As we head into renewing the Libraries’ strategic plan, I’ve been thinking a lot about the planning processes I’ve led in the past – what worked well and what didn’t. And while we put together some relatively strong plans during my time at Columbia, I think, in hindsight, that they suffered from an unfortunate conflation of the strategic with the operational. We confused statements about our strategic intent (what we aspire to be) with our implementation plans (how we will get there), which led to somewhat unfocused, overstuffed inventories of all the good things we should do, muddying our attempts to provide a clear, concise articulation of where we would actually place our strategic effort, supported by real financial and human resources. I also worry about how these processes tend to consume our organizations in extended, overly burdensome planning activities, which often result in static 3 to 5-year plans that push us into psychologies of task list completion.
Instead of traveling this well-worn path, I propose that the Libraries implement a more agile planning framework, designed to facilitate an ongoing organizational conversation about our strategic intent and how we plan to make that intent a reality. Such a framework would entail a lighter-weight, open-ended process, hopefully allowing for more flexibility and openness to unforeseen opportunities. It would, if implemented well, ensure the continuing integration of faculty, staff, and external stakeholder voices in our planning discussions, because the process itself is conceived as an ongoing conversation with and between these groups.
The initial result (our strategic directions document) would be a concise, clear statement of who we are, what we value, our view of the future, and our focused, strategic intent flowing from this context. The time horizon for our ongoing planning efforts would be 18-36 months, and we would review and revise (or iterate) our strategic intent, and the investments we are making in support of it, on an annual or semi-annual basis. That review is the ongoing conversation, which we would need to keep relatively light-weight by utilizing many of the organizational structures and discussion forums already in place, where we would discuss changing user needs, new opportunities, and other evolving environmental factors. Of course, we would also need to create more detailed implementation plans at the divisional and/or unit levels that are clearly mapped to our stated strategic intent. These would be revised iteratively as well.
The motivating idea, following from the philosophy under pending agile development, is to construct an architecture for strategic thinking and action for the organization that would obviate the need to drop everything every five years or so to build out a new, static strategic plan (rinse and repeat…). If we are successful in creating an effective agile planning framework, our strategic intent, and the operational work we do to support it, should evolve in a more organic fashion through meaningful, ongoing dialog about organizational priorities, informed by engaged interaction with users, important external stakeholders, and university-level planning efforts.
I should mention that conversations with many of you over the past few weeks have helped clarify my thinking about how we might design and implement a more agile planning framework like I’ve sketched out above. Special thanks to our colleagues, Tina Franks, Joseph Galron, Craig Gibson, Alan Green, Lynda Hartel, Jessica Page, and members of Executive Committee, for providing a constructively critical sounding board for some of these ideas in conversations this week and last.
I’d also like to point your attention to a powerful example – from our colleagues at the Columbus Metropolitan Library – of how a library can communicate its strategic intent clearly and concisely. It is an impressive example of how to effectively communicate the connections between values, vision, strategic focus, and expected outcomes. Thanks to Quanetta Batts for bringing the CML example to my attention.
I look forward to discussing these ideas with you at upcoming coffees and meetings.
Damon E. Jaggars
Vice Provost and Director of University Libraries