Think Tank: Tips for IT strategic planning success

We all know that we need to get more value from information technology investments. That means 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 the business needs into results. But it is often not that easy! Many organisations develop a strategic plan but successful implementation is still difficult. Like in golf or chess, rules are well known but consistent performance is still hard.

More than a document, an organisation’s strategy is the shared understanding and common vision of the stakeholders and the passion of the IT leaders. When everybody has a reasonably shared understanding of the overall strategy — and when everybody makes it their business to position their individual decisions around what, how, and when to do things in the context of the overall plan — the strategy is truly adopted. Here are 11 tips to ensure your strategic plan is implemented successfully.

1. Understand and measure how information technology will enable the business

Business alignment has become a trite phrase. In the context of an IT strategic plan, understanding how IT can help improve performance of the enterprise is critical. Can IT enable the business bring products and services to market faster or cheaper? Can IT change to meet 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 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 enterprisewide performance measure, IT should demonstrate how it is supporting this goal. This sounds obvious, but in many organisations IT performance goals have no obvious or automatic link to the organisation’s goals. The effort 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. Obtain executive sponsorship

If IT or executives do not use the strategic plan in decision making it will become an orphan. Key stakeholders and executives need to be involved right from the beginning of the IT strategic planning process. Usually the chief executive’s blessing in the form of a charter for strategic planning is a good start. Get the executives involved early. Get their input on how the business is changing, what challenges they face and what they need from IT. Seek guidance on key priorities and investment areas. Let’s not forget the IT executive is key to this sponsorship. Without active involvement and sponsorship of the IT executive, the plan would 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 and 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 stay alert for this type of information not just in the strategic planning process but also 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 that the CIO and the IT leadership demonstrate their commitment and take a lead role in the change management process.

5. Involve stakeholders

Getting commitment to change starts at the time of strategy formation. Giving key stakeholders the opportunity to provide input and feedback increases 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 soliciting their ideas on where IT could improve can unleash a lot of ideas and inputs. Asking people what their problems and ideas are increases their interest and makes the strategy process more relevant. Keeping them informed with regular updates and follow-ups, sometimes using their own managers and team leaders for these updates, will 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, having key IT staff and managers provide input on implementation timeframes and challenges can help ensure the strategy is not pie-in-the-sky but achievable. When the real size of the task and timeframes becomes apparent, steps can be taken to adjust the goals to ensure they remain challenging but achievable.

7. Demonstrate flexibility during planning

Strategic perspectives evolve and develop as planning progresses and discussions take place. Maintaining flexibility allows IT to adapt to the changes and agree to goals that best reflect the organisational realities. An open mind during the strategic planning process will help identify omissions and unrealistic goals, resulting in a better plan and greater buy-in.

8. Prepare a holistic plan

The IT strategic plan should not be just about projects and portfolios. It needs to critically examine all aspects of IT management and IT capability within the organisation. Achieving organisational goals often needs attention to aspects such as the enterprise architecture, investment planning and governance, program management office, people planning and performance management practices et cetera. Inclusion of initiatives in this area would cover all critical IT aspects.

9. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Completing your plan is just the first step in executing a process of strategic change. Launch it with a splash. Have sessions with all the IT staff. Don’t forget 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, especially early successes. These will give everyone a sense of momentum and keep 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 for progress. They also have targets or milestones. They specify the actions or initiatives needed to achieve progress. Measuring progress of the initiatives is usually the first step followed by the outcome measures (which usually lag the actions). Maintaining disciplined executive attention on completion of initiatives and targets is critical to achieving a successful implementation.

11. Revisit and revise

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. For implementation to be successful, it needs to be treated as a change program, with the right sponsorship, stakeholder engagement and communications.

Hemant Kogekar is the principle of Kogekar Consulting. He has previously held CIO/IT director positions with Suncorp, Citigroup and Franklins. Contact him at

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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