What good is a strategy if you can’t execute it? And what good is it to have a team that is great at execution but there is not a common strategy? In any IT organisation, they must be viewed as two sides of the same coin. We must have both to succeed.
Let’s look at how we translate our well thought out strategies into seamless execution.
Preparation is a differentiator
For as long as there have been strategists and plans that must turn into action to achieve one’s purpose, one of the key success factors has always been preparation.
I believe ancient Chinese strategist and general Sun Tzu said it best in his classic The Art of War when he stated: “The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.
“Thus many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat; how much more no calculation at all. It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.”
Winning teams never engage without a plan. Many IT organisations, and companies, have a great strategy. Yet, most fail to achieve the desired results.
Why is that? It’s the old cliché “people don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.”
Your IT strategy is really a roadmap for your journey up the IT Maturity Curve. Your preparation will lead to your ability to execute, which will directly correspond to your effectiveness at achieving your desired results.
Break down the barriers
What separates the best when it comes to flawlessly executing our IT strategies?
There are 5 obstacles or pitfalls that you must address to drive IT further up the business value chain.
1. You’re not managing the metrics
We all know that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Metrics not only tell us when we’ve achieved our goal, but they also give us visibility into progress toward that goal. Translate your strategic objectives into measures and corresponding targets.
For example, how about improving customer satisfaction by 4 per cent by the end of the year while reducing the average cost of resolving a ticket by 7 per cent?
Those metrics can be cascaded to your team as performance objectives and tracked throughout the year so you know if you’re on pace to achieve your goals.
2. There’s no action plan
Many leaders have a great strategy but never extend the strategy down to action plans or projects. It becomes ‘management speak’ that doesn’t translate to what team members need to do every day to achieve our goals.
Once you have your strategy and metrics (the what), engage members of your team, at all levels, to come up with the ‘how’. Let them define action plans to support every strategic objective, based on the metrics.
You will be amazed at how well the people who do the job every day can describe how to achieve lofty goals. It creates employee engagement. And the peers of employees that help develop the action plans also increase their engagement because they see that management is listening.
3. Resources are poorly managed
How many times have you come up with a great plan, gotten 6 months down the road, and then had the realisation that you don’t have all of the resources you need to deliver the results?
Work with your team to estimate who needs to work on each project and how much time is required. Use these estimates to figure out who is overloaded and identify the resource gaps.
Now you have two choices. Either eliminate some projects, and adjust your strategic objectives and metrics, or get more resources.
Often, you will find that the cost of a few contractors will be more than offset by the profitability of the associated project.
4. Your team is distracted by new, shiny objects
New initiatives come in, either opportunistically or in response to a threat. Do you have a way to deal with shiny objects without jeopardising the entire strategy?
Here’s a simple but effective technique to deal with shiny objects. Once the strategic plan is in place and you begin execution, treat every new initiative as a trade-off. Who needs to work on that new initiative?
What are they working on today? With those answers in hand, determine if the new initiative will earn back the sunk cost of any initiative that you stop, and still be profitable. And determine if the current projects can be stopped and still deliver value.
If the shiny object doesn’t create more value than what you’re currently working on, then it has to wait.
5. You don’t have the right skills and your culture needs work
The Gartner Global CIO Survey reported that talent and culture are the number 1 and number 3 obstacles to achieving the CIO’s goals.
Let’s start with talent. You’re moving, or have moved, to agile, DevOps, cloud, increased cyber security, and more.
Have you done a gap analysis on your team’s skills versus your strategy? Are you full of ‘A’ players or do you expect your ‘B’ and ‘C’ players to transform your business?
How about culture? Research with 130 leading CIOs – people operating at or near stage 4 of the IT Maturity Curve – uncovered 14 core competencies required of IT organisations to operate at this stage.
Surprisingly, 13 of the 14 competencies have nothing to do with technology. We call these the human side of technology. What historically had been referred to as the soft skills are now determined to be core competencies for IT success.
As you develop your strategy and prepare for flawless execution, think about the culture of service in your IT organisation. Think about the entire IT organisation and their communication skills, ability to influence others, business acumen and collaboration skills. Is there a culture of innovation embedded in the DNA of your team?
Every member of your team is an ambassador for IT. Your credibility comes from, not just your achievements, but also from the conversations that your team has with your internal and external clients.
It’s not enough for IT leadership to have the required culture. The entire IT team needs to live the culture every day.
Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. Over the past 25 years, he has worked with over 35,000 people to create high performance organisations, teams and individuals.