Learning Outcomes

  • Differentiate between strategic plans, tactical plans, operational plans, and contingency plans
  • Explain the components of a SWOT analysis
  • Explain how planning helps organizations reach their goals

Planning is a process of thinking about and organizing the activities needed to achieve a desired goal. By now you are familiar with the most encompassing of all organizational planning: the business plan. The business plan provides the foundation for ongoing planning activities, but as the business grows and develops, it’s the manager’s responsibility to make adjustments and take the plans to the next level. A business without solid strategic, operational, and contingency plans will have a hard time meeting its organizational goals—unless it intends to survive by luck alone.

The Foundation of Planning

When managers begin to plan, they need to strategize based on something—an idea, an opportunity, or a dream. The company vision and mission statements create the foundation for planning by summarizing a company’s business strategy in a form that can be communicated and understood easily by stakeholders.

  • Vision Statement: A vision statement gives employees something to rally behind, and for those businesses that choose to make their vision statement public, it lets the world know where the company is going. Ikea, the Swedish multinational group of companies that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture, is driven by its corporate vision. This is the IKEA vision: “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”
  • Mission Statement: A mission statement outlines how the business will turn its vision into reality and becomes the foundation for establishing specific goals and objectives. Ikea’s mission is “to offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.” It is this mission that will enable them to realize the vision of “better everyday life.”

Until a business has determined what its mission is, planning cannot begin. Furthermore, one plan cannot possibly encompass everything necessary to achieve the organization’s mission, so managers are tasked with developing sets of plans that, together, guide the organization’s activities. 

Strategic Plans

Strategic plans translate the company mission into a set of long-term goals and short-term objectives. In the process of determining a company’s strategic plan, top-level managers set out to answer the following questions:

  1. Where are we now?
  2. Where do we want to be?
  3. How do we get there?

Tactical Plans  

Tactical plans translate high-level strategic plans into specific plans for actions that need to be taken up and down the layers of an organization. They are short-range plans (usually spanning less than one year) that emphasize the current operations of various parts of the organization. As a company refines or alters its strategic plans, the tactics must also be adjusted to execute the strategy effectively.

A tactical plan answers the following questions:

  1. What is to be done?
  2. Who is going to do it?
  3. How is it to be done?

Operational Plans

Operational plans establish detailed standards that guide the implementation of tactical plans and establish the activities and budgets for each part of the organization. Operational plans may go so far as to set schedules and standards for the day-to-day operations of the business and name responsible supervisors, employees, or departments.

Contingency Plans

Unforeseen events or disasters can be especially harmful to a business. For example, a fire, an earthquake, a widespread illness, or a flood may make it impossible to continue normal business operations. A contingency plan lays out the course of action a business will take in response to possible future events.

Practice Question

Example: Boeing Takes Off in New Direction

Boeing and Airbus have been locked in fierce competition for the world’s airplane business for decades. What characterized most of that time period was a focus on designing larger and larger airplanes. Since its development in the 1970s, Boeing revamped its pioneering B747 numerous times and at one time boasted over 1,300 of the jumbo jets in operation around the world. As part of this head-to-head competition for bragging rights to the largest jet in the air, Boeing was working on a 747X, a super-jumbo jet designed to hold 525 passengers. In what seemed to be an abrupt change of strategy, Boeing conceded the super-jumbo segment of the market to its rival and killed plans for the 747X. Instead of trying to create a plane with more seats, Boeing engineers began developing planes to fly fewer people at higher speeds. Then, as the rising price of jet fuel surpassed the airlines’ ability to easily absorb its increasing cost, Boeing again changed its strategy, this time focusing on developing jets that use less fuel. In the end, Boeing’s strategy changed from plane capacity to jet efficiency.

The new strategy required new plans. Boeing managers identified gaps in Airbus’s product line and immediately set out to develop planes to fill them. Boeing announced a new 787 “Dreamliner,” which boasted better fuel efficiency thanks to lightweight composite materials and next-generation engine design. Even though the 787 has less than half the seating of the Airbus A380, Boeing’s Dreamliner is a hit in the market. Orders for the new plane have been stronger than anticipated, forcing Boeing to change its production plans to meet demand. The company decided to accelerate its planned 787 production rate buildup, rolling out a new jet every two days or so.

Airbus was not so lucky. The company spent so much time and energy on its super-jumbo that its A350 (the plane designed to compete with Boeing’s 787) suffered. The 787 uses 15 percent less fuel than the A350, can fly nonstop from Beijing to New York, and is one of the fastest-selling commercial planes ever.

The battle for airline supremacy continues to switch between the two global giants. In 2017, Boeing beat Airbus on commercial jet orders at the Paris Air Show and continues to push forward. A spokesperson has hinted at a hybrid fuselage for midrange planes, which could carry passengers farther at lower costs. If successful, Boeing will regain market share lost to the Airbus A321.

Critical Thinking Questions

  1. What seems to be the difference in how Boeing and Airbus have approached planning?
  2. Do you think Airbus should change its strategic plans to meet Boeing’s or stick with its current plans? Explain.


Gillian Rich, “Why Boeing’s Paris Air Show Orders Are ‘Staggering’,”, June 22, 2017; Jon Ostrower, “Boeing vs. Airbus: A New Winner Emerges at the Paris Air Show,” CNN,, June 22, 2017; Gillian Rich, “’Hybrid’ Design for New Boeing Midrange Jet Could Hit This Sweet Spot,”, June 20, 2017; Alex Taylor, III, “Boeing Finally Has a Flight Plan,” Fortune, June 13, 2005, pp. 27–28; J. Lynn Lundsford and Rod Stone, “Boeing Net Falls, but Outlook Is Rosy,” The Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2005, p. A3; Carol Matlack and Stanley Holmes, “Why Airbus Is Losing Altitude,” Business Week, June 20, 2005, p. 20; J. Lynn Lunsford, “UPS to Buy 8 Boeing 747s, Lifting Jet’s Prospects,” The Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2005, p. A2; “Airbus to Launch A350 Jet in October,” Xinhua News Agency, September 14, 2005, online; “Boeing Plans Major Change,” Performance Materials, April 30, 2001, p. 5.

SWOT Analysis

One of the key planning tools managers have at their disposal is the situation analysis, or SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Conducting such an analysis provides a means of projecting expectations, anticipating problems, and guiding decision making. As shown in the graphic, below, a SWOT analysis is an examination of the internal and external factors that impact the organization and its plans.SWOT Analysis is made of external and internal factors. External factors are opportunities and threats. They are technology, competition, economic, political, legal, and social trends. Internal factors are strengths and weaknesses. They are financial, technical, competition position, human resources, and product line.The external factors include opportunities and threats that are outside of the organization. These are factors that the company may be able to influence—or at least anticipate—but not fully control. Examples of external factors are technology innovations and changes, competition, economic trends, government policies and regulations, legal judgments, and social trends.

The internal factors include strengths and weaknesses within the organization currently. Examples of internal factors are financial resources, technical resources and capabilities, human resources, and product lines. Since the company has the most control over internal factors, it can develop strategies and objectives to exploit strengths and address weaknesses.

The benefit of a SWOT analysis is that it gives managers a clear picture of the “situation” in which it operates and helps them develop realistic plans. Managers must continually scan the internal and external business environment for signs of change that may require alterations to their plans. The organization’s strengths and weaknesses evolve over time, and new threats and opportunities can appear out of the blue. Ignoring signals that technology, consumer demands, resource availability, or legal requirements are changing can leave the business in an inferior position relative to the competition and can very well mean the end of the business. For this reason, effective managers should use SWOT analysis as a tool to inform decision making and planning on a regular basis.

You can see how pervasive planning is within a business and that plans can run the gamut from the broad and general (as with the strategic plan, for example) to the narrow and specific (as with operational plans), but each type of plan is important to the overall success of an organization. Furthermore, planning is crucial to fulfilling the other functions of management. Without plans, effective organizing, leading, and controlling won’t happen. Failure to plan—or postponing it—can be a real liability for labor-oriented, hands-on managers.

PRactice Questions


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