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5 Mistakes to Avoid in Your 2017 Strategic Plan

Don't neglect previous years' plans, don't just focus on technology but explain how IT will help the business accomplish its most important goals, and help all employees translate ideas and decisions into action

Done well, IT strategic planning does two things. First, it builds clear connections between IT activities and investments, and the business goals that IT helps its company hit.

Second, it establishes a message that can be felt deeply and energize teams — a message about where the organization will concentrate its time, resources, and passion. Unfortunately, many IT strategic plans do neither of these things; corporate IT teams would be wise to avoid these five mistakes.

  1. Too much focus on “the plan,” not enough on planning: Dwight Eisenhower said it best in a 1957 speech: “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Too often, the strategic planning exercise is limited to a tightly bounded vacuum known as the leadership offsite. Plans have token alignment to high-level business objectives, rather than a deep connection to business needs that are actually changing faster than the annual planning cycle.

    This is not to say that there isn’t a need for a plan or offsite, but rather that both need to be the culmination of planning activities that should be happening on an iterative basis, promote skill development among a wider range of IT staff, and emphasize more continuous business partner engagement.

  2. A “to-do” list without a message or insight: Strategic planning exercises that fail to produce critical insights and a compelling message can come across as self-justification to the rest of the firm. The best strategic plans define “to-do’s” — as well as explicit “not-to-do’s” — after first defining a clear articulation of why.

    One way to do this is to document strategic assumptions to articulate the logic behind your strategic plan and ensure beliefs are explicit and transparent to all stakeholders.

  3. A vision that’s limited to IT or technology: Strategic plans that aren’t focused on educating business leaders on technology decisions — and which don’t consider how to integrate, secure, and scale business-led technology solutions or digitization initiatives – will miss a critical opportunity to influence the way the company gets value from technology and, ultimately, the way it grows.

  4. Data-driven, but not data-insightful: The best strategic plans are data-driven, but the best strategic judgment depends on the ability to match data to context to find insight. There’s no shortage of data to support arguments for the role of technology in grabbing competitive advantage, for instance, and hence increasing digitization investments, but this data can be disconnected from tactics that maximize the effects of digital transformation.

    The key question to ask is not about the data per se, but about the story the data is trying to tell, and whether or not that story is complete, in terms of insight.

  5. A plan without “day 1” guidance: Strategic plans become no more than a shelf ornament if they don’t define clear action steps and accountability. At a basic level, plans need to define clear actions steps and accountability. But beyond that, the best planning efforts do three things:

    • They run progress checks against the current strategic plan to learn from them. Where did they deviate, and why? Why did some initiatives result in big wins, while others perpetually ate into resources without generating outcomes?

    • They include an in-depth assessment of the talent in the company, assessing whether the right roles, competencies, and skills are in place to deliver on the plan.

    • They show managers how to put the right change management measures in place to engage important partners inside and outside the function and to implement the plan.

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