Strategic planning is a process exercise where it is important to
gather whatever strategic collateral the rest of the company has
generated to understand what the CEO and board hope to do in the future
through the enterprise-level strategy to see the priorities of the
business units and functional heads through their divisional strategies.
When speaking to executives, it is important to ask business rather
than technology questions, as you do not want to devolve into a
conversation about solutions they want. They should be encouraged to
articulate how they see the world evolving, the opportunities that are
ahead, and the threats they foresee. This input from the rest of the
organization is the most important driver of IT strategy, but there are
other sources that are necessary. Most companies have a portfolio of
vendor partners that include infrastructure partners, software partners,
managed services partners, and staff augmentation partners. These
companies and individuals are also great sources of insight as they
likely serve a variety of companies in your industry among others.
Asking them how they see the business and technology evolving can
offer invaluable insights. Next, it is important to poll the company’s
customers. Now many IT departments don’t have adequate customer
touchpoints, which is a problem. It is essential that you and your team
get out into the field, however that might be defined in your setting.
Ask probing questions to find out what they think of your current
technology offering, but also how they might wish that it would evolve.
Ask them about how your technology compares to that of competitors.
These sessions are likely to identify new, strategic ideas that can
contribute to revenue growth, since it is those same customers who
purchase your company’s products and services.
IT leaders should also maintain a broader ecosystem of partners
including fellow IT executives, executive recruiters, and the venture
capital community. Fellow IT executives can offer relevant insights that
only a peer can provide. Executive recruiters can identify
organizational trends, skill trends, and how best to develop a talent
pipeline within and outside your company. Finally, venture capitalists
can help you understand where smart money is being invested and how you
can seize opportunities. With the inputs from each of those bodies taken
into consideration, IT has most of the inputs necessary to develop its
That said, well-organized IT departments will task different members
of the team itself, either full-time or part-time into investigating,
researching, and testing new technology. These are the people who will
constantly monitor “the art of the possible.” They should be involved in
the creation of the strategy as well. And they are likely to provide
insights that can be used. It may be useful to provide an example to
bring this to life a bit. Let’s say that your company has an
enterprise-level strategy, as most do, to grow revenue.
The CIO and his or her team should understand the sources of that
growth by going to the divisions of the company that are
revenue-generating, including marketing, sales, product and services
areas, and the like. Conversations with the executive teams of each of
those areas will yield inputs that you can begin to document using your
objectives, goals, tactics, and measures. Having members of your team
taking notes in these conversations and then returning to those same
executives with a better articulation of the plans should be a welcome
set of activities by the heads of those various divisions.
Through these various conversations, you may come to realize that
each of the revenue-centric divisions of the company plan on
contributing to the revenue goal through increased mobile advertising,
sales techniques, and products (for example), but IT doesn’t yet have
ample mobile talent and technology. This is an indication that IT must
formulate an IT objective along the lines of developing the mobile
architecture of the future. It should then work with vendors, customers,
the broader ecosystem, and within IT to develop the ideas that will
become the tactics to accomplish this objective.
By ensuring that the enterprise, divisional, and IT strategies are
connected in this way, IT can ensure that it is a profound source of
strategic value for the company. Creating an IT strategy is all well and
good, but how do you put it into action? How do you ensure that you are
making progress toward the destination implied by the strategy? Your
ally in this battle is structure. First, it is important that the IT
strategy have a cascading structure from higher level objectives to
finer tuned tactics. It is also important that there be key performance
indicators or metrics. That which gets measured gets done, after all.
Objectives, goals, tactics, and measures
For orientation purposes, the IT department should have somewhere
between four and seven objectives. You do not want too few, as that will
be too limiting. And you do not want too many, as that will work
against the focus that a good strategy should provide. Each
objective should have one or two goals. Again, too many, and you cannot
maintain the necessary focus. The tactics can be more plentiful, and
during the brainstorming phase, definitely err on the side of more
rather than fewer tactics.
After the list is finalized, the tactics should be prioritized. The
prioritization should be based on which will be pursued today, which are
likely to be pursued in the near term, which will be undertaken in the
medium term, which will be undertaken later, and which may or may not be
undertaken at all.
The same logic applies to measures. One or two should be the aim. The
project portfolio should drive the strategic plan forward, and the
strategy must be the driver of the projects and initiatives that the IT
team pursues. In fact, solid ideas that have a positive return on
investment should still not be pursued if they are not connected to the
Tactics and measures provide the best connection point for projects
or initiatives. Begin with the existing portfolio of IT projects. It is
likely that most projects will plot well. For those that do not, a
conversation should take place about whether they should be continued.
If the project is addressing a government regulation that was not
anticipated in the strategy, then it should continue. There are likely
to be a number of tactics that do not have projects associated with
them. That’s a good thing, and suggests that the brainstorming session
was more than simply an exercise in taking existing projects and
retrofitting a strategy that makes the case for them. These unmet
tactics are a great place to begin when dreaming up new projects during
the next budgeting cycle.
It’s important to weigh the degree to which the projects accomplish
what is suggested by the tactics and measures. “High” suggests that the
tactic and measure will be fully met. A “low” designation suggests that
it will contribute to accomplishing each, but it will be a small
contribution. No surprise that the “medium” designation suggests the
contribution will be somewhere in the middle. For those tactics and
measures that only have projects that support them to a low or medium
degree, it’s likely that additional projects will be needed and should
be brainstormed in order to accomplish them fully.
The IT strategy should be evaluated on at least an annual basis and,
naturally, tactics and measures will come and go more frequently than
objectives and goals will. There may be new tactics that come up
mid-year due to a change in economic outlook, a bold new product brought
to market by a competitor, or the acquisition or divestiture of a
business. By using the strategy as the starting point for the
development of projects and by monitoring how effectively the strategy
is being accomplished on a regular basis, IT will ensure that it
delivers on all that it promises.
You just created your IT strategy for the year ahead or for the
foreseeable future. Congratulations, but the hard work has only just
begun. The strategy is not worth the paper it is printed on if it’s not
implemented appropriately. Who is responsible for implementation? You?
Your direct reports? Certainly, leadership plays an important role, but
it needs to be everyone in IT from the individual contributors to the
vendor partners you have engaged; therefore, the first step in executing
a strategy is communicating it. What a simple step that might seem to
be. You have created this strategy, realized it in a PowerPoint, and
sent it off to the team, but do they understand it? Do they know which
aspects they are meant to drive? Emailing it is not enough. Doing so
only ensures that your team has received the strategy, but it does not
guarantee that they understand it and are ready to deliver against it.
It is important to translate it literally and figuratively with your
team to ensure that everyone is pushing in the same direction. This
requires three things: First, clarity of language used in the plan;
second, a compelling narrative that includes threads from past plans to
highlight the ongoing journey your IT department is on; and third,
translation of that plan into the different languages represented across
One of the greatest CIOs ever is Filippo Passerini. For years he was
the CIO of Proctor & Gamble. That $65-billion colossus has
operations in most countries of the world. And IT is almost as diverse
in its coverage of the globe. When Passerini and his leadership team
developed their IT strategy, it was translated into the relevant
languages to be sure it was not open to multiple interpretations. He
also made sure it was articulated in plain language rather than overly
technical terms. Moreover, he ensured that there was a connection made
between the current plan and past plans so that the team would
understand how past work has led to the opportunities that now should be
seized through the new strategy. He once told the story of how the
strategy was released at the beginning of a week, and he flew from the
company’s headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, to visit an operation in
Turkey. Two days after the strategy’s release, the IT team there had
internalized lessons of the strategy and could speak lucidly about its
implications for them as a team and as individuals. This level of
clarity should be your goal, too. You should consider creating an IT
Communications Role. As the name suggests, this role is responsible for
developing a communications strategy.
This person should think not only about the internal aspects of
communications to colleagues within the company, but also external
channels such as IT periodicals, podcasts, and opportunities for your
executive team to speak at technology conferences. Just as internal
communications ensure that your colleagues understand the strategy and
are driving it forward, the external lens is essential for getting the
word out to would-be customers, partners, and especially employees.
Potential employees are likely to conduct a Web search for your team and
your leaders during the recruiting process.
The more solid the description of the great things that your team is
doing, the more likely great people will wish to join it. There are now a
variety of new means of getting the word out about strategy that should
be part of your arsenal. Podcasts are an example. Consider doing an
internal podcast with some sort of regularity. Interview IT leaders
about the strategy and progress made with it. Interview people in the
field. Involve vendor partners and speak with customers. The diversity
of perspectives will make the strategy stickier and more easily
In the same vein, a video interview series released through your
intranet is a good way to get the word out, perhaps involving a
similarly diverse set of constituents. Traditional communications
efforts such as newsletters and “all-hands” meetings for the entire team
should continue, but recognize that these are foundational rather than
game-changing efforts. A strategy understood by a few people may have a
chance at an average result. A strategy understood and supported by an
entire team has a much better chance of achieving remarkable results.
Suggestion: For a lengthy discussion, providing headings would be helpful.
When you have completed the background readings and the Module and
Assignment Overview, and read the background material, compose a 4- to
5-page paper on the topic:
Prepare a description of the process for an Information
Technology Executive in preparing a strategic IT Plan. The emphasis here
is on the process of preparing the plan and how this process results in
commitment to the plan.
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