Stall Alert! How An IT Department Can Help

by drjim on September 11, 2008

Four IT Practices To Avoid A Company Stall

Four IT Practices To Avoid A Company Stall

We’ve talked about how companies can get blindsided by entering an economic stall that they never saw coming. Now let’s wrap this discussion up with a quick overview of some steps that an IT department can take in order to help prevent the company from coming to grief.

We’ll be talking about four different strategies that have been used by management teams in the past. The first two are designed to make a company’s strategic assumptions explicit to everyone. The next two are designed to test those assumptions in order to determine if they are still accurate and relevant. Here they are:

  • Create an IT Core-Belief Inquisition Squad: Since how the IT department operates has such a significant impact on the overall health of the company, create a cross-functional team to go on a fact-finding mission to collect the department’s most closely held beliefs about itself and the firm that it is supporting. The shorter the tenure of the members of the team, the better because it will help to avoid too much belief in how things are currently done. The goal of the team would be to raise the issues that no one wants to talk about and to challenge the beliefs that everyone takes for granted: what industry is the company in? Who are IT’s customers? What are 10 things that you would never hear our customers say about IT? Are our competitors’ IT departments more valuable than us?
  • Invent A Pre-Mortum Strategic Analysis: This activity consists of an off site meeting where participants image what the future will be like in 5 years and how the IT department will have contributed to the success or failure of the company as a whole. The key to this exercise is to identify the issues and factors that various success/failure scenarios have in common. Once this is known, then the IT leaders can identify a set of core IT beliefs and take the time to both examine and monitor them.
  • Create A Shadow CIO & IT Team: This is the most dangerous of the four practices. If you want to be able to get a different view of the same information, create a “B-Team” of high-potential IT mangers who will eventually be promoted. Have the briefings that will be given to the CIO and his direct reports given to them the day before and have the shadow team discuss the issues and search for answers. Have a scribe attend and note the flow of the discussion, the issues raised, and the conclusions reached. The two benefits that this brings are that it prepares the next wave of IT leaders before they are promoted and it provides a fresh perspective on how issues and solutions can be viewed.
  • Bring A Venture Capitalist To The Table: The challenge here is that someone needs to find a venture capitalist with some time to spare. However, if you can do that, then they can be a huge asset in probing the IT strategy for weaknesses. A VC will challenge any and all IT positions and will be able to provide a very practical, payback focused view of the IT strategy.  The VC views the world in terms of making each decision to fund optional – additional funding is only provided if specific milestones have already been met.

Why bother with these four practices – after all they sure seem like a lot of effort? The simple fact is that once an economic stall hits a company, the data shows that the longer the stall exists, the better the probability that the company will never recover. As the world of business continues to speed up. researchers believe that there will be an increase in the number of firms that enter into a stall in the future. The tools that we’ve discussed here provide the IT department with a way to help the company detect and then avoid a stall.

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