A Plan Versus a Strategy: Is There a Difference?

Topics: planning, Strategy

A Plan and a strategy is vital to successOften times, the words “plan” and “strategy” are used interchangeably. The meanings of the words are quiet similar; a method for achieving an end. However, there are strong differences between these words as well. A plan is an arrangement, a pattern, a program, or a scheme for a definite purpose. A plan is very concrete in nature and doesn’t allow for deviation. If “Plan A” doesn’t work, you don’t alter “Plan A” and try again. Rather, you move to “Plan B;” something totally different.

A strategy, on the other hand, is a blueprint, layout, design, or idea used to accomplish a specific goal. A strategy is very flexible and open for adaptation and change when needed.

I recently heard a great example of the difference between a plan and a strategy, using sports. This example serves to illustrate the difference between a soccer team’s plan or strategy to score a goal.

A soccer team with a plan to score a goal might begin with a throw-in to another specific player. The ball would then be passed to a designated offensive player who would then be responsible for shooting the ball into the goal. The succession of moves would be deliberate and would not be adjusted when risks or obstacles to the plan were presented.

A soccer team with a strategy to score a goal might also begin a play with a throw-in one of a few different teammates. The main idea would then be to move the ball forward and pass to open offensive players who would then shoot the ball at the goal. The succession of moves would be open for adaptation and change if the ball were intercepted or if other players were open for receiving the ball.

When planning for the future, which is undeniably unknown, it helps to strategize and consider the various scenarios you might be faced with and be prepared to modify your strategy so you can keep moving forward, rather than starting over at the beginning.

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18 Responses to “A Plan Versus a Strategy: Is There a Difference?”

  1. Haneefuddin Syed says:

    Well said..! per my understanding ..a plan will have a designed road map from point A to point B with “known/identified” obstacles. However, a Strategy is a flexible plan “method for achieving an end” with unknown obstacles and identified ways to overcome.

    Please let me know if I got that right.

  2. jon says:

    I come up with better definitions for words as a hobby. (I am an aspiring writer- that explains it) The difference between planning and strategizing intrigued me. This is what I came up with, that satisfied me. Both are a set of pre-decided upon actions to accomplish a goal. However, a plan is for a specific, one-time event. A strategy is for something that you think will occur repeatedly.

    For example, you come up with a strategy to deal with stress. You might employ this strategy every day of your life. However, you will come up with a plan to win the game. Your plan might consist of several strategies you have employed before. But this group of strategies and actions, is what makes up your plan for this one specific game.

    Sometimes, if a plan works well, you might repackage it as a “strategy.” So, lets say you develop a plan to get an attractive woman- debbie- out on a date. You buy her flowers, compliment her, and ask her out. This was your plan, and it worked. Now, the next time you want to get a different girl to go out on a date, you use the same plan that you used on Debbie. It then becomes a strategy.

    I hope this cleared it up for you guys, because it sure cleared it up for me. Jonathan A. Jones.

  3. seema says:

    hello jon,
    thank you so much for your clarifying the difference between planning and strategy. it had helped me a lot.

  4. ajay says:

    i highly disagree with all the things posted into this page until now, from main article to comments. (although at start i was wondering but as i think more, i found it wrong).
    a strategy is actually a part of plan (so apart from this, these 2 things r different and so can’t be compared). A plan might have many more things other than strategy. A plan that only (or mainly) contain strategy can be called strategic plan (this is the reason for using strategy and plan synonymously sometimes).

  5. Gajanan M says:

    Hi,
    I think the clear diffrence would be: strategy is dynamic in nature where as plan is static.
    A plan is something like Reaching from point A to B via C as it is predecided and fixed (Purpose is defined and finalised) where as strategy is something like Reaching point B with a purpose earlier or with less energy consumption etc. that is keeping a purpose here routs may change (IF C is closed try D or E whichever seems profitable)

  6. John K. says:

    A chess player has to use strategy and planning and it is very important to know the subtle difference between the 2 words.

    Chess strategy involves considering all your options, then formulating a plan based on the assessment.

    Strategy must be used when you have many options to consider. When you decide what to do, then it becomes a plan. For eg, do I give up my knight or bishop, play to open a file for my rooks? Find a good square for my queen, is my king safe = strategy.

    Using the above I can come up with a plan, Plan A to defend my king. But I could have chosen to open a file, Plan B for my rooks, or plan C, interplay between bishops and knights.

    You notice I use A and B etc, in order to prioritise that which is more important.

    And that is planning and strategy as I see it.

  7. Vince says:

    To a degree I agree with the article on the difference between plan and strategy.
    One of the definitions of ‘strategy’ in a dictionary is this: “a plan, a method, or series of maneuvres for obtaining a specific goal or result”. In this sense a strategy is designed like a plan as it shows the route from A to B (the goal).

    However I would use the word “strategic” when it’s a long term “plan” or vision. I think that’s where the term strategic planning comes from (i.e. plan for the long term). By nature long term future cannot be accurately predicted therefore a strategy is the high level trajectory whereas a plan is a set of clearly defined steps to be executed.

  8. Abdul fattah solangi says:

    well narrated!

  9. naeem abbas says:

    This question was asked me in an interview. I said that the means of pursuing goals is called strategy.

  10. Yathiesh says:

    I Guess The Explaination in the main article is clear

    As Per My understanding Plan – has Definite Resources , Definite Path and Assumed Obstacles (Risk ) to Reach the Goal .

    Startegy on the other hand is how you use the resouces and Manaqe the Obstacles to Reach the Goal – Successfully , with less problems .

    So Strategy is input to plan .

  11. joyce kasuva says:

    the article is so important especial to the university student

  12. Strategy is best understood by “Game theory” concepts. It takes place when you concern “Opponent Moves” in your moves. The difference between Strategy and Plan is the reason why scientists don’t understand politicians. In a given situation there’s always some specified good plans despite of who are the competitors, but when developing a strategy, you should know your competitors and the way they think. It is not just about right and wrongs. So, plans are the same with any opponent, but strategies are different when players change.

  13. Chikku Anto says:

    plan will be the output of strategising. As Dr. Yousef said, when we strategise , we consider our objectives and road blocks. Then we do make the actual plan for reaching our goal. we can say plan is physical output of a conceptual strategy.

  14. melfromalice says:

    I think that the only difference between a plan and a strategy is that a strategy involves overcoming an adversary where a plan does not. ie: I plan for my retirement, but I have a strategy for playing blackjack. When my retirement plan requires adjusting, I certainly do not come up with a completely new plan B.

  15. Abdullah Fahim Nabizada says:

    Strategy is choosing between different alternative to get your objective.
    Plan is how you use the chosen alternative to achieve your objective.

    As an instance; If your objective is to get a house. now to obtain your objective you have to choose an alternative like to get a house you can build a new one, you can buy from your friend, you can got to some consultants, or you buy and old house and refurnish that. So choosing between these alternative is Strategy.

    Now lets suppose I chose to build a house. Now in order to build the what do I need, where can I get from, how much do I need and how to build it is called my Plan.

    Strategy comes before the plan.

  16. Faraz says:

    Strategy is a long term planning which enables you how to compete within your macro and micro enviornment.

    Planning, on the other hand, is the best use of resources to achieve the objectives in accordance with the strategy.

    Planning may be short term.

  17. Geoffrey.Nsaale says:

    A plan is what to do (Rigid/strict approach)
    A strategy is how to do (allows for adaptive way)

  18. Rob says:

    Why or why would you not vary a plan if it didn’t work?
    A strategy comprises decisions and the rationale, outcomes and expectations aligned with Mission and Vision. A plan is the process through which the strategy is implemented. It would be ‘played’ as written initially, but all plans should involve feedback loops, analysis and adjustments. Surely this is ‘learning?’

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