Strategic planning for individuals and families, Part 5

This is part of a series of articles, which may be found at the following links, and should be read in numerical sequence:

To recap, the basic strategic planning process we’re using is called P.O.S.T., standing for Purpose, Objectives, Strategy and Tactics.  It seeks to break down a big problem into manageable tasks.  (Old African proverb:  “How do you eat an elephant?  Mouthful by mouthful!”)  In brief:

  • The Purpose is our overall aim, what we’re trying to achieve in broad terms.  It should be summarized in a single sentence.
  • The Objective(s) are the things we need to accomplish in order to achieve our Purpose.
  • The Strategy(ies) are how we’re going to accomplish a particular Objective.
  • The Tactic(s) are what we’re going to do to implement a particular Strategy.

In Part 4, we also discussed the S.W.O.T. process;  an analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  This is a ‘reality check’ for the plan developed using P.O.S.T., to ensure it’s viable and achievable.  The two processes operate hand in glove to develop a workable plan.

Today we want to discuss strategies and tactics.  There are many time-honored explanations of the difference between the two, but basically, strategies describe what you need to do.  Tactics explain how you’re going to do it.  (When I underwent officer training in South Africa’s military, many years ago, it was explained to me tongue-in-cheek in these terms:  “You’re interested in a pretty girl.  You dress nicely, clean your car, pick her up on time, take her to a quality restaurant, buy her a good meal, and make pleasant conversation.  After the meal you take a scenic drive around the mountain and park in a pretty, secluded spot overlooking a lovely view of the sea.  All that is strategy.  What happens from then on is tactics!”)

Let’s illustrate the process by taking an objective and develop strategies and tactics to implement it.  In Part 2 of this series of articles, we looked at goals – i.e. objectives – that a family might set for itself.  One was:  “Build up reserves of food and other necessities sufficient to last our entire family for three months in the event of emergency.”  That might involve any or all of the following strategies:

  • Find out what we are currently buying in the way of food every month, to determine our family’s consumption.
  • Make a list of foods we like and those we dislike, so that we don’t waste money buying something some or all of us don’t want to eat.
  • Decide what foods are essential (i.e. those providing adequate, balanced nutrition, etc.) and what are nice to have, but not essential (e.g. desserts, candy, and so on).  Bear in mind that ‘essential’ is a variable, depending on our family.  If we have young kids, candies and desserts might indeed be on the ‘essentials’ list, just to stop them complaining!  Adults can do without such things if they have to.
  • Plan how much of each type of food we need to store, in order to have three months’ worth on hand.
  • Figure out how much we can afford to spend each month, over and above our regular expenditure on food, to start building up our reserve.
  • Figure out how much space we have to store our reserve food supply, and whether it will be suitable for that purpose ‘as is’, or whether it needs to be better equipped (for example, with shelves).
  • Plan on what sorts of foods to buy in terms of the storage area available.  For example, if we’re going to store them in our garage, some foods will deteriorate faster in the heat or cold of that environment than they would in a climate-controlled area (e.g. our kitchen).  We should plan our purchases accordingly, buying what will be suitable for that storage environment.
  • Decide on the urgency of the requirement.  For example, if we live in an area prone to hurricanes, it’s probably a good idea to build up our reserve supply of food before the next hurricane season!  If we live somewhere that is less prone to natural disasters, we may be able to take longer to build up our reserve supply, spending less each month for the purpose.

Note that in all of these steps, we haven’t actually done anything yet to build up our reserve food supply.  We’ve made plans about how we’re going to do it, and identified things we need to do in order to achieve that objective.  That’s strategy.

Tactics is actually doing those things.  For each strategy, we’ll make a list of things we have to do in order to complete that task.  For example, one strategy above was:  “Figure out how much space we have to store our reserve food supply, and whether it will be suitable for that purpose ‘as is’, or whether it needs to be better equipped (for example, with shelves).”  To implement this, the following task list might be drawn up:

  • Measure the space available in kitchen storage units, in the garage, etc.  (Length, width, height, volume, etc. are all necessary and useful measurements.)
  • Measure the volume taken up by the foods we plan to store (cans, boxes, bags, etc.), so that we know how much space is required.
  • Buy shelves or shelving materials and install them in our food storage area, so that we have space to put away that volume of food.
  • Buy containers (e.g. trunks or totes) that we’ll use to store and protect our long-term food reserves.
  • Begin buying extra food as part of our regular weekly grocery shopping, and adding the extra to our emergency reserves.  (For example, buy two extra cans of beans, or an extra can of coffee, or an extra bag of rice, every week.  The additional expenditure won’t be so high as to hurt, but over time we’ll build up a useful surplus.)
  • If the need is urgent (for example, hurricane season is approaching) and funds are available, make a special shopping trip to build up our reserve food supply.
  • Note the expiration or ‘use by’ dates on each food container, and keep a record of them, so we can ‘rotate out’ older foods before they expire (either eating them ourselves, or donating them to the local food bank) and replace them with newer, longer-lasting products.

Those are all things we will actually do.  They’re ‘how’ to accomplish the ‘what’ that we described when developing our strategies.

Note that the circumstances of our lives may determine the feasibility of some of these steps.  It’s all very well to set an objective of having three months’ food in reserve;  but what if we’re living in a small apartment in a big city?  There simply isn’t enough space in such a residence to store that much food.  However, that does not mean we should abandon the objective.  It’s an important one, and I think everybody should be thinking about such preparations.  Instead, let’s modify how we achieve that objective by using different strategies.  For example:

  • Research different types of foods, to see how we can store the greatest food or nutritional value in the smallest physical space.  Examples include cans of ‘wet’ foods, freeze-dried foods, military-style field rations such as MRE’s, bags of dry food such as rice or beans, emergency survival rations, and so on.
  • Find out whether water will be available in an emergency (both in sufficient quantity, and of sufficient purity) to rehydrate dried beans, or boil rice, or mix with freeze-dried foods.  If we’re in a high-rise apartment, the answer is “Probably not” – when the power goes out, so will the water pumps!  That will influence our decision as to what type of foods to store (we may need to pay more attention to reserve water supplies as well).  ‘Wet’ canned foods or MRE’s are heavier and take up more space than some ‘dry’ alternatives, but they nevertheless become more attractive under such circumstances, as they need less water to prepare them.
  • Figure out whether you’ll be able to cook in an emergency.  If the power goes out for several days, you may not be able to heat water to prepare dry foods like rice or pasta, unless you have a backup device such as a gas BBQ grill or propane-fueled camping stove – even a fireplace.  (If you do, remember to store extra fuel supplies!)  However, many canned foods and MRE’s can be eaten without heating them at all.
  • Determine exactly how much storage space is available where you live.  If the answer is “Very little”, plan to store foods that will give you the maximum possible nutrition for the space they’ll take up.  Someone who has only a single drawer free in their kitchen, or even just a shoebox under their bed, might be best served with a few packages of emergency ration bars.  They may not taste great, but they provide all the nutrition needed in an emergency, in the smallest possible space.  (They also don’t need water or heat to prepare them.)
  • Find out whether more storage space is available near your home, but separate from it.  Some people have a small garden shed in which they store tools, a lawnmower, etc.  Could some boxes of foodstuffs be kept there too?  How about renting a small storage unit, perhaps as a joint venture with friends or family members, within walking distance of your home?  That way you could reach it relatively easily to retrieve more food in an emergency.  Consider asking friends or family whether you could move in with them in an emergency, and buy and store your own supplies with them (or contribute to their emergency reserve fund).
  • If worse should come to worst (see, for example, my “Lessons Learned” post about Hurricane Katrina in 2005), consider buying a small travel or cargo trailer and storing it somewhere safe.  You can keep emergency supplies in it, and take them with you if you have to leave town for the duration of the crisis.  However, the cost of buying and storing something like that might be high enough to justify moving to a larger residence instead – one with more storage space.  Consider all the alternatives.
  • Having taken all these factors into account, we may need to modify our objective in terms of what’s practically possible.  Instead of storing three months’ food reserves, we may have only enough storage space and budget to accumulate one months’ worth.  OK – if that’s the case, go with that short-term reality.  When the time comes that we can afford to move to a bigger or better home, we should make a larger food storage area one of the elements we’ll look for when deciding what to buy or rent.

Bear in mind, too, that strategies and tactics are just as subject to a ‘reality check’ as our purpose and objectives.  For that reason, once we’ve worked out our strategies, it’s worth running them through a S.W.O.T. analysis (see Part 4 of this series) to see if they pass muster.  If not, they can be modified, or abandoned and replaced with something more workable, before we invest time and money in trying to achieve the unachievable.  Indeed, if enough strategies prove impractical, it may call into question the objective they’re designed to achieve.  Fair enough – that’s what the planning process is all about.  If a higher-level objective is impossible to achieve, let’s modify or (in the worst case) abandon it.  Flexibility is important.

A given strategy may serve more than one objective, and a given tactic may implement more than one strategy.  For example:

  • A strategy of considering the space available to store food may also be applied to the space available to store clothes, or books, or tools, or other important elements in our lives.
  • A tactic of buying a couple of extra cans or bags of food every time we shop for groceries can also be applied to building up a reserve of hardware such as nails and screws, or ammunition, or whatever.  (For years I used to buy a box or two of .22 Long Rifle ammunition whenever I went grocery shopping, because many supermarkets also sell ammunition in their Sporting Goods departments.  By the time the ‘ammo drought‘ hit a few years ago, I was sitting pretty on top of a ‘stash’ of several tens of thousands of rounds of .22 ammunition.  I was able to use it to continue training disabled and handicapped students for a couple of years, at a time when most other shooters were going nuts trying to get their hands on some.  I’m now rebuilding my ‘stash’, since .22LR ammunition is once more relatively freely available – and I’ve long since made sure that I have enough defensive and training ammunition in my principle calibers and cartridges to see me through several years of normal consumption.)
  • A strategy of researching vehicle prices, financing options, etc. might also be used to investigate needs, options and opportunities peripheral to our objective of buying a new vehicle.  If we opt for a different method of paying for it (e.g. a smaller down payment, or financing it instead of paying cash), would that free up funds we can use for other important projects, such as our emergency food reserve?  Which is the more important need?  Can we kill two or more birds with one stone?

Tomorrow, in the final article in this series, we’ll examine a few peripheral issues and wrap up our discussion.


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