In my previous blog post ‘Who is driving your ICT strategy?’, I touched on Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle approach and the importance of asking “why” when you are creating a tech plan.
It’s a simple, almost childlike, question – yet it is the golden thread. The question and its answers are an ideal basis for guiding the formulation and management of tech strategy, helping ensure that the three pillars of ICT – demand, supply and governance – remain balanced and intact.
ICT groups have a natural tendency to be reactive, technical and “just in time”. They can be distracted by “how” they will meet budgets, timeframes and deliverables, deal with competitive pressures and individual pet projects, rather than first considering why something is being done and why they exist.
Why ask why?
Ask "why" as you work with the business to develop your ICT strategy. In an innovative, well governed organisation, the answer should clearly align with its mission and objectives.
It will reflect the organisation’s core purpose and beliefs, and there will be a level of consistency (or at least complementarity) with every other element of strategy. Clear alignment will focus the organisation’s energies, direction and investments as well as its people towards achieving desired outcomes, together.
Be aware that asking why can be challenging, even confronting – but the answer, or lack thereof, will always be revealing. If the organisation demand for technology and the ICT supply function are not on the same page, ask the question further before proceeding.
Too often, the ICT function gets caught between different business functions, marooned and exposed on a rock of expectations that weren’t aligned; solutions in search of a problem; and putting out spot fires.
On the other hand, articulation of a common purpose allows ownership and trust to be built effectively through shared beliefs.
Asking why on the demand side
On the demand side, an ICT strategy informed by asking why will help ensure that the ICT function understands the organisational objectives and identifies solutions that achieve those goals.
If either ICT or the business jump to the “how or where from”, there is a risk that the purpose will become obscured by more detailed technological considerations, prejudices, etc., which may derail the effort.
Once the purpose is agreed, the “what” can be specified and the “how or where from” can be worked through, informed by a common purpose.
Starting from a common place helps mobilise the resources, clarify the timeframes, and bridge the expectation gaps that so often emerge and lead to disillusionment.
Asking why on the supply side
On the supply side, an ICT strategy informed by “why” helps the ICT function to determine how to best deliver services and where they will come from.
An ICT function that innately understands the organisation’s core purpose is better placed to deliver ICT solutions that not just support the business, but help drive the business.
It helps identify solutions and build relationships with suppliers in a focused and more strategic manner, less distracted by “just in time” or time bound budgetary considerations. Finally, an ICT strategy based on a common understanding of why something is being done helps build staff loyalty and trust.
Common beliefs and working towards desired outcomes together will help build high functioning teams, which will be more prepared to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zones to create innovative solutions that are the mark of the best organisations.
It is so easy to get distracted and overwhelmed by how, what and who. When you find that the path has fractured, return to why. Find the golden thread and let it be your path.
Asking why when putting in place governance
At the outset, asking why will help ensure that you get buy in from boards and shareholders and staff in key business areas for your ICT strategy.
With common purpose, realistic investment decisions, resourcing and timeframes can be set. Setbacks can also be better managed if there is a belief and trust in the purpose underlying the strategy.
In many ways, asking why before “how or where from” is reflected in the use of benefit mapping (using techniques such as investment logic maps – known as ILM) to support ICT strategic and project planning.
Using an ILM approach, stakeholders are encouraged to explore drivers and objectives (the why) as a means of rationalising benefits before delving into business changes and enablers (the how).
So ask why early and often. And be prepared to listen with an open mind. Put prejudices and any arrogance aside. An ICT strategy has no real value unless there is buy in across the business.
Once you know the answer to the questions you are asking, be prepared to articulate them – clearly, consistently and regularly. These answers will be your sword and shield, they will show the way, inspire others to follow, to pull together to make it work for a common purpose.
Carsten Larsen is partner, ICT strategy at Business Aspect.