Strategic planning and environmental scanning in German industrial SMEs

  • Ferhat Eryurt

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Understanding the surrounding business environment is essential for each firm to develop a strategy and sustain competitive advantage. Scanning and analysing the environment to derive meaningful insights for strategic planning is an important task that enables a company to anticipate changes and take effective measures to tackle challenges or exploit opportunities. Whereas large companies can afford to dedicate resources and attention to this task, the situation for SMEs (Small Medium Enterprises) is different due to their inherent characteristics. This thesis aims to explore the strategic planning practice and the environmental scanning in industrial SMEs in Germany from a practice-based view with a semi-structured interview approach. Because of their inherent characteristics of size and organisation, a limited number of individuals have a dominant influence on the direction of the SME organisation. For the empirical research, ten interviews with SME executives have been undertaken. Data saturation was reached with purposive sampling and inductive analysis of the interviews. As a final stage, the results were validated with a focus group consisting of executives from the SME sector and two expert interviews. This approach aimed to create validation of interview outcomes and gain a more comprehensive view of the research subject. The SME sector in Germany has been chosen as environmental scanning is not without a context, and the scope and practice of scanning are assumed to be similar for companies with comparable business requirements. Moreover, the research results of this thesis shall provide additional insights into the German Mittelstand (German for SME sector).
The study results suggest that SMEs follow an emergent approach towards strategic planning in which the process needs to be adapted according to the available resources. In its nature, strategic planning is used for target setting purposes and the planning of functional strategies. This study shows that environmental scanning during the strategic planning task is driven by marketing & sales with more focus on the operational developments about the customer relationship. The customers play a central role in the way how strategic planning is approached and deployed, which can have an adverse impact on the discovery of new strategic opportunities. The major contribution of this research to theory is a theoretical model which adapts to the SME inherent characteristics and the emergent approach to strategic planning and environmental scanning. The contribution to practice includes recommendations for broader inclusion of the SME organisation into strategic planning and a clear view on strategic intent and purpose of the strategic planning exercise.
Date of AwardApr 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorAshraf Labib (Supervisor) & Daniel Simonovich (Supervisor)

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