by Stephanie Overby

Tales from the Darkside: 8 IT Strategic Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Jan 22, 20083 mins
Business IT AlignmentEnterprise ArchitectureIT Leadership

Want to prevent your next plan from landing in the trash? Avoid these most common pitfalls.

Forrester VP and research director Alex Cullen has seen all kinds of IT plans, the very best and the very worst.

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And he keeps files of both. “Most of them are pretty flawed,” he says. One of the worst included a history of computing from 1960 on. Avoid these mistakes to make sure your next plan doesn’t end up in his bad file.

The Doorstop Plan

This is not War and Peace. Aim for 15 pages, says Gartner VP Dave Aron, who saw one IT plan weigh in at 250 pages. Consider PowerPoint instead of Word as your medium of choice, says Cullen. It fosters brevity. And limit it to 25 slides.

The Shelfware Plan

There’s nothing as worthless as what Aron calls the “write once, read never” plan. “The strategic plan needs to be a living thing,” says IT consultant Laurie Orlov. To avoid seeing your plan become shelfware, keep the people who helped create it involved, have it handy and refer to it often. “One CIO I know starts every meeting with a strategy moment: He asks, how will our business win and how does this meeting help?” says Aron. “He had to cancel the meeting the first time because no one could answer the question. But everyone thought about it before the next.”

Don’t Wait ‘Til Next Year

Strategic plans “require regular revalidation and refreshment,” says Orlov. Michael Hites, CIO of New Mexico State University , updates his three times a year.

The Devil Really Is in All Those Details

Details don’t belong in the strategic plan. It should be a stake in the ground, says Orlov. This is the year we introduce social networking tools in order to accomplish X, Y, or Z. It shouldn’t include hard dates or product selections. “People start to turn strategic plans into project lists,” says Cullen. “Then they don’t know where to stop.” If you feel you must include operational plans, put them in an appendix.

Carved in Stone and Just as Heavy

“You don’t want to go the ‘we-agreed-to-that-and-we’ll-never-change-it’ route,” says Orlov. Expect the unexpected. “What if the company suddenly makes an acquisition or there’s a leadership change?” Cullen asks. Want to really elevate your plan? Include scenario or contingency planning.

The English As a Second Language Trap

Too many IT strategic plans are written in jargon. You’re setting a direction for IT to support the business. Do so in business terms. “IT people that highlight buzzwords and product names are only doing an IT plan for their own department,” says Orlov. Throw out the IT lingo. Connect your goals to key business drivers.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

It sounds like a lot of work now, but it will save you time later: Create customized versions of your plan to address the differing needs of the plan’s audiences—the executive team, the IT department, business unit heads and vendors/partners. At the very least, create a customized introduction or executive summary. The goal, says Cullen, is to have one strategy and several ways of presenting it.

Shooting for the Stars

Keep it real. “Don’t be too ambitious in your first plan,” advises Cullen. “Don’t try to change everything.” When it doubt, underpromise and overdeliver.