A word of advice – stop creating IT strategies, just to have an IT strategy. Over the years, I’ve talked with many CIOs about their pursuit to write a best in class IT strategy. A strategic CIO might say, “I created my IT strategy in conjunction with the business strategy,” forgetting the fact that no one on their team can dictate the main objectives of the actual document. An operational CIO might say, “We don’t need an IT strategy, our project timeline drives our success.”
Strategic or operational, no matter where you find yourself on the spectrum, your strategy efforts mean nothing unless they are relevant and can guide your team to success. The great coach, Vince Lombardi once said, “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” If a football coach draws up a strategy for the big game and doesn’t communicate it or modify it throughout the game, winning will be difficult. Furthermore, if the coach doesn’t update that strategy for each game, depending on the changing variables, the chances of the team being successful are very slim.
Using this analogy in business and IT could have a huge impact on year over year success.
Here’s a list of seven best practices to keep in mind when creating your IT strategy:
Keep it dynamic: A five-year strategy on the fifth year is most likely irrelevant and ineffective, if it hasn’t been updated throughout the last four years. Review your strategy with your IT leadership team every 6-12 months. If there has been changes in the needs of the business, then modify the capabilities you have listed on the strategy or alter the order of the initiatives you have written.
Ask your IT managers to write a one-page strategy: If each department is responsible for the overall IT strategy and can clearly articulate how their department drives success, then you’ll get more buy-in from the team and a deeper understanding of IT’s needs and capabilities. Here are five things to include in each department strategy:
- IT objectives (defined on IT strategy)
- Department objectives
- Department outcomes
- Department Initiatives
- Measures of success
Include metrics: How are you going to know you’ve been successful, if you don’t know how to measure that success? In collaboration with your team managers and business partners, define metrics that are achievable and lead to the best business outcomes. For example, increasing customer retention by 5% is measurable and meaningful.
Make it CLEAR and CONCISE: The IT strategy should be easy to read and remember. Keeping things simple and the language clear, can help you and your team remember the overall objectives and goals. In each category of the strategy, define 3-5 elements that are the most important – this will make it easier for people to recall and quickly review.
Don’t mention technology: The technology landscape changes rapidly, and if you include specific technologies in your strategy you run the risk of having an obsolete document. Focus on the capabilities you can provide to the organization, but don’t get specific about the type of technology you plan to implement.
Communicate it up and down: Share your final strategy with your team, as well as your business partners. Getting buy-in from both sides helps you build confidence and respect from all stakeholders. Reference your IT strategy in team and leadership meetings, consistently re-educating and reminding everyone about the objectives that are guiding the organization to success.
Align and Re-align: Veteran IT leaders know it's crucial to align the IT strategy with the overall business strategy, but it's also very critical to re-align the plan when changes are made throughout the business. Essentially, the IT strategy should outline how IT is going to build or enhance capabilities that will help the business achieve their objectives. If business leaders decide to pivot or accelerate their plans, then IT has to be prepared to re-align their strategy.
Finally, if you’re looking for a partner to help guide your strategic planning, here are a few consultants and advisors nominated by our MIDMRKT CIO community.