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Strategic Planning Terminology

TL;DR — Strategic plans have different nouns that pertain to specific things, and those nouns are easy to confuse. Also, strategic plans aren’t just for companies; they work for individuals, too.


I have the privilege of being involved with two groups — a community non-profit board, and a software engineering process group at my current employer — that often work at a strategic level. At times, we use terminology to define things for the business, ranging from abstract to concrete.

  • Mission
  • Vision
  • Values
  • Goals
  • Objectives
  • Strategies

Because the need to differentiate those terms only arises every so often, I typically have to retrain myself via searching the Internet for articles describing the terms. During the most recent refresher, I realized these concepts can apply to personal planning as well.

This post…

  1. serves as a reference to me (and hopefully others) about the terminology
  2. shares some parallels I’ve observed to personal planning



Why does the company exist? What issue is most important to the company?

This is about today, and should be concise.


What would the world look like if the issue important to the company were perfectly addressed?

This is about the future, and should be more descriptive about the future that is created by carrying out the mission.


What does the company believe in? How will it behave?

These are about establishing an identity and giving individuals a framework that guides decisions.


What are broad, long-term aims that define the company’s accomplishment of its mission?

These typically are not concrete (i.e., not very measurable) and support the mission.


What do we want to do?

These are concrete (e.g., how much, by what date), making them measurable. When objectives are met/completed, they help the company move closer to achieving its goals.


How will we reach our objectives?

These are actionable steps or processes that when used, help complete objectives.

Personal planning

As I reviewed the definitions for these terms, I realized in my own personal planning I had muddled the concepts of goals and objectives. On my Trello board I had a card called “Goals for 2017” with a checklist of things I’d like to accomplish for the year. Most of those were really objectives that supported my personal goals (which has its own Trello card).

This arena is well-aligned with a conference talk I’ve given, so I’m very interested in these lines of thinking. The key takeaway is that every one of the layers is aligned to support the layers above and below it.

My path was somewhat non-linear. I started with values, because they’re something I had explored deeply. Specifically, I was introspective about my strengths, roles I find myself enjoying/successful in, interests, and beliefs. From there, I articulated goals that align with those values. (See the section “My Goals” on my about page.) The next step was to start listing objectives that support those goals, which is something I typically review on a yearly basis. As I do my weekly review (part of Getting Things Done), I look at what objectives I’ll be tackling next and start to think about what strategy (i.e., the how) I’ll use to get there.


  • Values: responsibility (personality strength), mentor (role), leadership (interest), positively impact the lives of others (belief)
    • Goal: To stay active in effectively coaching RPM (group cycling class)
      • Objective: Obtain “elite” status in RPM by November 2017
        • Strategy: Attend an advanced training course to learn how to coach more effectively
        • Strategy: Film myself coaching my classes, then rate my performance based on the rubric provided during advanced training

Admittedly, I haven’t figured out my mission and vision yet. One could argue those are topics left for the philosophers, and that as long as I’m living a full life by honoring my values (and re-evaluating them as things change), I should be on a healthy path.

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