Some interesting notions around these have been raised during the campaign. Let me tell you how we do things and why it’s the best approach.
Those who have been through the exercise know there are many approaches to developing an organization’s mission and vision. I’ve been through some extremes. Some I’ve been involved in tried to address so many stakeholders and values that they resulted in an overly broad and unfocused corporate buzzword salad. I prefer those that are short, sweet, and to the point. They are particularly well suited to an organization such as ours. They need to be easily grasped, remembered, and articulated so that even casual, intermittent volunteers know exactly what we are about. We don’t need elaborate statements of values and principles because those are already in the party’s platform.
The best mission statements are laser focused on a single, overriding mission. They succinctly and clearly state the organization’s reason for being and serve as the prime motivation for every activity. Our mission statement is:
To elect Democratic leaders to champion Democratic values of equal opportunity, justice, and support of the common good in Collin County, Texas, and the nation.
The litmus test for every decision – “Does this help us elect Democrats? Does this either directly or indirectly bring us more votes, candidates, volunteers, or money?”
A vision statement describes the state of reality when the mission is fulfilled. Microsoft had one of the best – “A Windows computer on every desktop”. Our vision statement is:
A solidly Democratic majority in Collin County
In regard to planning, I led three separate rounds of strategic planning under my three predecessors. The plans helped our focus for a while, but the only lasting thing they gave us was a mission statement that we could have gotten from a dictionary – “A political party is defined as an organized group of people with at least roughly similar political aims and opinions, that seeks to influence public policy by getting its candidates elected to public office.”
As we attempted to execute those plans we frequently found that they became obsolete very quickly. It’s often said that a year is a lifetime in politics. A five year planning horizon is an eternity. Longer term plans can sometimes work in other organizations. They are particularly problematic for a county political party:
- External influences – Both in terms of opportunities and threats in a traditional SWOT analysis (internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats) we are extremely subject to outside influences such as the national and state political situations. And these factors are very hard to predict, even for experts. Who would have thought two years ago that we would have the current President? And think of how much that has changed the political landscape!
- Highly variable labor – We are entirely dependent on volunteers at present. Volunteer engagement, including candidate recruitment, rises and falls dependent outside factors. A big win tends to make everyone think we’re successful and they disengage. On the other hand a big loss, depending on its nature, can be a big motivation for volunteers to get engaged.
- Variable funding – Just like volunteers, donors tend to give or keep their wallets shut dependent largely on the overall political climate, not just what the county party is doing.
In response we have adapted the model that has become standard practice in software development. In traditional software projects a new system is completely specified starting with user requirements, then designed, then developed, then tested, and finally installed – all over a period of months or years. But in the time that it takes to develop a system the user requirements, ways of doing business, or market often change – making the software somewhat obsolete even before it’s finished. This type of planning is not well suited to adapting to requirements as they change, or to changes in labor or funding. The prevailing approach has turned to something called “Agile” software development. The core of this approach is planning cycles that last weeks instead of months or years – sometimes as short as one or two weeks. This allows rapid evaluation of whether or not a system meets user or market demands, and allows for rapid evolution and change. It also avoids locking up either labor or funds for a long period of time and preventing work on projects that might become higher priority.
We basically plan now in repeated 9 month and 15 month cycles. From April through December of even years we are focused on the general election and its aftermath. From January through March of the following year (after county and Senate District conventions) we are focused on off-year activities such as building the base, recruiting and training candidates, organizational improvements, and running the Primary Election. And of course, several longer term goals and initiatives get carried over from one planning cycle to the next, and in doing so they are adapted to fit the overall goals of the current period and evolving circumstances.
In many very important ways doing longer term strategic planning would actually be taking us backward, back to something we tried that didn’t work very well. The current approach is giving us much better results, and that’s what matters.