IT Strategy Development: a Quick Guide
In my previous blog entry, I discussed the need to make time for creating an IT strategy. I have also discussed the need for balance between free, unstructured thinking, and structured analysis. Brainstorming all the possible approaches is a great start, but how should you structure these thoughts into a workable plan with measurable results?
Clearly, in a short blog post it is impossible to set out all the detailed methods that can be used to drive a strategy but I hope this is a useful overview for non-practitioners and a useful reminder to the strategists amongst readers.
1) Understand and assess where you are today
You can only work out where you want to get to if you know your current status. Once you have this, you can assess how you might improve your performance. The first step to any IT strategy is to start by looking at how your systems are performing today. This means mapping out everything against key measures, not only for cost but also key factors such as complexity, service quality and ability to drive value. Tackling this in a structured way will draw out where the pain points really are and where the biggest opportunities exist. There are many ways to achieve this rigorously, but I will not miss this opportunity to promote our structured approach at cibsys. In recent months, we have started to build tools to help other organisations understand their IT landscape. The first version of this can be found here.
2) Brainstorm all the options
Having understood all the pain points in your current systems landscape, whether cost, service, alignment or complexity, the next step is to ask big questions like: where do we want to be? What do we want to change? I would recommend taking some time to ask everyone to do some uninhibited thinking, covering any options you could possibly imagine making sure (however crazy it may seem) that you do not miss or eliminate anything. You may choose to do this alone or as a team, but either way it should create a long list of possibilities that should be fed into a second round of more structured thinking. Look at all the areas you mapped out in stage one, then rigorously examine every area of your systems landscape to ensure completeness.
3) Align the options to where you want to be
Leaving stage two you will have a long list of possible ways forward, some will work together and some will be mutually exclusive. It is important to reduce the lists to identify the right way forward in each area as well as end-to-end. I recommend considering each of the options in an area-by-area assessment, analysing each one as to how it might align to the overall business and IT objectives. Of course this means that first you must set and agree what these objectives are; I am consistently surprised by how many organisations survive with loosely set or without any objectives! Taking the time to assess each option against the organisation’s objectives will ensure the potential impact of the various choices is understood. The decision on steps to delivery should be made by balancing the benefits to the constraints of resources, cost and risk for each major delivery on the route. I strongly recommend a quick, instinct-based assessment before any more rigorous cost benefit analysis – to test out the various scenarios. Finally, the end-to-end strategy that looks the most attractive can be set out as a multi-step, multi-month or year plan that can be costed and planned for, leading to a final agreement with sponsors and stakeholders.
5) Continually assure the deliveries
With a plan agreed and execution under-way I will leave you with the final thoughts that the strategic assessment should not stop. It is not just about project managing the deliveries on the roadmap and making sure that they come in on the planned time-scales and within the agreed budget, it is equally important to regularly check that the deliveries are still valid. Strategy should be an organic process, re-entered at regular interviews. Taking time along the journey to ask key questions such as: ‘Where am I now against the strategic roadmap? Have I achieved what I wanted to achieve? Have the objectives changed? Has the marketplace changed?’ should ensure that your roadmap and strategy remains fresh and is consistently challenged. Taking time for strategy is not a one off exercise but an ongoing and living assurance that you are on track.