A mid-year refresh of your IT strategy is always a great idea, now more than ever.
At too many organizations, the IT strategy, and many other strategic planning documents, end up being “binderware.” Rather than helping set an agenda and provide guidance and measurement to help execute, these grand plans end up relegated to a dusty old shelf (or its digital equivalent), never to be opened or regarded again.
There’s some benefit to the exercise of putting these documents together and the thought process that goes into creating them, but they’re far more effective when regularly consulted. If nothing else, they force a regular evaluation of whether or not you’ve met the objectives that you created for your organization, and perhaps some difficult considerations, conversations, and adjustments if you haven’t.
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This regular revisiting of your IT strategy is best done quarterly, but recent events (COVID-19) have likely put that exercise to the back burner, and furthermore, likely invalidated wide swaths of your strategy that may require more of a wholesale rewrite than a few tweaks.
Revisiting and updating your strategy need not be a painful exercise, and the thinking behind it is more important than the font selection for your PowerPoint slides at this juncture. Consider the following elements and use them to craft your strategy, whether it’s a few updates to your existing strategy that can largely remain intact, or a rapid, wholesale rewrite (or first-time creation).
Identify the organization’s broader objectives that IT will help advance
Many IT strategies start with some vague statements about what’s happening in the broader world, and quickly dive into details about various initiatives, projects, and spending projections. These can quickly descend into “shopping lists” of loosely associated initiatives that don’t convey a lot of value by themselves.
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Even if the larger organization is still in the process of updating its strategy based on rapidly changing events, there’s little harm in articulating what you believe its priorities are. Better to lay out a half dozen bullet points and come to the table armed with a discussion starter, than show up with a “shopping list” that’s easily dismissed.
By articulating a summary version of the company’s broader strategic objectives, you can now link each of the elements of your IT plan back to the broader organizational strategy.
Identify the IT initiatives that will advance the broader agenda
If you’ve clearly defined your perception of the broader strategy, you can now define how IT will advance that agenda, providing overviews of the initiatives you are planning that activate each element of the strategy. Now, rather than debating whether we “really need” an initiative, you can shift the debate to which strategic objectives the company is ultimately prioritizing, and have a compelling case for the IT initiatives that enable that element of the broader strategy.
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Done properly, you’ll shift discussions with your executive team from whether or not the company can afford another technology project, to some difficult but deeply meaningful discussions about what the company’s true priorities are, and how an IT investment can accelerate those priorities.
Have some meaningful measures for each initiative
It’s easy to focus so much on the initiatives that make up your strategy that you can find yourself blindsided when elements are approved, and you find yourself wondering how to actually get started on the execution side. You need not develop a wildly detailed project plan and budget for every initiative that’s in your strategy, but baseline milestones and measurable objectives that allow for a “sanity check” every quarter will make your strategy document a valuable tool rather than binderware. This will become especially relevant as IT leaders are faced with dozens of conflicting priorities that can derail even the best strategy that doesn’t have a high-level plan for execution.
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With executives across most organizations struggling to define the “new normal,” showing up to the table with defined objectives and plans that link back to organizational priorities will put you several steps ahead of the game as the world recovers from COVID-19, and elevate IT’s status, as well as your personal status, as a reliable enabler of post-COVID recovery, rather than yet another leader running around looking confused, with no clear plan.