Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

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Tag: Strategic Planning (page 2 of 3)

Improving IT Planning in 2010

Just finished reading Chris Curran’s article on CIO.com titled How to Improve Your IT Planning in 2010 – CIO.com – Business Technology Leadership.  Good article with some survey results that are very surprising.  A snippet from the article:

Diamond’s Digital IQ research, in which we surveyed 451 senior business and IT executives of large companies, found that firms spend roughly 240 man weeks per year on planning and budgeting—almost five man years! Think about what could be accomplished with 80% of that time back in the hands of your senior-most leaders. Roughly 25% of this effort is geared toward collecting the project ideas, another 25% toward preparing business cases, and only about 15% on linking the initiatives to the strategic roadmap. Our study also found that the presence of a multi-year strategic roadmap is a strong indicator of company performance, but that only 37% claim to have a clear roadmap. So, to get leaner in planning a company needs to get a clear roadmap and spend more time aligning to it and less time on (tactical) data collection.

Emphasis mine.

Interesting results.  That’s an awful lot of planning for some awful poor performance that we see in most IT groups today.  What can we do differently?

That last sentence in Chris’ points the way. Instead of spending so much time with IT planning and budgeting, why not start looking at building a strategic IT roadmap that aligns to business objectives and much less time on gathering operational and planning data that may not have any real value in the planning process.

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Decision Speed, Performance and the CIO

Last week I wrote about “Turbulence, IT & The New CIO” and discussed the need to embrace agility and speed in order to address the turbulence that we see in business today.  In order to be agile, I mentioned the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) model for use in helping keep agility at the front of your mind while planning and doing.

After writing last week’s post, I ran across an article by Kathleen Eisenhardt from titled “Making Fast Strategic Decisions in High-Velocity Environments“.  In this article, the author reports on a study that was conducted to compare the speed of the decision making process and the performance of those decisions at eight microcomputer organizations.

At the time of the article’s publication (1989), popular belief (and much research) stated the following:

  • Leaders & organizations should be autocratic
  • Decision making should be centralized for speed and control
  • When planning, an organization should look at future projections, not operational data
  • Careful analysis of the ‘best’ option should be performed
  • Fast analysis means less data

Sound familiar to anyone?  I still see a lot of organizations and leaders following this approach today, especially in the IT space.

Eisenhardt’s research showed something interesting.  She was able to show that those organizations that made quick decisions were more apt to use more information and look at more options than those that made slow decisions.  The data also showed that centralized decision making isn’t the fastest route to a decision; organizations that shared data with a larger audience and welcomed feedback were more apt to perform better in the long run.

I won’t go into the full outcome of the research, but I wanted to highlight a few of the key propositions from the paper:

  • The decision making process speeds up when you make use of real-time data
  • The decision making process speeds up when you increased the # of alternatives considered simultaneously
  • The more integrated your decision making process is, the faster it can go
  • In “high-velocity environments”, the faster the decision making process goes, the greater the performance.
  • Politics slows decision making and degrades performance.

So…what does this have to do with IT?

Everything.  To compete in the turbulent world today, we’ve got to be agile in our thinking and execution.  This research helps highlight that fact.

Organization’s, and especially organizations that use technology, are high-velocity environments.   We are doing more with less and have to do it faster than before.

The faster we can make decisions with more accurate data (real-time) and the more options we review, the better that decision outcome will be in the long run.  Will every decision be correct? No…but it will be a decision that moves you a little further.

If you take the OODA approach discussed last week, you’ll be making decisions, acting on those decisions and immediately looping back to review the post-decision environment and determining what needs to be tweaked in your strategy for the to reflect the ‘new’ environment and to prepare future.

Integrated Decision Making

One of the outcomes of the research showed that decision making processes worked better when they were integrated with each other.   Eisenhardt reports that in those organizations that had strategic planning integrated integrated with tactics (see my thoughts on this topic in Minding the gap between Strategy and Tactics), performance improved.  In addition, those leaders who brought together people from different parts of the organization during the decision making process performed better.

Surprised?  This is why it’s such a huge issue for The New CIO to be engaged and involved with the organizational strategic planning process and be tied in with other groups and teams’ decision making.    Eisenhardt reports that making decisions with as many options as possible using as much real-time operational information as possible is the key to performance…CIO’s should take this and run with it.

The New CIO needs to take research like this to heart.  Use all the data you can, include your team and others from the organization in your decision making process.  In addition, as CIO you need to push for inclusion in other teams’ decision making process.Ensuring integrated decision making with the proper people & data, you’ll be able to mind the strategy/tactic gap and act in an agile manner.

References

  • Eisenhardt, K. (1989). Making Fast Strategic Decisions in High-Velocity Environments. The Academy of Management Journal, 32(3), 543-576.

The New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges. Join me next week for another article in the series.

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Minding the gap between Strategy and Tactics – The New CIO Series

The New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges.

I’ve seen many strategic plans for organizations. A few of these plans have sections for Technology Strategy while some don’t mention technology at all.   While these strategic plans are nice and thick, have lots of words and graphs and are usually well designed, they are missing something very important: a discussion of, and a plan for, implementation of the strategy.

This may not be anything new to you but its appalling to me.  Why take the time to create a strategy if you don’t know how you’ll implement it?

If you’ve read any of the leading books on being IT Strategy, IT leadership and other topics, you’ll most likely find chapters like “Weave Business and IT Strategies Together” (found in The New CIO Leader: Setting the Agenda and Delivering Results) or something similar. BTW – The New CIO Leader is a great book…go read it.

These types of books and articles go into great detail about tying business and IT strategies together using things like portfolio management, financial returns, and other really important things, but very few talk about one of the most important topics: the people who will be asked to implement the strategies.

Not only does The New CIO have to consider the financial investment required of a new strategy, you’ve got to consider the human investment as well. The financial side of IT strategy and projects is important, but the human capital piece of the equation is just as important.

Where did the Gap come from?

The gap has always been there in the organizations that I’ve observed.  My personal opinion of why the gap exists differ depending on what day it is…and whether I’m drinking at the time you ask. 🙂

Today (and most days actually), I’m going to argue that in many cases, the top level leaders who are building these strategic plans are so far removed from the day to day operations that they’ve lost track of the real capabilities of the organization.

This lack of understanding of what can be done and who can do it leads the organization down the path of building a strategy inconsistent with the capabilities of the organization.

The gap is created when the human capital of an organization isn’t factored into the strategic equation.

Minding the Gap

What can The New CIO do to bridge the gap between the strategic plan and the implementation of that plan?

First: understand your business, the market and your people.  Without this understanding, you’ve got no chance.

Second: In addition to asking the normal questions about investment, ROI, governance, IT infrastructure, IT architecture, risk analysis and all the other major questions,  ask yourself a few additional questions to help you (and other senior leaders) understand the human capital affect:

  1. Will the team understand this strategy?
  2. Can the team implement this strategy?
  3. Will the politics of the organization allow this strategy to work?

Don’t just answer these as yes/no…really think about them.  If you get a negative on any of these items, your strategy will most likely fail.  You can spend millions of dollars for McKinsey to build your strategic plan, but it will fail if you don’t have a true sense of how it will be implemented as well as buy-in and understanding from your team.

Let’s look at Social Media as an example.

Yeah…I know…i’m talking about Social Media in the Enterprise…again! 🙂

Many of you are probably discussing Social Media and how you can dive in to use this great ‘new’ tool to help drive your business.   You’re probably trying to determine a strategy for how you can use Social Media in the Enterprise or perhaps you’ve already built your strategic plan.

But have you thought about the people involved?  Who will implement your strategy?  Will it be your PR team?  Your marketing team?  IT staff? Will you bring in an external team to implement it?

I would argue (and I’m sure many will agree) that these things should be considered and included in the strategic plan. Perhaps the human capital equation is considered in your strategic plans, but from experience, I’ve not seen it happen much.

Let’s look at the three questions as they relate to this example:

Question #1: Will the team understand this strategy?

Does your organization understand social media? At a more granular level, does your marketing and IT teams? How many people within your organization are active in the social media space?  If the answer is very few, you are in trouble. You can’t possibly hope to implement a social media strategy without at least a few people around the organization that ‘get’ Social Media.

Question #2: Can the team implement this strategy?

So you think your team understands the strategy…but can they implement it?

More importantly, does your team have the capabilities to implement Social Media tools into the enterprise? Do you have cobol developers or do you have .NET, PHP or Ruby on Rails developers? Does your IT staff have the bandwidth to take on another ‘big’ project?  Are you already ‘doing more with less’ to the point where taking on a project like this will overload the team?

Answering this question (can they implement it) has as much to do with your team’s bandwidth as it does with their capabilities.

Question #3: Will the politics of the organization allow this strategy to work?

In my experiences, this is one question that is often overlooked.  Will the many levels of bureaucracy and the different silos within the organization allow your new strategy to work?  If not, what are you going to do about it?  Will your PR team see Social Media as an encroachment to their ‘turf’?  Will portions of the IT team undermine your social media efforts because they feel it opens you up to new security vulnerabilities?

You’ve got to figure these things out before finalizing your strategy so you know how you’ll address the political issues that will arise.

Start Minding the Gap

By answering these questions, The New CIO can better mind the gap between strategy and tactics by considering the human capital within the organization. Thinking about the human side of strategy & tactics will also help with the communication of these new strategies because the people will have been considered while the strategy has been created.

In addition, if you’re doing your job right, a good portion of your team should have been involved in creating your strategies anyway…so you’ll have their buy-in.  Once they see that the organizational capabilities are considered when creating an IT Strategic plan, they’ll get excited because their situation, bandwidth and capabilities have been considered.

In a previous post titled ‘Strategy, Tactics and Hope‘, I argue that its not enough to just have a great strategy nor a great plan for implementation…you’ve got to have both. In addition to strategy and tactics, you’ve got to throw in a sprinkle of hope to help bridge the gap.

Thinking about the human equation while developing strategy will help bring out that hope.  You’ll start seeing an optimistic team rather than one that feels overworked and under appreciated. Not only will you get buy-in to the strategic plan, you’ll also have an implementation plan that considers the human and financial capital required to make the strategy a success.

Next time you start thinking about strategic plans, mind the gap…think about your team and your capabilities before committing to that strategy.

Join me next Thursday for the next article in The New CIO series.

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Strategy, Tactics and Hope

What happens when you create the best strategic plan in the world but don’t have a plan to implement it?

Lots of wheel spinning and very little progress.

What happens when you have a great implementation plan for a poor strategy?

Lots of wheel spinning and very little progress.

There are tons of consulting companies out there selling strategic consulting services and there are also just as many sell implementation services. In reality, many of these companies and consultants are only selling a portion of the equation.

Many times, a consulting company will deliver an organizaitonal strategy but no clear path to implementation.  Other times, you’ll get an organization trying to sell you ‘change management’, but no clear direction on what type of change is needed.

Before paying millions of dollars for a strategic plan, how about thinking about what you’ll do with that plan?  How will you implement it?

Let’s assume you have a strategy and you’ve developed a tactical plan to implement it.  Now what. Do you have your organization engaged in the strategy and tactical plan?

We’ve all heard the quote that “Hope isn’t a strategy”.  Very very true.  But I’d argue just having a strategy and tactical plan isn’t good enough either.  You’ve got to have the people engaged and have hope that the strategy will work and that the implementation plan is properly executed.

Hope can help employees engage in the future of the organization, but without strategy and a plan to realize that strategy, hope isn’t much help.

Now…what happens if you add a good strategy, tactical plan and hope together? You get buy-in from your teams.  You get excitement.  You get hope for the future.

Now…the question is:  How?

One way?  Stop developing your strategic plan in a vacuum…let your team be involved. Let the organization own the strategy.  Let your teams develop the tactical plan.

If you can combine a good strategic plan, tactical plan and add a sprinkle of hope, you’ll be unstoppable.

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Links for March 22 2009

Why Ideals are the New Business Models by Umair Haque on HarvardBusiness.org

The 5 Percent Trick: Finding Passion and Purpose in Life by Albert on Zen Habits

Influential Following by Chris Guillebeau on The Art of Nonconformity

First, Stop Doing Harm by Andrew McAfee

The Problem with B-Schools is the Problem with Business by Charles H. Green on Trust Matters

Four Fatal Flaws of Strategic Planning by Ed Burrows on HarvardBusiness.org

When your VP doesn’t understand your job by Scott Berkun

Empathy: An Essential Ingredient of Innovation by Mark Howell on Strategy Central

Stories that Grab and Hold your Audience by Steve Neiderhauser

The Paradox of Transparency by Tim O’Reilly on O’Reilly Radar

Your Software Project Has No Goal by Jurgen Appelo on NOOP.NL

Cheap Vs. Quality IT by Mike Schaffner on Beyond Blinking Lights and Acronyms

Individuals and Crowds by Jonathan Salem Baskin on dimbulb

Yeah, but he really knows his stuff… by Seth Godin

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Leadership and Organizational Change

Recently, while reading a book on Organizational Change and Project Management, I noticed a disturbing pattern.

The book I was reading discusses the creation of a central project office to manage all projects within organizations (note…it is not the book I reviewed here) and looked interesting when I saw it at the local half-price book store.

The first chapter, which provided an overview of the the topics covered in the book, started off on a bad note.  The first few paragraphs eluded to topics like “create a sense of urgency”, “develop political acumen”, “find a champion” and “master the art of persuasion”.

These topics disturb me for a few reasons…but mostly because they make me believe that the authors are trying to ‘teach’ a reader how to ‘play the game’ rather than ‘change the game’.  Organizational change should be about changing the game rather than playing it.

The book continues on about processes and ‘tips’ for getting people to ‘buy in’ to the change that needs to occur.  The authors write about ‘projectizing the organization’ to add value and ‘creating a sense of urgency’ for employees so they understand how important the change is.

As I mentioned, I have a problem with this approach.

As a leader, If i have to ‘create’ urgency for change have I been doing my job? A good leader should already have people aligned with the necessary changes and have them ready to implement change. Steve Roesler over at All Things Workplace described leaders in a recent post titled “Leadership: Facilitating The Show You Are In” as:

People who are engaged with what needs to happen while orchestrating how to make it happen.

Steve is exactly correct.

As a leader, if you are engaged with your team (and they with you), you and your team should already have a grasp on what changes are needed and your everyone should fully understand why those changes are necessary.

If a leader is doing their job, there should be no need to ‘create a sense of urgency’…it should already exist.

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