IT Strategy / Roadmapping
Many of us are so busy
it is hard to get through email let alone spend time creating our IT strategy. However, I would suggest that it is important to take the time to create these plans to inform both the executive leadership team and your IT team on the strategic IT priorities you believe should be pursued. These efforts tend to be more overwhelming to think about than to complete. I would suggest that you could pull together your IT strategy in just a few sessions with your leadership team. Set out to create just a first draft version and you will see that is will facilitate numerous conversations until 5-6 versions later you feel it is done.
First, all good IT strategies must be based on the business strategy. Today it is more important than ever to ensure that the initiatives that you are pursuing in IT align directly to business outcomes. These business outcomes or plans are generally around growing sales, opening new consumer channels, acquiring new companies, reducing costs, and/or driving customer satisfaction. I think we have all seen these various business plans throughout our careers. As you understand the business objectives, you can then build the IT initiatives in support of these objectives. The goal will be to map all IT efforts to these business strategies. In IT, we need to be able to understand all the other business functions and what they are attempting to achieve. It is one of the benefits of being in technology, you get to learn every other function in the business in order to support them effectively.
Now you know the IT initiatives that need to be completed, the hard work is now getting them done. We are all limited by our budget amounts, technical debt, support and maintenance requirements of our existing portfolio and numerous other factors. This is where getting your leadership team in a room to help is critical. They know what bandwidth and limitations exist within their groups and can then help to sequence the IT work to achieve the business outcome. The goal is for each business outcome, you create a list of IT initiatives that need to be completed. Ideally, you should attempt to break the business outcome into phases and deliver on a minimum viable product (MVP) for the first phase, then sequence out the subsequent phases over time providing more and more functionality. This allows you to deliver on some component of the value to the business quickly, and then keep delivering more capabilities over time. If you are already in an agile development model the additional releases of capability should then come quickly. If you are still waterfall, you can scope your releases into chunks of value for the business.
At this point, your first draft of the IT strategy should have business outcomes listed with the necessary IT initiatives to achieve them mapped to them over time. Next, you will need to add a list of IT infrastructure type activities that must be done to keep your IT organization current. These are activities that support the business but not support direct business outcomes, however, they still need to be completed. Example of these would be update and distribute new security standards, upgrade all operating systems with latest security patches, negotiate new contract for networks, reduce technical debt, the list goes on forever. I would create an additional category called IT infrastructure/security and load these projects there. Your constituents need to know that you are working on these efforts and you need to ensure you get the funding to complete them. Once again lay this out over a three year time horizon so that you are clear with the priority and timing of each.
OK, now you have the first version of your IT strategy, what do you do with it? The best approach I have seen is to start to socialize it with your business partners and get alignment. Ideally, if you have a governance group in place for IT, that is the perfect place to gain alignment. If not, you should probably create one. The prioritization and ratification of the IT strategy should be done by a cross functional group of business leaders. IT capacity is a precious resource that should be used for the largest benefit of the organization. The only way to achieve that is to allow the other business leaders to weigh in on the prioritization. Coming in with a first draft of the IT strategy may be presumptuous but in reality, it is so much easier for the business leaders to react to a strawman than to start with a blank piece of paper. My experience is that after a few iterations you will have a solid version of the IT strategy.
This exercise should then be a big help when you enter the budgeting cycle each year. Having the roadmap of IT initiatives supporting the business over time should facilitate getting the budget you need.