Secrets of strategic planning success

As I wrote in a previous article, strategy in many organisations just adorns bookshelves. However, a strategic plan is more than just a document. It is the shared understanding and common vision of the stakeholders along with the passion of IT leaders, which brings strategy to life. We can say the strategy is truly adopted, when people understand the strategic direction and make every day decisions (what, how and when) in context of the overall direction.

We all know that to get more value from Information Technology investments, IT projects, portfolios and priorities must be aligned to those of the business. IT strategic planning is often used as a tool to achieve this alignment and turn business needs into results. However, this is often not that easy! Although many organisations develop a strategic plan, they experience difficulties implementing the plan successfully. Similar to golf or chess, the rules are well known but performing consistently is still a challenge.

Here are a dozen secrets that will ensure your strategic plan is implemented successfully.

1. Understand and measure how IT will enable the business

These days, ‘business alignment’ has become a trite phrase. In the context of an IT strategic plan, understanding how IT can help improve the enterprise performance is critical. Can IT enable the business to bring products and services to market faster or more cheaply? Can IT change to meet the realities of new competition, restructures and other major business changes?  It is not just the capabilities that must be aligned. IT expenditure and capital budget also need to be aligned with what the business can support.

IT strategic goals and performance measures should have a direct linkage with the enterprise performance goals. If improving customer service or satisfaction is an enterprise-wide performance measure, IT should demonstrate how it is supporting this goal. Although this sounds obvious, many the IT performance goals of many organisations have no obvious or automatic link to the organisation’s goals. The effort in linking IT’s goals to that of the organisation is worthwhile because it helps to define the value of IT spending, a critical step in defining the capital programming process and tracking the results of capital investments for IT.

2. Get executive sponsorship

If the strategic plan is not used by the executives or in decision making within IT, it will become redundant. Key stakeholders and executives need to be involved right from the beginning of the IT strategic planning process. A good start is to obtain the blessing of the chief executives in the form of a charter for strategic planning. Get the input of the executives about how the business is changing, what challenges they face and what they need from IT. Seek guidance on key priorities and investment areas.

Ultimately, the IT CIO / executive is a key to this sponsorship. Without the active involvement and sponsorship of the IT Executive, the plan will most likely fail.

3. Cast your net wide for input and ideas

Input to the strategic planning must come from a wide range of players. People in the field, call centres, product and service managers can help identify opportunities for improvement. Understanding what the industry/ competition is doing in their businesses can be valuable. I have found strategic planning managers in business units can be a valuable source of information. Smart IT leaders will stay alert for this type of in their day-to-day interactions so it does not become a major burden at the time of the strategic planning.

4. Obtain commitment to change

The primary purpose of a strategic plan is to define and execute change.  Achieving change is never easy. It requires commitment from the leadership and also buy-in from people on the ground. Effective change management process requires the CIO and the IT leadership to demonstrate their commitment and take a lead role in the change management process.

5. Involve Stakeholders

Getting commitment to change starts at the time the strategy is formed. Giving key stakeholders an opportunity to provide input and feedback will increase their involvement and buy-in.

The first step in strategic planning often is the current state analysis (or where we are now?). Sharing the current state analysis with IT staff and other users and getting their thoughts on where IT could improve will unleash many new ideas and input. Asking people about their problems and ideas will increase their interest by making the strategy process more relevant to them. Keeping staff informed with regular updates and follow-ups, sometimes from their own managers and team leaders, will further maintain their interest. Remember that the plan is not only a factual document; it seeks to sell and motivate action.

6. Reality-check the plans

When the strategy is nearly ready getting key IT staff and managers to provide input on implementation timeframes and challenges would help ensure that the strategy is not a pie-in-the-sky but actually achievable. When the real size of the task and timeframes become apparent, steps can be taken to adjust the goals in order to ensure they remain challenging yet achievable.

7. Demonstrate flexibility during planning

Strategic perspectives evolve and develop as the strategic planning progresses and more discussions take place. Maintaining flexibility will allow IT to understand organisations imperatives and adopt strategy accordingly. This also avoids the risk of strategic plan becoming too ‘IT centric’. Keeping an open mind during the strategic planning process will help you identify omissions and unrealistic goals. Flexibility will result in a better plan as well as greater buy-in.

8. Prepare a holistic plan

The IT strategic plan should not just be about projects and portfolios. The plan needs to critically examine all aspects of IT management and IT capability within the organisation. Achieving the organisation’s goals often involves focussing on aspects such as the enterprise architecture, investment planning and governance, program management office, people planning and performance management practices. The inclusion of initiatives in this area would make the plan holistic and cover all critical aspects of IT.

9. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Completing your plan is just the first step in executing a process of strategic change. Once the plan is complete, launch it with a splash. Have sessions with all the IT staff including the executives and other key IT partners. Encourage IT managers to brief their staff on how the plan impacts them and what they can do to contribute. Regularly communicate progress and especially early successes. These will give everyone a sense of momentum and help to maintain focus. Regularly use staff meetings to talk about the plan and to explain how major IT projects and initiatives link to it.

10. Focus on progress measures

Good strategic plans include objectives and measures of progress as well as targets or milestones. These plans specify the actions or initiatives needed to achieve progress. The first step usually involves measuring the progress of the initiatives followed by the outcome measures (which usually lag the actions). Maintaining disciplined executive attention on completion of initiatives and targets is critical to achieving successful implementation.

11. Track and publish progress

One reason many plans fail is lack of execution. Once the planning is complete and the plan is approved, it sits on the shelf until the next time. Implementing rigorous progress monitoring and regularly publishing the results to the management team and the larger IT team is critical to the success. Better still is to link the manager KPI’s to the strategic plan outcomes.

12. Revisit and revise

All plans need to be refreshed periodically. Businesses are not static. Regulation, competition, technology or environmental changes necessitate plan adjustments. Most organisations have a strategic planning cycle. Revisiting the plan, checking progress and goals and adjusting as necessary in a formal and structured manner will keep the plan aligned to the business needs.

Summary

In order for strategy implementation to be successful it needs to be treated as a change program with the right sponsorship, stakeholder engagement and communications. Kogekar Consulting can help you develop and successfully implement your strategy.

2 Replies to “Secrets of strategic planning success”

  1. Hemant great post, I enjoyed the strategic secrets. I noted your comment regarding the phrase “IT Alignment” and it certainly seems to have fallen into the buzz word bingo dictionary for IT folk these days. Alignment is of course required but I tend to feel business engagement is tantamount to connectivity & a connection with unit stakeholders in understanding their requirements.
    You touched on this nicely; however I’d be very interested to understand your theory around business engagement. How is this done? Via what means? And to what extent?
    Appreciate several questions there but would appreciate your thoughts.

  2. Hi John,

    According to the CIO executive board,

    Business engagement is the collaborative process between IT and business parters by which both IT and business performance is improved.

    There are four elements that support engagement.

    These are :

    1.Alignment of goals
    2. Partnership between IT and business including shared information and collaborative decision making
    3. Delivery of the promise (projects and service)
    4. Consistency – Business know what to expect from IT and IT staff behave in a consistent manner

    Hope this clarifies.

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