Strategic Planning Process



Upon arrival at the university in July 2008, President Selma Botman announced a new strategic planning effort. Dr. Timothy Stevens, Special Assistant to the President for Planning and Project Development, oversaw development of the project and managed its execution.

The planning process began in the fall of 2008 with four Working Groups, including around 120 people and composed of a cross-section of students, faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of the university. Each group focused on a broad theme: engaged education, interdisciplinarity, access, and the university’s three-campus structure. After the Working Groups had completed their discussions, Dr. Stevens developed a first draft, reflecting the wide range of opinions and viewpoints from these early discussions. President Botman invited the entire USM community to offer feedback for revising and further focusing the plan. Over the course of the spring 2009 semester, two more drafts of the plan benefited from comments and suggestions submitted by every school, college, and division. Accordingly, the fifth and final draft reflects the input of virtually every constituency within the university. The university’s strategic planning website provides an archive of the discussion phase of the process as well as ongoing coverage of the plan’s implementation.


Strategic planning can occur in two formats. One is when a corporate board of directors or similar group of senior management convenes, writes a strategic plan, then implements it, seeking (or mandating) organizational buy-in from the rank-and-file. The second format is when a group, not necessarily the senior leadership, convenes, creates a plan, and then seeks organizational buy-in that results in implementation. In the latter case the plan is vetted by the senior leadership. There may be a combination of this as in the case where a plan is written by senior leadership, and is steered by a different committee of committed organizational representatives. Buy-in is needed at the level of senior management and also among all other members of the organization. This case is particularly appropriate for self-governing public organizations and is how it is being done at the University of Southern Maine.

USM’s Strategic Plan has eight Goals:

  1. Serving the needs and aspirations of 21st century Maine
  2. Making student success a core university priority
  3. Producing distinctive graduate and professional education
  4. Supporting faculty research, scholarship, and creative activity
  5. Ensuring the university’s fiscal sustainability
  6. Furthering the university’s commitment to diversity
  7. Strengthening community
  8. Deploying USM’s physical plant in support of the university’s mission

The Steering Committee

A Steering Committee oversees the activities that implement the strategic plan, including the actions or strategies associated with the goals and objectives. The committee is comprised of a dozen faculty, staff and a student, selected for their dedication and interest in the University and its mission. Dr. Robert Sanford and Dr. Monique LaRocque co-chair the Steering Committee. Mike Watson, an MBA student, is the graduate assistant.

The Task Teams

USM has eight Task Teams engaged in strategic planning, one for each Goal. Each Task Team is populated by members selected by the co-chairs of the team. A member of the Steering Committee serves as mentor to each of the Task Teams.

The Database and the Task Teams: a 3-Step approach

In every planning process, one has a mission and a vision, and one begins by gathering data. This descriptive stage is the first step. It is necessary to know what is being done before one can decide what needs to be done; making recommendations is the second step. Once we know what needs to be done, the third step is implementation.  Since we are at different stages in terms of awareness and in terms of the critical nature of necessary actions, we need not totally complete step 1 and inventory everything before commencing with steps 2 and 3. Sooner or later, though, we should progress through the steps to support the strategic nature of effective planning. This progression provides a context for management and the implementation of decisions. The Task Teams assemble activities currently underway or recently completed, and prepare them for listing in a database. The activities are coded on the basis of descriptive variables that will allow analysis. These variables include:

  • What is the activity
  • Who carries out the activity
  • Who has oversight of the responsibility
  • Who does the activity serve
  • Is the activity one or more discrete events/actions, or continuous
  • Has the activity been completed, is it underway, or is it just envisioned
  • What goals and objectives are linked to the activity
  • What is the priority of the activity

Step 1: The Inventory

Each Task Team has the discretion to decide how detailed to get in documenting activities for the database. For example, an activity might be a small, discrete event, such as "Hold an annual high school science bowl” as a means to serve the needs and aspirations of 21st century Maine (goal 1) and strengthen community (goal 7) by attracting potential STEM high school students and by involving current faculty, staff, students and guests in the contest. Another activity might be quite broad, and general, as in the "Creation and use of a strategic plan for research", undertaken by the Associate Vice President for Research, Scholarship, & Creative Activity, her staff, and the USM Research Council.  This latter activity could have been described in much greater detail and even broken down as a series of smaller discrete activities. But essentially by listing a single large activity a place is held for this concept in implementing the overall strategic plan, and the details on the activity—in this case the research plan—can be seen on file.

 The graduate assistant works with the Task Teams, and helps with questions concerning data base development and questions about activities. The Steering Committee has oversight because some activities may be catalogued by more than one Task Team and may involve more than one goal.

Step 2: Task Team Recommendations

After the existing activities and recommendations are entered in the database, the Task Teams may move into selecting new activities to implement the strategic plan. The characteristic descriptive variables used to populate the database can be used to enumerate the new activities. It is not the job of the Task Team to put the new activities into effect but rather to bring them to the attention of the Steering Committee with recommendations for how, and when to have them be carried out. The goal is for the activities to be done by the appropriate units, and to support the current work of the units by providing strategic context and efficiencies. 

The Steering Committee will coordinate the overall pallet of activity recommendations and explore efficient ways of engaging the entire university in implementing the strategic plan through these recommendations.  The Steering Committee can help sort out recommendations that the Task Team is unclear about or that engage multiple Task Teams or strategic plan goals. A “gaps analysis” can be done to see if there are logical recommendations that should exist to remedy areas where thus far the actions are not sufficient to meet goals and objectives.  This is of particular importance in dealing with things like budget or enrollment crises where new efficiencies must be gained and tough decisions

Step 3: Implementation

Implementation depends on the emphasis or critical nature of the recommendations. Some things need to be done right away, some things are on-going actions that continuously unfold, and some are for the future.  By having an interactive database as initiated in step 1, we prepare the way to provide updating of the action steps and the recommendations. This will help keep the context of planning analysis current.  A strong implementation phase is necessary to keep faith with the strategic planning initiative, demonstrating that the process works. There are existing structures to operationalize the results of institutional planning--various offices and departments have their mandates and missions. The implementation stage can be used to improve connections among different offices and departments, and supply context to various decisions and efforts. This coordination and context becomes even more important as an organization responds to external changes and pressures.