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Strategic Planning: Create a Short List of External and Internal Priorities

Creating a short list is the last part of synthesizing all your options to the select few for your strategic plan. Ideally, you want to have between three and five external priorities. If you have too many, you may lose focus, and your plan may become too big. More than likely, your lists contain a dozen or so priorities, so you need to eliminate some more.

After you’ve sorted out your internal and external opportunities, start comparing your external choices to figure out which to take off first. You make this comparison because you need to make some trade-offs. Remember to compare only opportunities that are directly competing (external to external and internal to internal).

If you have a hard time limiting your priorities, make a “someday list”. This list contains priorities that are important and that you’ll get to someday. If you still have too many options, use the paired comparison analysis that follows.

External priorities short list

The paired comparison analysis helps you eliminate, limit, or prioritize your alternatives. (You can see an example of this tool in the figure.) This analysis helps you set priorities when multiple demands exist on the same resources — your time and money. The paired comparison analysis isolates choices and removes some subjectivity.

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Use the tool and follow these steps to compare each option one at a time:

  1. Use your pared-down list of opportunities and draw a grid, listing each option in both a row and a column header.

    Assign a letter to each option, as shown in the figure.

  2. Block out cells on the table that compare an option with itself.

    These cells remain the same. Normally you block out the diagonal running from the top left to the bottom right, as shown in the figure.

  3. Block out cells that duplicate a comparison.

    These cells are below the diagonal. See the example in the figure.

  4. With the remaining cells, compare the option in the row with the one in the column.

    For each cell, decide which of the two options is more important. Write the letter of the more important option in the cell and score the difference in importance from 0 (equal importance) to 3 (much more important).

  5. Consolidate the results by adding the total of all the values for each of the options.

    Convert these values into a percentage of the total score to determine rank of importance.

You can see how the comparison allows each opportunity to be evaluated against the others as well as show the difference in importance between each one.

Internal priorities short list

Instead of using the Paired Comparison Analysis Worksheet for internal alternatives, check out the helpful Goals Grid (shown in the following figure). Although you can use this tool for many purposes, it’s particularly helpful to categorize your internal alternatives into the four basic categories of goal making: achieve, preserve, avoid, and eliminate. Simply sort the internal alternatives by examining the yes and no answers to two very basic questions:

  • Do you want something?

  • Do you have it?

Develop three to five internal priorities based on those items that end up in the achieve and preserve categories. You may find that some alternatives don’t make it through the Goals Grid because they were good ideas that you don’t want at all.

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