An executive summary acts as a preface to a strategic plan report. And just like the preface of a book, the executive summary of a strategic plan gives the reader a quick view of what all information is contained in the report and what is the prime objective of the strategic plan. Most people are confused about what should be written first–the complete report or the executive summary. Ideally, a crisp and more informative summary can be written only after the report is complete.
Writing an Effective Executive Summary
How do you begin the executive summary? Strategic planning reports must be written keeping in mind the audience that is going to read and use it. Most of the information needed for the executive summary should come from the conclusion of the strategic plan report.
The summary should be no more than 10% of the total length of the report, and should not contain unnecessary procedural details or detailed financial plans. Here are some more tips on preparing a compelling executive summary for a strategic plan.
- Crisp and Compelling: A good summary should be clear, crisp and concise. Since the length of the summary cannot be too long, the right language is of utmost importance, in order to convey the true essence of the strategic plan. The unique aspects or solutions that the strategic plan proposes must feature in the summary, while all procedural details are best kept out of the executive summary. An executive summary for a strategic plan is not a literary piece and thus it has no room for abstract and conceptual information. Still, it must be written in a style that inspires and grabs attention while being direct and specific.
- The Main Issue: The summary must specifically address the main issues that the plan tries to solve or the opportunities that it tries to exploit. The objective or the proposition being made should be clearly mentioned in the executive summary. What is it that your strategic plan is trying to achieve–does it propose an increase in revenue or a cost cutting measure? If it is targeted toward increasing efficiency or some kind of expansion, that should become evident in the opening paragraph itself.
- The Proposed Solutions: The summary should concretely talk about the solution or the strategy being proposed to address an issue or utilize an opportunity, respectively. The solution must be specific, direct, and easily comprehensible.
- The Edge Factor: The executive summary is just like a sales pitch for your strategic plan, and unless the summary talks about the competitive edge that the plan will bring in, it is not likely to get the desired response from the people to whom the plan is presented. It must clearly elucidate the unique competitive advantage that the solution or the strategy strives to achieve.
- The Formatting: The facts and figures associated with the strategic plan must be highlighted with bold fonts, italics, or underlines, to allow quick “scan-ability” for easy reference. For a reader it’s easier to scan information when it is presented in the form of bulleted and numbered lists than in the form of long paragraphs.
Below we will detail what goes into the executive summary of a strategic plan. This information can serve as a template to create an effective summary.
The Fine Points
Here is a list of the main information that must go into the executive summary.
- Company/Department/Project Name: The heading on the executive summary must carry the name of the organization and the department or the project for which the strategic plan has been made. A short phrase or sentence on the specific area that a strategic plan is designed for can be mentioned just beneath the title in brackets. For instance if a marketing strategy plan focuses on setting up a new creative designing wing it can be mentioned under the title as: (Set-up of the Creative Designing Department).
- An Introduction: The introduction should be short–no longer than one paragraph, and it must talk about the objective as well as the proposed solutions. The introduction should give a brief idea about what the objective is, what the plan proposes, and how the particular plan provides the best solution. Your executive summary is the sales pitch for your strategic plan that follows; the introduction should work as a sales pitch for the executive summary.
- Objective of the Plan: A crisp and clear statement or two, describing the basic objective of the strategic plan, must follow the introduction. When the plan has more than one objective it is best to use bulleted or numbered lists.
- Risks and Opportunities: A brief summary of the opportunities that the strategic plan aims to cash in on and the threats that the plan is likely to face. It can also include information on influencing factors that will have some significant effect on the implementation of the plan–whether it is positive or negative.
- The Solution: For this part of the summary you will get most of the information from the concluding pages of the strategic plan. The solutions or the strategies should be put up in point form.
- Resource Details: This should contain a brief list of all the physical as well financial resources that will be needed or utilized at the time of implementation of the strategic plan. There is no need for the minute details and only the significant resources should figure in this list.
- The Management Team: The final element of the executive summary of a strategic plan should be the list of core team members who will be associated with the implementation of the strategic plan. Also it must contain a brief account of which team members will be responsible for the implementation of the critical tasks. If space permits the previous accomplishments of the core team members can be mentioned in brief, as this helps in building credibility about the success of the strategic plan.
An executive summary is mostly intended for managers or executives who may not have ample time to read through the entire strategic plan report, especially if the report is a long one. And even though the summary has to be crisp and concise, it should not compromise on the accuracy and the completeness of the information it carries about the strategic plan.