Plan vs. Strategy: Is There a Difference?

Plan vs. Strategy: Is There a Difference?

Often times, the words “plan” and “strategy” are used interchangeably. The meanings of the words are quite similar; a method for achieving an end. However, there are strong differences between these words as well. It’s important for a company to understand the difference between having a plan and having a strategy. This is because although they each have strengths and purposes, they aren’t necessarily interchangeable. The differences in types of industry, clients, and projects call for one method or another.

What is a Plan?

A plan is an arrangement, a pattern, a program, or a scheme for a definite purpose. A plan is very concrete in nature and doesn’t allow for deviation. If “Plan A” doesn’t work, you don’t alter “Plan A” and try again. Rather, you move to “Plan B;” something totally different.

A plan is most useful when staying well organized and on-track is the highest priority. A plan provides a coherent framework from which to build and a sure direction to follow, with intermittent milestones to pass in order to reach an end goal. A plan gives confidence and stability. A plan increases the transparency of your work, leaves no room for assumptions, and can prove that you’ve put in a lot of thought and effort.

Types of plans include:

  • Financial: Must be rooted in reality and universally accepted
  • Tactical: Concerns the responsibility and functionality of lower-level departments
  • Operational: Focused on specific, routine procedures and processes
  • Succession: Don’t skip a beat should a major player suddenly depart
  • Contingency: Be proactive in vetting a researched and realistic backup

What is a Strategy?

A strategy, on the other hand, is a blueprint, layout, design, or idea used to accomplish a specific goal. A strategy is very flexible and open for adaptation and change when needed.

A strategy is most useful when creativity, collaboration, and innovation are of the utmost importance. A strategy encourages openness and debate from every side of the equation. A strategy embraces questions and out-of-the-box, effective answers. A strategy allows for a natural flow of thought and continual momentum that builds until success isn’t only reached, but expectations are blown out of the water. A strategy can surprise, impress, and put you on track to becoming a competitive powerhouse.

The building blocks of building a good strategy includes the following actions:

  • Framing the right questions
  • Learning from the past
  • Diagnosing the whys
  • Forecasting the future
  • Searching potential pathways
  • Choosing how to integrate
  • Committing to changes
  • Evolving when it’s necessary

Example of Strategy and Planning

Business Strategy vs. Plan:

A business team may have a plan to roll out a new product. Research, design, manufacturing, product placement, and marketing will all take place within their designated time frames and on budget. New products will continue to go through the same process until the customers decide on a winning product.

In contrast, a business team with a strategy will take the lessons learned from the past to determine what can be done differently, earlier in the process of product development. Innovation will be applied throughout the design and manufacturing processes. The team will use foresight to determine what customers will want (even though the customers themselves might not know it yet) and creative marketing techniques to ensure a winning product.

Sports Strategy vs. Plan:

Another great example of the difference between a plan and a strategy can be seen in sports. This example serves to illustrate the difference between a soccer team’s plan or strategy to score a goal.

Man playing soccer devising a strategy as he throws the ball in

A soccer team with a plan to score a goal might begin with a throw-in to another specific player. The ball would then be passed to a designated offensive player who would then be responsible for shooting the ball into the goal. The succession of moves would be deliberate and would not be adjusted when risks or obstacles to the plan were presented.

A soccer team with a strategy to score a goal might also begin a play with a throw-in one of a few different teammates. The main idea would then be to move the ball forward and pass to open offensive players who would then shoot the ball at the goal. The succession of moves would be open to adaptation and change if the ball were intercepted or if other players were open for receiving the ball.

When planning for the future, which is undeniably unknown, it helps to strategize and consider the various scenarios you might be faced with and be prepared to modify your strategy so you can keep moving forward, rather than starting over at the beginning.


About the Author

Cherissa Newton