharon
    October 16, 2019 at 10:09 am Reply

    One step I don’t see explicitly called our, but that I find super important is to consider what unintended consequences might result from attaining your goals. As an example, growing one new market segment might take more resources than you’d planned (or have). Pre-thinking the ways plans might go askew gives time to plan actions that help avoid those unintended consequences. Like reading restaurant reviews to avoid eating disappointing tiramisu (all too common).

    • David A. Fields
      October 16, 2019 at 11:59 am Reply

      Very good point, Sharon. Consulting firms constantly need to keep the cycle of Winning Engagements and Profitably Creating Value in balance. That means, as you wisely note, that we need to know what additional resources will be required in one area if we meet our goals in the other.

      Nice add, Sharon, and bonus points for the tiramisu reference.

  5. Paul
    November 8, 2023 at 6:13 am Reply

    Just like we sometimes forget to include chocolate when planning dinner, and especially for Craig and other solo consultants out there, don’t forget to include “Everyone in the world and in all of history who has written anything of import“ in each step by including your favorite AI to help with the brainstorming, decision-making, goal-setting and planning. In my experience, this helps you think of everything faster.

    • David A. Fields
      November 8, 2023 at 9:04 am Reply

      Paul, the advent of AI, which has emerged since this article was originally published, has certainly given all consulting firms and excellent tool to help with planning. Equally true for solo and boutique consultancies. Thank you for adding that update to this article.

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