20 Essential Strategic Frameworks & Models Every Manager Needs to Know

Master these 20 strategic frameworks and models to build a robust strategy foundation for your business's success. Contact us for more information!
20 Essential Strategic Frameworks & Models Every Manager Needs to Know
Master these 20 strategic frameworks and models to build a robust strategy foundation for your business's success. Contact us for more information!

Strategic frameworks are designed to help organizations develop an action plan to achieve their goals. There are a lot of strategic planning models out there, which is why we pulled together a list of 20 of the most popular ones and describe the scenario that they are most useful. But first...

What is The Definition of Strategic Framework?

A strategic framework is a structure designed to help organizations develop an action plan to achieve their goals. This entails using various strategic planning models to guide the organization toward effective strategy implementation and goal realization, tailored to specific scenarios where they are most effective.

Essentially, it serves as a blueprint that organizations follow to map out their strategic direction and actions required to achieve their objectives.

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

  • The strategy at your organization is nonexistent, and you’re assigned to find a strategic planning model so that you can kick off your strategic planning process.
  • Your company-wide strategy is in place, but entirely ineffective—and you have a hunch that using a strategic planning model (and strategy software) will make a big difference.
  • Your organization-wide strategy is fine, but there’s one area in your business environment (or internal process) that needs to be realigned with your strategy.

If you can identify with one of these scenarios, this article is for you!

Read through each of the models or find the ones you're looking for from the list below and jump right to them. Then stick around for some insight on how you can make the most of whatever strategic framework you choose—and increase the likelihood of its success. (Hint: It’s all about performance tracking.)

20 Strategic Frameworks & Models Every Business Leader MUST Know in 2024

1. The Balanced Scorecard

The Balanced Scorecard is a strategy management framework created by Drs. Robert Kaplan and David Norton.

It takes into account your:

  • Objectives, which are high-level organizational goals.
  • Measures, which help you understand if you’re accomplishing your objective strategically.
  • Initiatives, which are key action programs that help you achieve your objectives.

There are many ways you can create a Balanced Scorecard, including using a program like Excel, Google Sheets, or PowerPoint or using reporting software. For the sake of example, the screenshot below is from ClearPoint’s reporting software.

Claim your FREE Balanced Scorecard Excel template for better strategic management here

This is just one of the many “views” you’d be able to see in scorecard software once your BSC was complete. It gives you high-level details into your measures and initiatives and allows you to drill down into each by clicking on them.

At a glance, you can tell what the RAG status of each objective, measure, or initiative is. (Green indicates everything is going as planned, while yellow and red indicate that there are various degrees of trouble with whatever is being looked at.)

All in all, a Balanced Scorecard is an effective, proven way to get your team on the same page with your strategy.

Read our blog on A Full & Exhaustive Balanced Scorecard Example.

2. The Strategy Map

A strategy map is a visual tool designed to clearly communicate a strategic plan and achieve high-level business goals.

Strategy mapping is a major part of the Balanced Scorecard (though it isn’t exclusive to the BSC) and offers an excellent way to communicate the high-level information across your organization in an easily-digestible format.

A strategy map offers a host of benefits:

  • It provides a simple, clean, visual representation that is easily referred back to.
  • It unifies all goals into a single strategy.
  • It gives every employee a clear goal to keep in mind while accomplishing tasks and measures.
  • It helps identify your key goals.
  • It allows you to better understand which elements of your strategy need work.
  • It helps you see how your objectives affect the others.

Get your FREE eBook with Balance Scorecard strategy maps for better strategic visualization

Read our blog on A Strategy Map Template For Medium-Sized Companies.

3. The SWOT Analysis

A SWOT analysis (or SWOT matrix) is a high-level model used at the beginning of an organization’s strategic planning. It is an acronym for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.” Strengths and weaknesses are considered internal factors, and opportunities and threats are considered external factors.

Below is an example SWOT analysis from the Queensland, Australia, government:

Using a SWOT analysis as part of your strategic business model helps an organization identify where they’re doing well and in what areas they can improve.

If you’re interested in reading more, this Business News Daily article offers some additional details about each area of the SWOT analysis and what to look for when you create one.

With ClearPoint Strategy, you can use AI to perform a SWOT analysis on your company. Try our SWOT AI tool here.

4. The PEST Model

Like SWOT, PEST is also an acronym—it stands for “political, economic, sociocultural, and technological.” Each of these factors is used to look at an industry or business environment, and determine what could affect an organization’s health.

The PEST model is often used in conjunction with the external factors of a SWOT analysis. You may also run into Porter’s Five Forces (see #7 below), which is a similar take on examining your business from various angles.

You’ll occasionally see the PEST model with a few extra letters added on. For example, PESTEL (or PESTLE) indicates an organization is also considering “environmental” and “legal” factors. STEEPLED is another variation, which stands for “sociocultural, technological economic, environmental, political, legal, education, and demographic.”

Claim your FREE eBook on 8 effective strategic planning templates here

5. Gap Planning

Gap planning is also referred to as a “Need-Gap Analysis,” “Need Assessment,” or “the Strategic-Planning Gap.” It is used to compare where an organization is now, where it wants to be, and how to bridge the gap between. It is primarily used to identify specific internal deficiencies.

In your gap planning research, you may also hear about a “change agenda” or “shift chart.” These are similar to gap planning, as they both take into consideration the difference between where you are now and where you want to be along various axes. From there, your planning process is about how to ‘close the gap.’

The chart below, for example, demonstrates the difference between the projected and desired sales of a mock company:

6. The Blue Ocean Strategy

Blue Ocean Strategy is a strategic planning model that emerged in a book by the same name in 2005. The book—titled “Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant”—was written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors at the European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD).

The idea behind Blue Ocean Strategy is for organizations to develop in “uncontested market space” (e.g. a blue ocean) instead of a market space that is either developed or saturated (e.g. a red ocean). If your organization is able to create a blue ocean, it can mean a massive value boost for your company, its buyers, and its employees.

For example, Kim and Mauborgne explain via their 2004 Harvard Business Review article how Cirque du Soleil didn’t attempt to operate as a normal circus, and instead carved out a niche for itself that no other circus had ever tried.

Below is a simple comparison chart from the Blue Ocean Strategy website that will help you understand if you’re working in a blue ocean or a red ocean:

7. Porter’s Five Forces

Porter’s Five Forces is an older strategy execution framework (created by Michael Porter in 1979) built around the forces that impact the profitability of an industry or a market. The five forces it examines are:

  1. The threat of entry: Could other companies enter the marketplace easily, or are there numerous entry barriers they would have to overcome?
  2. The threat of substitute products or services: Can buyers easily replace your product with another?
  3. The bargaining power of customers: Could individual buyers put pressure on your organization to, say, lower costs?
  4. The bargaining power of suppliers: Could large retailers put pressure on your organization to drive down the cost?
  5. The competitive rivalry among existing firms: Are your current competitors poised for major growth? If one launches a new product or files a new patent—could that impact your company?

The amount of pressure on each of these forces can help you determine how future events will impact the future of your company.

8. The VRIO Framework

The VRIO framework is an acronym for “value, rarity, imitability, organization.” This strategic planning process relates more to your vision statement than your overall strategy. The ultimate goal in implementing the VRIO model is that it will result in a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Here’s how to think of each of the four VRIO components:

  • Value: Are you able to exploit an opportunity or neutralize an outside threat using a particular resource?
  • Rarity: Is there a great deal of competition in your market, or do only a few companies control the resource referred to above?
  • Imitability: Is your organization’s product or service easily imitated, or would it be difficult for another organization to do so?
  • Organization: Is your company organized enough to be able to exploit your product or resource?

Once you answer these four questions, you’ll be able to formulate a more precise vision statement to help carry you through all the additional strategic elements in your plan.

9. The Baldrige Framework

The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is “the highest level of national recognition for performance excellence that a U.S. organization can receive.” Created in 1987, the goal of Baldrige is to help organizations innovate and improve, while achieving their mission and vision.

The award is currently open to manufacturing, service, small business, nonprofit, government, education, and healthcare sectors.

When applying to win the Baldrige award at the national level, organizations undergo a competitive process that involves the implementation of the Baldrige framework.

The framework outlines the “Baldrige Criteria For Performance Excellence,” where organizations must demonstrate achievement and improvement to an independent board of examiners in these seven areas:

  • Leadership
  • Planning and strategy
  • Customers
  • Measurement, analysis, and knowledge management
  • Workforce
  • Process
  • Results

To implement the Baldrige framework in your organization, start with two questionnaires that help you self-assess based on the seven Baldrige Criteria categories, and get a snapshot of your strengths and opportunities for improvement.

10. OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)

The strategic planning model of choice for Google, Intel, Spotify, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many other Silicon Valley successes, the OKR framework, is one of the more straightforward strategic planning tools. It’s designed to create alignment and engagement around measurable goals by clearly defining:

  • Objectives: What you want to achieve. Choose three to five objectives that are brief, inspiring, and time-bound.
  • Key Results: How you’ll measure progress toward your achievements. Set three to five key results (they must be quantitative) per objective.

The strategic planning model of choice for many businesses—including Google, Intel, Spotify, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many other Silicon Valley successes— the OKR framework is also effective because goals are continually set, tracked, and re-evaluated so organizations can quickly adapt when needed. This is a fast-paced, iterative approach that flips the traditional top-down strategic models. The RACI matrix is a helpful visual for defining the role each person in your organization has for projects and processes, ensuring it aligns with their OKRs.

See a strategic planning model that fits your business? Claim your FREE eBook on 8 effective strategic planning templates here

11. Hoshin Planning

The Hoshin Planning approach aligns your strategic goals with your projects and tasks to ensure that efforts are coordinated. This strategic management model is less focused on measures and more on goals and initiatives.

Some sources cite up to seven steps in the Hoshin Planning model, but the four most critical are:

  • Identify key goals: Ideally you’d focus on three to five goals.
  • Play “catchball”: Share goals from top to bottom of your organization to obtain buy-in.
  • Gather intel through “gemba”: Track the execution of your key goals and gather feedback from employees, using a defined process.
  • Make adjustments: Initiate change based on feedback and repeat the steps of catchball and gemba.

You visualize your objectives, measures and targets, measure programs, and action items in a Hoshin Planning matrix. Four directional quadrants (north, south, east, west) inform each other and demonstrate alignment.

12. Issue-Based Strategic Planning

The issue-based strategic model is oriented in the present and projects into the future. It aims to identify the major challenges your organization faces now—in other words, you start with the problems to iron out issues before expanding, shifting your strategy, etc.

This is typically a short-term (6-12 months), internally-focused process. Issue-based planning is ideal for young or resource-restricted organizations.

The leadership team or stakeholders identify the major issues and goals as a first step. Next, your organization will create action plans to address the issues, including budget allocation.

From there, you will execute and track progress. After an issues-based plan has been implemented and the major issues you identified are resolved, then your organization might consider shifting to a broader, more complex strategic management model.

13. Goal-Based Strategic Planning

Goal-based strategic planning is the reverse of issue-based. This approach works backward from the future to the present. It all starts with your organization’s vision.

By nature, vision statements are aspirational and forward-thinking, but they need specifics in order to be realized. Goal-based planning tackles that challenge by setting measurable goals that align with your vision and strategic plan.

Next, you define time frames for goal achievement. This is a long-term strategic planning tool, so goal time frames are typically about three to five years.

From there, stakeholders will create action plans for each goal and begin tracking and measuring progress.

You want your department to be able to see their goals and the steps to achieve them. Download our Department Business Plan Dashboard template here

14. Alignment Strategic Planning Model

Similar to issue-based planning, the alignment model focuses on first looking internally to develop a strategy. This model is designed to sync the organization’s internal operations with its strategic goals.

Your strategic planning will start by identifying a goal and analyzing which operations or resources need to be aligned with that goal.

Then you’ll identify which parts of operations are working well and which are not, brainstorming ideas from the successful aspects on how to address problems.

Finally, you’ll create a series of proposed changes to operations or processes to achieve goals that will create the desired strategic alignment.

The alignment strategic planning model is particularly useful when a company needs to refine its objectives or address ongoing challenges or inefficiencies that are blocking progress.

15. Organic Model Of Strategic Planning

The organic model takes an unconventional approach because it focuses on the organization’s vision and values, versus plans and processes. With this model, a company uses “natural,” self-organizing systems that originate from its values and then leverages its own resources to achieve goals, conserve funds, and operate effectively.

In the simplest form, there are three basic steps to follow when implementing the organic model of strategic planning:

  1. Stakeholders clarify vision and values: This is a collaborative process that could involve both external and internal stakeholders—who’s in the meeting depends entirely on your organization’s ultimate purpose for the planning. The goal is to establish common visions and values for all stakeholders.
  2. Stakeholders create personal action plans: The unconventional aspect of this model comes into play here. Divided into small groups, stakeholders determine the actions and responsibilities for each person to work toward the vision (according to the values).
  3. Stakeholders report results of action plans: Each person will take ownership of their plan and update the group on their progress. This is a communal approach to accountability and the progress reported can lean toward qualitative, versus quantitative, results.

What type of company would the organic strategic planning model work best for? If your organization has a large, diverse group of stakeholders that need to find common ground, a vision that will take a long time to achieve, and a strong strategic emphasis on vision and values (instead of structure and procedures), this may be the right model for you.

It would also be beneficial for younger organizations that need to gain funding without presenting a formal strategic plan.

16. Real-Time Strategic Planning

Similar to the organic model, real-time strategic planning is a fluid, nontraditional system. It’s primarily used by organizations that need to be more reactive, and perform strategic planning in “real time.”

For these companies, detailed, long-term plans tend to become irrelevant within the typical three- to five-year planning cycle because the environment they operate in rapidly changes. Many nonprofits use this model—for example, a disaster relief agency needs the ability to respond quickly and adapt its strategy to immediately address a crisis.

Real-time strategic planning involves three levels of strategy: organizational, programmatic, and operational. For the first level, you’ll define the organization’s mission, vision, market position, competitors, trends, etc. Then, the programmatic strategy requires research into the external environment to identify approaches and offerings that would help the organization achieve its mission.

The research should cover opportunities, threats, competitive advantages, and other points to spur strategic brainstorming.

The final operational level analyzes internal processes, systems, and personnel to develop a strategy that addresses “in-house” strengths and weaknesses. Looking at all three levels as a whole, strategy leaders can form criteria for developing, testing, implementing, and adapting strategies on an ongoing basis, allowing for quick and thoughtful responses when needed.

17. Scenario Planning

In planning for their own future, too few organizations take the time to consider the multitude of external changes that could take place that would impact their plans.

A healthcare company that fails to anticipate certain regulatory actions, an energy company that ignores the possibility of rising oil prices, and a global organization that hasn’t examined the potential for supply chain disruptions may all be impacted by those changes to some degree if they happened. And it isn’t just about mitigating the possible risks; it’s also about pursuing potential opportunities.

Scenario planning involves examining the variable elements of your environment, evaluating them for plausibility and impact, and factoring those scenarios that are most relevant into your decision-making. Two to five scenarios is the ideal number—this lets you explore a variety of themes without getting mired down in too many possibilities.

Other frameworks (like SWOT or PESTLE) can be useful in developing those scenarios.

You can use scenario planning at the individual and departmental levels, but it is especially useful for organizational strategy planning. If your company is part of an industry that tends to be volatile or your organization itself has had to navigate costly, unexpected changes in the past, scenario planning is an excellent tool for developing your strategic vision.

It can also be used to foster managerial thinking, encouraging leaders to consider the broadest range of future possibilities, and provide guidance when evaluating new projects or investment proposals.

18. The Ansoff Matrix

The Ansoff Matrix was developed to help organizations plan their strategies for growth. It is a 2x2 matrix with product on one axis and markets on the other axis. Depending on the box you are in, you may choose a different strategy for growth:

  • Market penetration: Expand sales of an existing product in an existing market
  • Product development: Introduce a new product into an existing market
  • Market development: Introduce an existing product into an entirely new market
  • Diversification: Introduce a new product into a new market

The level of risk increases with each strategy, with market penetration being the least risky and diversification being the most risky.

The Ansoff Matrix is useful for organizations that are actively trying to grow. Not only does it help you analyze and clarify your current strategy, but it also helps evaluate the risks associated with moving to a new strategy.

SWOT and PEST are often used in combination with the Ansoff Matrix; business strengths and weaknesses as well as external factors should all play into your choice of growth strategy.

19. The 7s Model

Developed by McKinsey consultants, this strategic business planning model emphasizes the importance of aligning an organization’s key internal elements to achieve strategy. Those key elements are:

  • Structure: The organizational chart or chain of command
  • Strategy: The future plan of action, supported by an organization’s mission and vision
  • System: The technical infrastructure that enables daily workflows
  • Skill: The capabilities of team members
  • Style: The management style of leaders
  • Staff: Employees and how they are recruited, trained, and motivated
  • Shared value: The norms, values, and beliefs that guide actions and decisions

The first step in applying the 7S model is to examine the current interconnectedness of these elements within your own organization; are there areas of weakness or inconsistencies? For example, you might discover that your skills training for employees is hindered by antiquated workflows and technology.

Once you understand the relationships between these elements, you can work toward creating synergies that better support your strategy, whatever it may be.

The 7S model is best used during a strategy change, or whenever a major shift is occurring in any one of the seven areas.

20. The Constraints Analysis (Theory Of Constraints)

Constraints analysis is predicated on the idea that there are clear obstacles to strategy execution within your organization. Eliminating the weak link (or at least improving performance in that area) is the key to better results.

To apply constraints analysis correctly, you must first identify the constraint, or the main factor that limits your success. Process bottlenecks, faulty thinking, labor shortages, an unhealthy company culture, market conditions, or any number of other issues could be the culprit.

While you might identify more than one problem area, constraints analysis focuses on improving one area at a time to achieve quick, impactful results.

Is One Strategic Planning Model Better Than the Others?

That’s a great question—and the answer isn’t cut and dried. Some of these frameworks have been around longer than others, or have been used in various case studies in different ways. And sometimes managers are more comfortable with one over another, for any number of reasons.

We recommend determining which of these strategic planning models applies most to your organization’s way of thinking. For example, if you still need to work out your vision statement, it may be wise to begin with the VRIO framework and then move to something like the Balanced Scorecard to track and manage your ongoing strategy.

If you are set on pitching a particular strategic planning model to management, be prepared to give your boss or board of directors an example of another successful company that has utilized that particular model. An actual demonstration of success will make a somewhat abstract concept become more concrete.

If you are evaluating different approaches, I would recommend thinking about both creating your strategic plan and also executing on your plan. It doesn’t do you any good to have a strategic plan and not put it to use.

Get your FREE Strategic Plan Review eBook for better organizational direction

Is There Ever a Need to Switch Strategic Planning Models?

Yes. As your organization grows and changes, the frameworks you use to manage your strategy will change too.

There are a lot of options out there—even more than the 20 we’ve explored above! It’s reasonable to expect that the framework you use today won't necessarily match your organization’s needs 10 or even five years from now.

The added complexities of a growing business may make it necessary to rethink your approach to strategy planning. For example, the Balanced Scorecard might work well for tracking organizational and departmental plans, but you may eventually want a system that easily extends to the individual level. For that, you might add OKRs to your management framework.

You can also combine strategic planning models. Some organizations use elements of two or more frameworks to create a custom approach. Great! Every organization manages differently; your planning model should reflect your approach. But it’s always easier to have a starting point, which is why these frameworks exist in the first place.

Use ClearPoint To Track Your Strategic Planning Models

Framework choices—and even strategies themselves—are flexible, but what’s not flexible is the need for software to track your performance.

Tracking is the only way to know if your strategic plan is working—if the data shows your actions aren’t making an impact, you need to make a change. While most organizations understand that tracking itself is a necessity, they’re using the wrong tools to do it.

The most common alternative to strategy software is Excel. Excel may be a familiar and affordable tool, but it’s costing your organization dearly in ways you may not have thought of:

For decision-makers, Excel-based reports are difficult to digest, which negatively impacts decision-making. Excel was built for numbers but it wasn’t built to easily show analysis and recommendations or real-time data, all of which are essential components of tracking. On top of that, spreadsheets simply make it harder to understand performance data. As a result, your leadership team isn’t getting all the information they need to make strategic decisions.

For the strategy and reporting teams, the use of spreadsheets and the manual collection and updating they require is a tremendous waste of time and a constant headache. There is also inherent risk—even with the most meticulous and careful management—in manual updating and version control across large and elaborate spreadsheets.

No doubt about it, Excel is, in fact, a somewhat costly tool. There is a better way—software exists that automates data updating and collects everything in one place for faster, safer, and better reporting.

Strategy software like ClearPoint was built exclusively for strategy performance reporting. So not only does it solve the above issues but it actually improves the likelihood of executing your strategy successfully.

See ClearPoint Strategy in action! Click here to watch our quick 6-minute demo

Here’s why:

  1. You’ll have a “set it and forget it” system in place for performance tracking: There’s no need to recreate new reports for every reporting period, or run around collecting data repeatedly from across the company. ClearPoint automatically pulls in your strategic data from the various repositories you set, making the process automatic. That means you’re more likely to stick with it over the long term.
  2. Your leadership team will have better reports on which to base their decisions: ClearPoint reports were designed to help you tell a clear, accurate, and concise story that focuses attention where it matters the most.
  3. You can create either high-level summary reports or detailed data reports (or both!).
  4. You can use the executive dashboard template (or any other type of dashboard) to develop a summary presentation of the strategic information your leadership needs to quickly grasp what's going well and what’s not.
  5. You can incorporate qualitative data and analysis into your reports, giving you a more nuanced, effective way to tell the story of performance.
  6. You can use real-time data to make sure your reports are as up-to-date as possible.
  7. You’ll be confident you’re working on the right things. In ClearPoint you can connect projects and measures directly to your overall goals so you can clearly see how your activities support your objectives.
  8. Your employees’ work will support organizational goals. You can create a comprehensive performance plan in ClearPoint that includes individual performance management, so your employees will understand how their daily activities contribute to the larger goals of the company.

Another important benefit: ClearPoint will improve your strategy team’s productivity by simplifying the strategy reporting process. (One ClearPoint customer was able to reduce the cost of its monthly management board reporting by 70%!) To learn more about how ClearPoint addresses the day-to-day challenges of strategy reporting, read our Ultimate Guide on the subject.

Consider this:

You’ve probably already invested in some type of specialized software for your finance team, HR, marketing, and other departments—all of which are likely using the software to good effect. But if an investment in strategy software has the potential to improve your organization’s overall performance even slightly, imagine the impact it would have on your effectiveness or profitability. Isn’t that an idea worth exploring?

If you’d like to learn more about ClearPoint, we’d love to talk with you! ClearPoint works with any and all of the strategic planning models mentioned above (the same can’t be said for other strategy software tools), so no matter which direction you’re planning to go, we can go with you. See how ClearPoint can help you achieve more—reach out to us today!

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20 Essential Strategic Frameworks & Models Every Manager Needs to Know

Ted Jackson

Co-Founder & Alabama Native

Ted is a Founder and Managing Partner of ClearPoint Strategy and leads the sales and marketing teams.

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