OSMF Learning Strategic Planning

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OSMF Strategic Plan - 2023 Cycle

Introduction to the OSMF Strategic Plan

The Open Street Map Foundation has agreed to create and implement a strategic plan for the organisation. The purpose of such a plan is to collectively define the goals of the OSMF and to create a generally agreed plan to achieve those goals.

Without a plan, members of an organisation will typically not have a united view on where it is headed and the organisation will wander aimlessly without priorities, pushed by ad-hoc pressures and strong personalities in a random walk into the future. This non-planning actually has a name - it is called muddling through - and it is a common business practice in tiny family owned firms with no hierarchy. In larger organisations the process of 'muddling through' is poisonous. It leads to internal schisms, paralysis or failure (death).

The OSMF has grown from small roots and for a while was adequately managed by a small team of friends. The organisation is now of global impact and it has become complex and a lot of work and responsibility for the volunteers who run it. A strategic plan is an important management tool for co-ordination and efficient implementation of work processes performed by a lot of people. There is as yet no decision on moving to a business-like model, but a strategic plan will greatly assist that process if it happens.

A Strategic Plan is also used as a demonstration of competence and clarity of purpose. This reputational asset is an important input for many donor organisations who wish to make sure that their contributions will be deployed in an efficient, effective manner. They seek, in a common phrase, maximum 'Bang for their buck', and a good plan will give them that assurance.

About Strategic Planning

As background, strategic planning is now primarily a business tool for Boards and senior management, but it has military roots. The word strategy comes from ancient Greek from στρατός (army) + ἄγω (I lead) and strategic thinking was originally about how to win wars. Sun Tzu’s "The Art of War" written in China in about 400BC was the first notable strategic manual. More recently Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian General wrote "On War" which was also very influential. Both authors stress concentration on a goal, good information and carefully structured minimal implementation. We will reflect on this later.

The task of strategic planning involves detaching yourself from the daily distraction of the inner workings of your organization and looking at it from much further away, so you can see the much bigger picture. You need to ask yourself: where is my organization headed? What should its priorities be? The usual statements emerging from this thought process are three main elements.

  1. What do we want to achieve?
  2. What is our purpose?
  3. How are we going to get there?

These three very important elements are respectively named, the Vision, the Mission and the Plan. Discussion on each follows below. In addition, supporting processes will look at information gathering and a reflection on organisational ethics. The information and ethical guidelines help us in choosing a preferred path to the future achievement of our goals.

Our Vision

The Vision is an answer to the question - What do we want to achieve?

Our Mission

The Mission statement is an answer to the question - What is our purpose?

Our Plan

What are we going to do? Ultimately a plan is a complex form of a 'Things to do' list, but every 'Thing to do' in the plan is carefully structured and well informed. The purpose of all the extra information added to Tasks is to ensure completed implementation. So the plan is not a 'Wish list', but an implementable programme of many projects.

Value and ethics

Ethics are a way of thinking about 'How' we do things. There are many options. Looking at it simplistically we can 'Play nice' or we can fight, lie, cheat and hurt. Issues around Gender, Minorities, Bullying, Deception, Abuse are considered here. Also, we can review and confirm our our commitment to climate change, to truth and to the 'on-the-ground' test for geographical facts. We consider and confirm our approach to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). We probably agree to avoid politics, religion and nationality in our approaches. These ethical agreements will cascade down to the way we implement the Strategies and Tasks in our plan.

An important part of a strategic plan is an institutional Values Statement. At this time OSMF institutional values are part of the culture, and emerge when discussing chat group moderation or gender issues or personnel matters, but the values are not actually written down. There may be no time in the 2023 cycle to capture values, but it is flagged for a future cycle.

Environmental factors

Where are we situated?

This section is about the operating environment, sometimes called the business environment. It is traditionally done as a SWOT analysis, which is a tool to look at the way things work (or don't) within the organisation, as well as what in the outside world is impacting on OSMF, either in a good way or in a bad way.

Within the organisation identify the things that are good that help us to achieve our goals. These are our Strengths. Also identify the things that are bad and are blocking us from achieving our goals. Those are our Weaknesses.

Outside the organisation, do the same thing. What out there is helping us to achieve our goals? Those are Opportunities. And what out there is obstructing, preventing or blocking us from achievement. Those are the Threats.

There may be no time in the 2023 planning cycle to capture these important internal and external influences on OSMF. But environmental forces are important, make a big difference to our plan and must be recognised. The environmental forces are flagged for capture in a future planning cycle

Strategic Plans and Trees

Strategic plans are hierarchical, or tree structured. The tree is however normally represented upside down! At top, the stem of the tree is the Mission. That is implemented through several top level strategies which break the work into major branches. In this plan we call those branches Strategy Clusters. Each Strategy cluster is implemented through a branching network of 2nd Level Strategies (which we call Strategies). At the lowest and 3rd level, corresponding to the twigs and leaves in a tree, there are the Tasks, which are manageable, well structured, implementable work packages.

Different planners use different terms for the layers. Some say Mission, Goals, Strategy, Objectives, Tactics. There are other variations. The names don't matter much, but the hierarchical structuring is common to all systems.

Cluster Strategies - Top level

Typically there are not many Cluster Strategies in a plan. The top level is about the big groups of things you will do to move towards the organisational goals as stated in the Vision and Mission. It does not go into detail, but serves as a clustering level to sort activities into groups of a similar type.

In a big organisation the top level strategies will often match senior Director's portfolios. Businesses may have clustering strategies for Operations, Research, Marketing, Finance, Support services and Organisational Development. Non-profits like OSMF will be slightly different, and we have 4 Cluster Strategies.

Strategies - Second Level

The second level strategies are the unpacked, more detailed statements of the many items that make up the first level Cluster Strategies. They look somewhat like task families or large programmes, but they are too complex and multi-threaded to be implemented as a task. They are a useful grouping device, and as such, in business will often correspond to a department or general office that carries out many different tasks.

Tasks - Third Level


Tasks are work packages which can reasonably be given to a person or group with the expectation that they will generally be able to do the work as described in the time specified and within the budget allowed.

Because project management is data driven, tasks are burdened with a lot of extra data made up of attributes that will both guide the implementer and provide feedback to the management. In the case of OSMF projects, the implementer is typically a person and the management with oversight of the task will probably be a Working Group, Special Committee or sometimes the Board.

Task attributes

Probably the best way to illustrate the data attributes needed to properly project manage a Task is to provide an example of a simple task. One small task is presented in a text paragraph.

Task 314159: Bicycle Shed: To build a wooden bicycle shed, measuring 4m by 6m and 2.5m high, painted Black, to the rear of the new Reactor Building. Plans will be provided by the Architect. The budget is $7050. The work should start before 3 March 2023 and end by 1 October 2023. The leading project implementer will be Jane Parkinson. The Board requests Ms. Parkinson to provide a project implementation plan by 1 February 2023. Thereafter, monthly reports to the Board will detail funds committed, funds spent and funds remaining as well as construction progress and an indication of any existing or expected variations in the planned rate of construction progress. Contractor appointments must be done through the Procurement Dept. and all appointments must be approved by the Head of Procurement.

That short paragraph is loaded with all of the following data:

  • Task Reference
  • Task Title
  • Task Description
  • Work specification
  • Funds allocated
  • Funds used to date
  • Person responsible for implementation
  • Management responsible
  • Project earliest start date
  • Project latest end date
  • Project Percent Complete
  • Interim deliverables
  • Final deliverable

These many attributes are necessary to proper implementation and oversight of the project. Others can be added, like Outcome or Value connection, but at this time we want to avoid too much potentially confusing detail.

A project manager can draw on these attributes to answer a large number of questions about the ongoing implementation of the project and can prepare summaries for the responsible management structure. Management typically wants to know; Is the project on time? Is the project on budget?