Since we're nearing the end of the 2010 planning cycle, it's as good a time as any to review how we plan projects and whether our processes are as \n\neffective as they could be. IT planning never truly ends and tends to eat up more time than we think. As a result, CIOs and their teams have an \n\nopportunity to lead the charge to get leaner in planning.IT planning for most companies originates with several IT leaders (with titles like business consultants and portfolio managers) eliciting business \n\nrequirements for the year, part of a "bottom-up" process. But a CIO needs the ability and the platform within his or her company to say: Here are the 10 \n\nprojects on our multi-year roadmap and these will guide the majority of our investments, thus greatly streamlining the process. Diamond's Digital IQ research, in which we surveyed 451 senior business and IT executives of large companies, found that firms spend roughly 240 \n\nman weeks per year on planning and budgeting\u2014almost five man years! Think about what could be accomplished with 80% of that time back in \n\nthe hands of your senior-most leaders. Roughly 25% of this effort is geared toward collecting the project ideas, another 25% toward preparing business \n\ncases, 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 \n\nstrong 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 \n\nroadmap and spend more time aligning to it and less time on (tactical) data collection.It's clear that we're making progress in bridging gaps between business and IT, but to maintain momentum through 2010 and beyond, CIOs will be \n\ntasked with sustaining technology's transformational forces. But in order to get better at delivering projects, we need to first get better at planning them. \n\nFollowing are four linked themes that should contribute to a company's effective IT planning process.Moving Toward Leaner Planning\nOne of Diamond's financial services clients spends more than half its annual planning at the edges of the organization. In other words, the IT leaders \n\nresponsible for each of the lines of business work with their teams to collect a list of all of the projects to consider for the coming year. The individual lists \n\nare then rolled into a master list and the result is a set of investments 300% to 500% larger than the expected IT investment dollars available. The \n\nremaining half of the planning time involves trimming down the list into something closer to the numbers provided by the CFO's team.\n\nWhat's missing is a linkage from the strategic roadmap to the annual plan. A CIO needs to make sure that all IT investments can be tracked back to \n\none or more specific business objectives and more detailed capabilities.High-level business objectives should be driven into their corresponding business capabilities, and this requires not only an initial exercise but also a \n\nsystematic approach to keep it current. At Diamond, we recommend enterprise architecture as the function to own the business objective to business \n\ncapability mapping as well as the subsequent links to the underlying systems and infrastructure. Consider Wal-Mart. The company relentlessly focuses on \n\nthe customer, which translates into an objective to always have product on-hand. But this objective doesn't stand alone. Rather, it is supported by several \n\nbusiness capabilities that are, in turn, enabled by information technology.Similarly, a Diamond healthcare client produces a great report that tracks IT's delivery of the business capabilities month-to-month and \n\nquarter-to-quarter. It uses business language and terms defined by the business, and it represents a simple and direct way to show what IT is working on \n\nand that it directly contributes to moving the business toward its goals. This report has a side benefit of always keeping the elements of the strategic \n\nroadmap in front of the business and IT leaders.An iterative planning approach will provide better visibility into delivery objectives. Likewise, progressive, balanced planning provides better visibility \n\ninto the organization's investment, return, and strategic direction. How much more effective could your organization be if it spent more time working the \n\nplan and far less time planning the work?Chris Curran is Diamond Management & Technology Consultants' Chief Technology Officer and managing partner of the firm's technology \n\npractice. He writes the CIO Dashboard blog at www.ciodashboard.com, and can be \n\nreached at Chris.Curran@diamondconsultants.com or @cbcurran on Twitter.