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« Relationships in IT World | Main | Organizational Design, Development, Change and Culture »

April 29, 2006

Comments

Jim Hayward

I read MIP's discussion of alignment. The difficulty many IT leaders have is they have a vision of the role of IT which gets out ahead of the organizational management. In order to show leadership they proceed with a grand plan of their own. Many IT consultants will foster this approach because most IT consultants have an "IT Strategic Planning Process" and love to sell it. I have found most of them are very cumbersome and give only lip service to the business strategy. It is so sad to see organizations waste money on these grand plans. I do not know why many CEO's and COO's let them proceed. I expect they feel embarrassed that are not able to understand all these acronyms and buzz words. I think most of these plans go so far beyond most organizations readiness that it is criminal. I think a simple strategic plan that sets overall direction is far, far better. Within the overall direction specific projects can be started an regularly evaluated to ensure they are still aligned with the organization. These complex planning process are so invasive that most people are reluctant to say "the king does not have any clothes on" even when it is obvious.
My experience, I am sad to say, is that it is easier to sell a big strategic planning process than an overall strategy with a series of breakthrough projects that deliver bottomline value quickly. I guess it is easier to plan than to do.

mip

I read your comment Jim and thought I'd add some thoughts to be clear. If I read it right, the main thrust of your post is that strategic planning doesn't add value to an orgainization. In my original post I think I was getting at the fact that an IT strategy must be driven by the business. In my case I stake my reputation on each strategy I've helped build, so it's not a matter of lip service. An IT plan needs to align to the business strategy. No if's, and's or but's. At the start and end of the day, it's all about the business strategy. But without an IT plan, can IT really be effective inside an organization?

I've been in many situations where a client or potential client feels that developing an IT plan is a waste of time. They share your perspective that it is just a make work project that is an easy way for a consultant to bill time. Upon close inspection though, you often find that their IT initiatives are in a state of chaos. Projects being done without an understanding of why. Technologies deployed that don't enable and in some instances hinder business processes. Countless technology companies inside the organization all selling their services but to what end? In my experience, companies often don't have the time to plan but always seem to have time to "do it again" when an initiative doesn't work out.

I would boil my concept of a strategic plan down to three key questions:
1) Where are we now?
2) Where do we want/need to go?
3) How do we best get there?

To say that a strategic planning exercise is unnecessary for IT is like saying it is unnecessary for a business to set it's strategy. Businesses that fail to understand themselves, their competitive marketplace, their products/services, their customers all in the context of today and tomorrow, can't build a company that is built to last.

The same is true for IT. If you don't understand the current environment you can't possibly change it. And my approach for understanding the "where do you want to go" or the future state, is to do so in alignment with the business strategy. My motto, as an IT leader, is that to effectively show leadership, you must "follow" the business.

To me strategic planning is like planning a trip. You pull out a map, understand where you are, where you are heading to and what's in between. There are many roads, some back country roads that you need to drive slowly on, some highways that you can go fast. I like to plan my route ahead of time, before starting. That way as I proceed I can gauge my progress. I'm with you on the point of the "grand strategic plan" that you often see developed and then shelved. A strategic plan is a living document. To me the plan is something to revisit. Along the way you may find something unexpected, a road under construction, a traffic jam, a new technology or a shift in business priorities. Whether taking a trip or managing organization IT, having a map and an understanding of where you are going sure helps in preventing driving around in circles till you run out of gas (or dollars, or the Board's goodwill).

If you fail to plan a strategy, then in fact you have a strategy to fail.

mip

I just re-read the last part of your post Jim and thought I'd add one more snippet. You say:

"I guess it is easier to plan than to do"

I think the opposite. Most companies find it easier to do than to plan. They want to "just get started" rather than think through what needs to be done. Stephen and I saw this time and time again when we were delivering web solutions. Clients pushed back on the planning process because they just wanted to have their site built. In instances where we allowed this to happen, the client was inevitablly unhappy and felt the work "didn't deliver".

In my opinion, the easy way out is to just do rather than plan.

Stephen

I have been watching your conversation and really pleased to see some different points of view.

A couple of additional thoughts:
1. Any planning is only as good as what the client is REALLY ready for. So in MIP's example of the web days they were not ready and if we did it they would resent it. This is something as advisors and consultants we need to be able to help our clients with.
2. In a world that seems to be as quickly changing as today is a strategy is more important than ever. It often is the only thing that holds priorities and direction as we get torn from one crisis to another.
3. Creating a strategy that is put on a shelf is a waste of time. In my perfect world you would have many different factors as background as MIP suggests and come up with plans as well as guiding principles. Project X has a client that has taken guiding principles to their strat plan by coming up with principles at each level of their planning from strat, to architectural to tactical. This then allows the various stakeholders at each level to be able to take initiative and help modify or follow as needed the over-arching strat plan.
4. Who owns a strategic plan? Everyone. IT, Business - everyone. This is a living document that needs to become infused into the dna.
5. Alignment is crucial, which is why governance and stewardship seem to be the buzz words of today. Creating properly empowered cross functional steering committees as needed and informal forms of communication to bring these groups together.
6. Communication, in all we do in life this is the key. Having a good strategy that aligns with IT and Business helps either party be able to better understand where each is coming from. One does not know the others business, but there is a connection through the process and the outcome that can not be beat.

My 6 cents worth.

Jim Hayward

I appreciate your comments, both Stephen and MIP. I am certainly not against a strategic plan. In fact I think they are essential to set direction for the organization. Part of the organizational strategic plan should be an IT strategic plan. The difficulty is many of the IT strategic planning processes are very cumbersome and lengthy and often done without a strategic business plan. Thus the business needs to take the leadership.
I expect that the IT head is in a bind often. Without a business strategic plan, what projects get priority and what is the basis for a plan. Thus in lieu of a business plan the IT organization tries to guess and puts together something. The head of IT is caught between a rock and hard place.
In lieu of a strategic plan which often scares people, some strategic thinking will certainly help. Overall direction, guiding principle, and specific next steps will help move things forward.

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