How To Link Work Plans With Strategic Planning In Local Government


The wide array of responsibilities shouldered by local governments makes it a challenge to coordinate efforts across a city. To overcome those challenges and achieve your short- and long-term goals, it’s imperative to align your government strategic plan with the work plans of each city department.

This city-wide alignment may sound difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible. By learning about each part of the process, you’ll be better equipped to institute good governance at every level.

What is a local government strategic plan?

A government strategic plan is a city’s long-term vision for the future. It’s a blueprint of the city’s goals, planned projects to achieve those goals, and metrics to determine success. The city’s leadership (city council, mayor, city manager, etc.) drives the process of creating a local government strategic plan, starting with gathering input from key staff members and citizens. The strategy and budget offices also take an active role in the planning process.

Strategic plans chart the course for a city over a three- to five-year period, at which point the plans should be reevaluated and refreshed. Once a plan is developed, it is rolled out to city departments to execute on their individual responsibilities.

Unsure how to communicate your strategic plan? Get ideas from these city and state government strategic plan examples.

What is a work plan?

A work plan is a department’s operational plan (sometimes referred to as a department business plan). Generally speaking, it’s more tactical and operational in nature than the high-level government strategic plan. The work plan typically covers only 1-2 years of the strategic plan, and is linked to the budget directly, so it can be more concrete and restrictive than the strategic plan.

Ideally, city divisions and departments would have formal strategic plans in place, but most operate off their work plans and the planning process around them. A good work plan outlines each department’s responsibilities in relation to the strategic plan, including:

  • Department mission statement
  • Goals and measures
  • Mandatory initiatives (e.g. legal requirements)
  • Projects and initiatives to improve performance
  • Budget and resource allocations
  • Core competencies and developments in human resources within the department

Depending on the size of a city’s division, it might be necessary to break down a work plan by department, service area, or program. If “sub-work plans” are created, they must roll up to the department’s larger work plan, which will then roll up to the overarching government strategic plan. It’s a cascading effect and all plans should link to each other.

It’s important for the work plan to align with the city-wide strategic plan. For example, if the city has a larger goal to develop transit infrastructure that supports population growth, the Public Works division will have more granular goals and metrics. It might have goals around traffic speed during rush hour and metrics related to road maintenance.

How should government strategic plans and work plans be linked?

Regardless of where you start—whether you have work plans and need a strategic plan or vice versa—all plans should inform one another. They should connect, but do not have to be the same.

In other words, don’t fall into the trap of focusing on operational and tactical items during the government strategic planning process. Your strategic plan should include items that are top-level, forward-looking priorities. Operational initiatives and goals should be reserved for department work plans.

Your strategic plan should include items that are top-level, forward-looking priorities. Operational initiatives and goals should be reserved for department work plans. Click To Tweet

Let’s say a city wants to address a rise in criminal activity. The city’s strategic plan and the police force’s work plan may both have a goal around lowering the crime rate, but the work plan will include hard targets and details, while the strategic plan will have a broader goal to improve community safety.

Having both a strategic plan and work plans will help you create alignment across the city, as well as within departments. This also helps you gain buy-in from employees because they can see how their role and department connects to the larger, long-term vision.

A last word of advice is to be methodical with the government strategic planning process. Don’t try to create work plans and strategic plans at the same time as it will cause an overload of change management issues. Choose one to focus on first and you’ll be more successful. Most organizations build a strategic plan and then ask departments to align their key activities to this plan.

Download: City & State Government Strategy Maps