Last week I focused on the 10 key contributing factors as to why IT Strategies sometimes fail to deliver (see here). This week I wanted to focus on the aspects that need close attention to successfully define and execute an IT Strategy engagement (by execution I do not refer to the actual implementation of the Strategic plan, but the execution of the activities needed to defining the IT Strategy in the first place).
To address the challenges outlined a number of key critical success factors should be considered and to provide some ideas and lessons learned, see below a number of pointers to ensure that your IT Strategy engagement is set up for success. None of the points outlined below are silver bullets, however they can provide some guidance on what is important to ensure that the IT Strategy is living up to expectations.
- Never Do It alone
- Do not try to shape, lead and/or execute an IT Strategy on your own, or isolated from the business.
- Ensure that you have a team that is diverse and represents the key areas that will require change.
- Include the rest of the business. Just because it is called an IT Strategy it does not mean that only IT people should be involved.
- At least one team member must have done it before
- Experience is important and cannot be subsidized with a methodology; it requires a master to construct an impactful strategy.
- This is also paramount to avoid losing precious time and avoiding basic mistakes as it requires skill and expertise to apply the tools and methods appropriately
- Understand the starting position
- Do not underestimate the importance of having complete and accurate as-is related information available
- Ensure you cover application, infrastructure as well as business related as-is information
- Setting up a proper process to collecting and retaining as-is information might be needed to “feed” the IT Strategy.
- This might require more effort than originally envisaged, however if ignored, it can can render the IT Strategy as a complete failure.
- Ensure there is business alignment
- There is little, or even no value, in creating an IT Strategy without business alignment
- This means that all IT Strategy related aspects must have a direct or indirect business reason/driver.
- Make sure that there is clear traceability from the IT Strategy created “MasterPlan” and the original business drivers and objectives.
- Using a strategy tool/framework will ensure that this connect is achieved, but alignment will only come via people so do not rely solely on a tool.
- Put in place effective communication
- This will have to cover all key aspects of communication; with your team as well as with the client.
- For communication to be effective; it must be targeted, regular and have a purpose that is relevant to the audience.
- Ensure that you have a clear view on what information must/should/could be shared with whom and why.
- Plan activities and events in advance
- In particular, ensure that the content, used during key events like workshops are well prepared.
- Avoid starting any phase or steps without a plan that includes clear actions, owners, timelines and deliverables.
- Make use of tools, methodologies and frameworks
- “Tools are for fools” and cannot substitute the skills and experience of a Strategy Lead.
- Make sure that you do not waste time with assessing, validating and deciding what tool to use where. A lead, who has done it before, will know what to use.
- Once you agreed the tools to use/apply make sure it is clear how you will use each.
- Use the Customer’s language
- Do not force the customer to change their “dictionary”. If they have an understanding of what a “service” is, go with that definition rather than forcing them to change unless the “incorrect” definition causes confusion and/or misalignment
- If there is confusion, do align terminology to ensure all stakeholders have the same understanding of terms and phrases
- Target “Land of milk and honey” & implement the achievable
- Do not start with “what is not possible” or “what is the minimal we can get away with”. Instead ask “what would be the ideal position” to avoid starting with constrains, however do plan to implement the achievable that manages and addresses the challenges identified
- Do not create “war and peace”
- Apply KISS (keep it short and simple) and try to avoid creating too much detail
- Ensure you are creating “just enough” detail to provide traceability and to prove that proper due diligence has been applied
“Strategy is a commodity; execution is an art” – Peter Drucker
An IT Strategy is an articulation of a direction of travel for both the application and the infrastructure area, ensuring both fully support the business strategy. It should outline the current, the future as well as the plan reaching the outlined future target. An IT strategy should mainly focus on making the case for reaching a certain target, given the business direction defined by the business strategy.
There is no silver bullet or a single answer for how to arrive at a “successful” IT Strategy. It requires experience, expertise and skills to plan, design and craft an IT Strategy. Looking out for the 10 challenges and the 10 success criteria I outlined will help to create a successful IT Strategy.
Thanks for Reading!
About the Author: Gunnar Menzel has been an IT professional for over 25 years and is the VP and Chief Architect Officer for Capgemini’s Infrastructure Business. Gunnar is also currently the President for the Open Data Centre Alliance. His main focus is business- enabling technology innovation.
 ICT Strategy example: ict-strategy-digital-germany-2015.pdf on www.bmwi.de
 Technology Strategy, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_strategy
 Why good strategies fail, The Economist,http://www.pmi.org/~/media/PDF/Publications/WhyGoodStrategiesFail_Report_EIU_PMI.ashx
 Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2015/03/why-strategy-execution-unravelsand-what-to-do-about-it
 Gartner, 2015, The Art of the One-Page Strategy
 How to drive Innovation, Gunnar Menzel, see here
 IT Strategy is like a soufflé – the recipe is simple; the implementation requires mastering, see here