Strategic Planning Designed for Fact-Based Decision Making

Let’s say you have either acquired a company, won a new long-term professional opportunity, added a strategic hire, need to support growth or downsize to consolidate departments. Always short on time, what to do? How do you prove the need with analyses, tools and ultimately facilities recommendations that will be approved by senior leadership?

Strategic facilities planning provides a logical process and grounded information to help businesses prepare and ultimately make informed decisions to achieve an approved project and funding. While the lists of business and real estate drivers that can catalyze the need for a strategic plan are varied (see table below), the approach for developing a plan for how to address them can follow a pretty straightforward process.


That process, however, needs to be rooted in facts. Copying the latest trends or competitors’ solutions will not provide the most significant return on investment for a company’s unique culture. Using a process that is grounded in a variety of accurate inputs will help ensure that an organization has taken the appropriate steps towards fact-based decision making rather than relying on hunches or opinions. This, in turn, helps ensure that resources are wisely invested where they will have the greatest impact.

Layered Strategic Planning Process

The process starts with a project initiation phase that should be repeatable and result in planning requirements that are actionable and aid decision-making. The steps below should be accomplished in approximately eight weeks as long as there is a good foundation of information from which to work. This information includes real estate data, facilities information, roles and responsibilities, and a list of user group participants. Usually finalizing the participants and setting up the interviews can take a longer time than expected so it is best practice to have this in place prior to starting the clock.

  1. Data Gathering to Determine the Need (3 weeks)
  2. Data Analytics (2 weeks)
  3. Package Data (2 weeks)
  4. Present for Decision Making (1 week)

Data Gathering: Move from Reactive to Proactive

It can be helpful to think of strategic planning as a process of collecting data and information about both SUPPLY (the current assets of the organization) and DEMAND (the needs of the organization based on future projections and visioning) to make informed recommendations.

The first step involves understanding the current state (i.e., supply), including the current people, facilities portfolio, infrastructure and technology. This is the step that absolutely must be rooted in facts. Too often, this information comes from a number of sources with many missing data points. Creating a fact-based centralized database can help optimize knowledge of the assets portfolio. This database should be easy to access, analyze, and update by the Real Estate, Human Resource, IT Facilities, and Infrastructure departments. It’s important to identify key people within the organization who are in charge of providing this consistent data over time (monthly or quarterly). Developing definitions for each data type used can help ensure the data is worth using for strategic decision making.

Fact-Based Data: Current Business Unit Headcount, Workflow and Occupancy

Gathering current headcount numbers by department is always a mystery. It is amazing that people get paid and mail gets delivered, yet the headcount reports are always questioned and often times wrong. Since the business unit or departments’ current headcount, occupancy (Where do people sit? Where is their assigned space?  Any unassigned seats or vacancies?), workflow, adjacencies and culture forms the basis of the future projections and analyses it is important to get it right. Traditionally, this data came from interviews of key stakeholders from Departments, HR, IT and Real Estate, but more and more data is analyzed through computational and predictive processes that incorporate human and computer means. Utilizing a consistent, accurate source to obtain this data prevents headcount from becoming an ambiguous but ubiquitous conversation throughout the interview process that results in inaccurate numbers and a need to repeat steps.

Fact-Based Data: Current Facilities Information

The current facilities portfolio should comprise the key data points listed below:

  1. Characteristics – Age, Area, # of Floors, recent renovations, occupancy
  2. Condition – Rate on a scale of investment (1-3 years, 3-5 years, > 5 years), Capital spent vs Value of building
  3. Capacity – Utilization v Use, Design Capacity v Actual Use, Retrofit capabilities
  4. Current Practices – Understand the workplace standards, space allocation, assignment of space, quality of space.

This data should be in the form of a relational database that is easily shared, linked to CAD drawing and updated and available for a project team to fully understand what is available to support the upcoming project. When time is of the essence, having the ability to quickly assess ones portfolio will allow for questions to be addressed and analysis to be based on trusted information.

Future Projections and Visioning

The fact-based measurement system (i.e., supply) should be balanced with concrete ideas and plans for the future (i.e., demand). Comparing these two sources of information will result in a robust gap analysis that will help to avoid inefficiencies, adjust occupancy based on new ways of working /living, correct utilization issues, support hiring and engaging the best talent and ultimately prove the need. To gather this input, one should speak to a diverse group of people who will provide different perspectives and inform a new way of fulfilling the project goals. This input should be used to develop multiple options or realms of possibility in which to discuss, evaluate and ultimately lead to the final output.  

Include in these discussions:

  • Organizational attributes that will attract a diverse workforce
  • Defining characteristics of the future workforce and example of how facilities might enable their success
  • Competitor intel
  • Definitions for buzz words such as flexibility, collaboration, teamwork, health and wellness.
  • Nuanced discussion of trends (avoiding the trap of implementing a trend just because it’s hot)
  • Prioritization of issues, their costs and their impact to people, O&M, Real Estate, etc.
  • Discussion of potential futures and how change would be supported in different scenarios

Presenting Key Findings to Leadership

There shouldn’t be one size or one solution fits all when developing analyses for strategic facilities plans. Organizations need to review the gathered data to develop a variety of analyses, scenario plans and options. This review should lead to a preferred recommendation. Clearly communicating the logical and analytical thinking behind the recommendation will provide a strong basis for decision making. This will help to quickly gain trust and confidence in the presentation to an organization’s leadership committee.

The actual expectations of the presentation and discussions are individual to the wishes of the leadership committee. Gaining their trust and demonstrating the need and achievability of the project will be aided by the use of this strategic facilities planning process. A positive outcome from the committee will lead to the next step of developing a more detailed approach to the project scope and conceptual design.