Navigating the IT Value Journey starts with a clear IT Strategy. The Five Filters frame your strategy to keep it focused on the most fundamental, long-term purpose.
Your IT Strategy maps the IT Value Journey from Maintain to Enhance to Transform, with an emphasis on measurability, transparency, and continuous improvement. I developed and refined the eight-step process over the past 20 years. It includes:
- Five Filters: Frame the journey
- Strategic Objectives: What we want to achieve
- Measurable Goals: How we’ll measure success
- Action Plans: The initiatives we’ll execute
- Resourcing Plan: Assurance that we have the people to execute our action plans
- Performance Plans: Align the organization
- Program Management: Provide complete transparency in the execution of our plans
- Communication: Keep all stakeholders informed
The Five Filters
The filters that frame our strategy are:
- Client Profile
These filters put a boundary around our strategy. They define our strategy at the highest, but most esoteric, level. Throughout the strategy development process, we will test to ensure that our objectives, goals, and actions support the five filters.
Our mission defines why we exist. At its founding, Microsoft declared a mission of “A computer on every desk and in every home”. The Alzheimer Association’s mission is simply “A world without Alzheimer’s disease”. These mission statements clearly and succinctly define why these organizations exist.
Your IT mission defines why your IT organization exists. Is it to provide the best technology services for your employees? Maybe it’s to deliver continuously improving technology to make a difference in the lives of our customers and employees.
Think of your mission as a guidepost to keep your entire team focused.
Mission is generally defined by your IT leadership team.
Vison describes what we want to be. Do you want to be a respected, go-to business partner to the entire company? Perhaps your vision is to be the team that leads the company to new heights. Or to deliver industry leadership in your market.
The vision is lofty and audacious. You may never achieve it but will continuously strive for it. And if you do achieve your vision, you may raise the bar and define a new vision.
Similar to your mission, your vision is often defined by the IT leadership team.
Values represent the uncompromising beliefs and behaviors that unite your team and that you will never, ever sacrifice. Three to five core values usually are plenty to define an organization’s governing principles.
Values may include such concepts as integrity, teamwork, customer first, fun, and more.
Your entire team should participate in the development of values, if possible.
Consider having people crowd along whiteboards, or gather in a ballroom with pad and pencil, or even work online and have them each, simultaneously write down their five most important values. Tally them. Present the top 10 or 15, or list all of them. And let people vote on the top five. Healthy debate is fine and encouraged.
When values come from within the team, the team will rally around them. If they come from on high, they will likely be treated with lip service.
We describe our client, or our ideal client, to make sure the entire team knows who we are serving.
When I took over corporate strategy for a technical education company, most employees didn’t realize that one of our key clients was the manufacturers for whom our graduates would one day work. When our thousands of employees understood the role of these manufacturers in helping us to define our curriculums, those employees were able to make day to day decisions with better judgement. Those decisions, that occur by the hundreds or thousands every day, and that are never visible in the boardroom, drive a huge amount of the company’s efficiency and effectiveness. Subtle but powerful!
Who is your IT client? Today it very well may be the person who screams the loudest. Who should it be? Is it internal employees? If so, do you tend to focus most attention on the people at headquarters because they’re the most visible and accessible? Is that at the expense of your international organizations? Is your focus on paying clients? Is it a combination?
The IT client should be considered in the context of your corporate mission, vision, and strategy. Make sure IT is focused on the same people that the overall business is. Sounds obvious? You’d be surprised at the misalignment in way too many companies.
One of my favorite definitions of strategy is that strategy protects and extends your differentiators.
In corporate strategy, if you don’t differentiate from your competition then you are commoditized and can only compete on price. Yet, if you can truly differentiate in three ways, then it’s like having a moat around your castle and nobody can get into your space.
The same holds true for IT.
For starters, if IT doesn’t differentiate then we might as well outsource it and save real estate, reduce payroll, and maintain corporate focus on what does set us apart.
As an IT leader, think about where you should differentiate and where it doesn’t matter. Consider outsourcing those IT responsibilities that your team doesn’t, or shouldn’t, excel at.
A classic example is the data center. Many of us realized, years and years ago, that our IT core competencies should not include running a data center. We outsourced to gain more focus on what really mattered to our businesses.
How does your IT organization differentiate from the “competition” – yes, competition, as in the parent company, outsourced providers, individual departments that you currently support, etc.? Is it customer service? Software development? Data analytics? Cyber security? Your differentiators are probably a combination of competencies.
Now think about which of those differentiators makes a measurable difference for your business. Maybe IT is great at data analytics but the data scientists in Marketing have that covered, or the third-party predictive modeling agency is better.
Consider who can do the best job, consider outsourcing non-core competencies, and focus your team on that which differentiates IT and creates a competitive advantage for the company.
Differentiators are usually identified by the IT leadership team, but it’s a great practice to include other members of IT in this exercise.
Using the Five Filters
The Five Filters are the first step in the Strategy Management process because they frame the entire strategy. Devote the time to work with your IT leaders and the entire team to develop and validate the Five Filters.
As we explain the next few steps in the Eight-Step process, you’ll see how we challenge strategic objectives, goals, and action plans to ensure they fit within the five filters. This exercise ensures sharp focus and makes for a much stronger IT strategy.
Our next articles will focus on objectives and goals as we continue to explain the Eight-Step IT Strategy Management process. Of course, as always, if you want to know more, or just can’t wait, email Emily at Emily@WolffStrategy.com and she’ll be happy to schedule a call with me.
Larry Wolff is the founder & CEO of Wolff Strategy Partners, a boutique consulting firm specializing in Enterprise Strategy Management and Digital Transformation. Larry has served as CEO, COO, CIO, chief digital officer, and management consultant for public, private, international and emerging growth companies. His specialties include corporate and IT strategic planning, technology led business transformation, business and IT turnarounds, merger integration and large-scale project rescues.