A non-technical CIO may be able to develop AND execute the IT strategy as effectively as, or even better than, the technical CIO.
We previously wrote an entire series on IT Strategy Management – the marriage of strategy and execution. I encourage you to reference that for valuable insight on building and executing the IT strategy.
The IT Strategy is a roadmap for navigating the IT Value Journey. As time goes on and IT evolves, we shift our focus from Maintain to Enhance and then Transform. But our strategy always covers all three regions of the IT Value Journey. Early on, we may focus 80% or more in the Maintain state and, perhaps, zero in the Transform state.
The IT Strategy drives continuous improvement which enables us to Maintain better, but at a lower cost. We shift time and budget from Maintain to Enhance so we can keep up with business needs. When we demonstrate a continuous ability to Maintain and Enhance, we earn the trust, credibility, and respect to navigate into the Transform state, where IT is leading business transformation.
Keep your vision clearly in mind. Maybe there is a lot of technical debt to repay before IT can even start working on the ideas in your vision. That’s ok. Tighten up the infrastructure, improve customer service, tackle some of the recurring issues in the home-grown systems, and more — all for the purpose of shifting focus, and shifting people and budget, to the vision.
Set clear objectives that drive continuous improvement in the Maintain and Enhance states and support those objectives with clear metrics that can cascade into each team member’s performance goals. Remember, you’re aligning the team around the vision and the path to get there.
Perhaps the most impactful part of strategic planning, and the part I enjoy the most, is turning the plan over to the team. Leaders set strategic objectives and measurable goals. Let the team tell us how to make it all happen. Explain the objectives and goals, and let the team develop the action plans. Think of action plans as the individual projects, large and small, that we’ll execute to deliver the strategy.
When the entire IT organization, or reasonable representation across the group, creates the action plans, we increase engagement, the team takes ownership, and everyone is aligned. Again, refer to some these past articles for greater detail.
So, we have our strategic plan and it’s reduced to a series of action plans. Now what?
Strategy without execution is just a dream. The opening article in the series on IT Strategy Management includes an overview of the 8-step process that we’ve followed for more than two decades. The first four steps build the strategy, as we described above.
The second four steps are all about execution.
Once your action plans are built, it’s time to make sure you have the resources to execute them. Most companies that build a strategy may get six months down the road before they realize they don’t have the people to execute the strategy.
Prioritize the action plans based on business value and then assign people or teams. At some point, you’re likely to run out of people long before you run out of action plans. Contracting and outsourcing may be options if the return on investment remains strong. Otherwise, you may need to adjust your strategic objectives and goals to meet the reality of your people and budget.
After you resource your action plans, it’s clear what each team member needs to do to execute the strategy. Great! Turn that into personal performance objectives to keep the team focused on the strategy.
Throughout this process you’re building project plans and, hopefully, an umbrella program plan that recognizes inter-project dependencies. Manage that plan rigorously. Anticipate risks and discuss how to mitigate theme Recognize the domino effect if any given project gets off track. And keep the IT team, executive leadership, and the Board informed of progress and issues. Remember, we’re building trust, credibility, and respect. Transparent program management of your strategy will accelerate all of those.
Finally, let’s discuss communication. During the entire planning and execution of your strategy, you need to communicate with several constituents and in a few different ways. Your IT team needs the most detail to understand the strategy and the progress in executing it. Across the company people should know, in more general terms, what IT is pursuing and the progress you’re making. Executive leadership and the Board require summary information and a clear understanding of risks and mitigation plans. Again, you are building trust, credibility, and respect that fuels progress along the IT Value Journey.
While this article is a high-level overview, it should give you an understanding of the necessary continuum from strategic planning to execution. As a reminder, there is nothing very technical in the IT Strategic Plan. It’s more of a roadmap of the IT Value Journey and how you’ll create value for the business.
Refer to the links in this article to read more about the IT Value Journey and IT Strategy Management.
Upcoming articles will emphasize the importance of effective delegation, discuss measuring the value that IT creates, offer some tips on coaching your team, and will continue to emphasize the importance of frequent, targeted communication.
I’ve enjoyed speaking with many of our readers, have gained wonderful insight, and am reasonably confident that I’ve been able to provide value through those discussions. I encourage you to continue to reach out. Email 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, CTO, 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. His methodologies span industries and scale to companies of all sizes.
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