Strategic Planning Vs. Operational Planning: The 5 Main Differences

Is your strategic plan also functioning as your operational plan? That’s a problem—but both are necessary if you hope to achieve your goals.

Andy, Senior Product Manager, leverages his 7+ years of performance management experience to ensure that ClearPoint customers have the features they need in ClearPoint's strategic planning software.

Strategic planning and operational planning are both vital to an organization's success. Oftentimes, organizations use both terms to mean the same thing, but they shouldn't.

Are they the same? If not, what’s the difference? Do you need both? We hear these kinds of questions frequently. To help answer them, first we'll walk through the definition of each. Then, we'll walk through the main five differences between them.

In This Article

What Is A Strategic Plan?

A strategic plan outlines your mission, vision, and high-level goals for the next three to five years. It also takes into account how you’ll measure those goals, and the major projects you’ll take on to meet them.

What Is An Operational Plan?

An operational plan (also known as a work plan) is a highly detailed outline of what your department will focus on for the near future—usually the upcoming year. The plan will answer questions - who, what, when, and how much - regarding daily or weekly tasks.

strategic plan vs operational plan definition

Simply put, your strategic plan shares your vision for the future, while your operational plan lays out how you’ll get there on a daily to weekly basis.

Both concepts describe your company's plans for the future, but in different contexts. Below we've called out five major differences between them that you can use as guideposts to ensure you're using these two concepts the right way.

Strategic Planning Vs. Operational Planning: The 5 Main Differences

1. Time Period

Your strategic plan outlines long-term goals for the next three to five years. What you’ll be doing to achieve those goals in the shorter term (typically the next fiscal year) is outlined in your operational plan.

2. Goal Focus

The goal of your strategic plan is to outline the company’s long-term vision and how all departments should work together to achieve it.

The goal of your operational plan isn’t company-focused—it is department-focused. There can be overlap between departments, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Large departments may require multiple operational plans.

3. Plan Generation

Your organization’s high-level leadership team—the executive team or city council, for instance—is responsible for creating the strategic plan. Once it’s created, the strategic plan will be pushed forward by cross-functional teams who work together to ensure the strategy is successful.

Nine out of 10 organizations fail to execute their strategic plan. Set your organization up for strategic success with this toolkit.

Every department should have a leader or team of leaders responsible for creating their operational plan. Although each operational plan is designed for a single department, its successful implementation will lead to organization-wide success. For example, your marketing team has a set of activities they use to increase visibility. These activities should translate to more sales opportunities and ultimately more revenue for the organization (both of which could be goals in your strategic plan).

Having the right people in the room no matter what type of planning you are doing is key. This is especially true if your organization ever needs to adjust their strategic or operational plans because of an unexpected change in the operating environment.

4. Budget

The budget for your strategic plan comes from your strategic budget, not your operational budget. Your organization may implement a Strat-Ex budget that aligns part of your budget directly to your strategic projects or initiatives. This is a different approach than putting a budget against each of your divisions or departments.

The budget for your operational plan comes from your department’s annual budget. If your annual department budget needs to be cut, consider which elements don’t align to your strategic plan and cut those first. For example, if your strategic plan defines a marketing goal of establishing a strong online presence, your trade show budget should receive budget cuts before blog writing does.

5. Reporting

When you report on your strategic plan (typically both annually and quarterly), your strategic planning committee or executive team will want to look at how your company is performing on its chosen measures. Depending on the meeting, these discussions should remain fairly high-level so you don’t get bogged down on details.

Your operational reports, on the other hand, outline hundreds of projects or tasks people in the department are working on. Monthly operational reporting meetings give the leadership—and the rest of the department—an indication of each project’s status.

Unlike your strategic report, updates on operational projects can be anecdotal or qualitative (as it’s often difficult to quantify actions that aren’t tied to measures). Some organizations have a running text commentary either in an Excel field or a Word document. This commentary is updated weekly or monthly, even if there are no direct measures for that part of the operational plan.

5 main differences in strategic plan vs operational plan

Understanding strategic planning vs. operational planning doesn’t mean you choose between them!

To be a strategy-focused company, you need a strategic plan and departmental operational plans. If you’re sighing and thinking, “Great, one more thing I have to start doing…”, hold up! Most departments have some form of operational work plans in place already. So you shouldn’t need to start from scratch; simply put your current plan into a framework or format that helps you perform at a higher level.

Similarly, if your company doesn’t have a fully fleshed-out strategic plan, we have you covered. By the time you’ve filled out this free toolkit, you’ll have a change agenda ready and a strategy map created—complete with your top-priority goals! Download it below.


Make sure you have an advanced strategic plan for your company with this Strategic Plan Dashboard

The best strategic plans have clear goals, key metrics to track the goals, and smart initiatives to help meet these goals.

A strategic plan focuses on long-term goals. Operational plans focus on how you’re going to make your long-term goals happen. Operational plans focus on day-to-day work and goals.

Your strategic plan lists your long-term goals. When your organization is looking to talk about goals that will take longer than a year to achieve, you need to create a strategic plan. Once you’ve created a strategic plan, then you can create and use operational plans to dictate how you will meet your goals.

Your operational plan dictates what your team will focus on within the near future to help you meet your strategic goals. Operational plans include your daily and weekly tasks.
A strategic plan is your organization’s long-term goals and highlights how you want to grow in specific categories. The strategic plan lists objectives and goals for each area your company would like to grow, and lists initiatives the organization will take to meet their goals.
Strategic Planning Vs. Operational Planning: The 5 Main Differences