CIOs Need To Learn: Plans = Bad, Decisions = Good

by drjim on May 18, 2011

There's Got To Be A Better Way To Make Strategic Decisions

There’s Got To Be A Better Way To Make Strategic Decisions

When you are CIO you will quickly come to dread (or maybe you already do) the annual strategic planning process for the IT department. Talk about choices: mobile devices, privacy issues, cloud computing – who can pack strategic planning for all of these issues into one short period at the beginning of the year – there’s got to be a better way

Why The Way That We Do It Today Is Broken

CIOs know that they have a problem when it comes to strategic planning – it just doesn’t work in most IT departments. What they don’t understand is why it’s broken. Michael Mankins is a consultant who has been studying the way that firms make strategic decisions, and he thinks that he knows where we’re going wrong.

He believes that IT departments are making two fundamental mistakes when it comes to strategic planning. The first is that we treat this type of planning as an annual process. The problem is that issues that need us to make strategic decisions seem to come up all throughout the year, this leaves us unable to make key decisions when we need to.

The other mistake is that all too often we focus on individual IT silos when we make strategic decisions (network, data centers, applications, security, etc.). Instead, we need to be operating at a higher level and looking at what such a decision means for the IT department as a whole.

A Better Way For CIOs To Make Decisions

What is needed is a better way for CIOs and their IT departments to make strategic decisions. In order for this to happen, the way that we go about making these types of decisions needs to be changed.

First, we need to consider strategic decision making to be a separate task from plan making. This means that we will be able to start up a strategic planning session at any time during the year without having to tie it to the overall planning process. Based on the decisions that are made in the strategic planning session, we can then go back and make modifications to our plans. However, by separating these two activities we can allow them to process independently of each other.

When we do strategic planning, we need to make sure that we limit ourselves to dealing with only a few key issues. This means that instead of allowing ourselves to get bogged down in having to step through each of our IT silos, we instead move the discussion up a level and focus on what it means to the IT department as a whole.

Strategic planning does not happen at a single point in time each year – instead we need to be able to do it at any time. By arranging things so that issues can be discussed throughout the year, this will allow the discussions to be able to focus on a more limited number of items and that should help the discussions reach better conclusions.

Finally, we need to make sure that we don’t just do a lot of talking about strategic issues – we need to make real decisions. By clearly defining what will be discussed and keeping the discussion focused on the issue at hand, CIOs can ensure that good discussions result in great decisions that cause real actions to be taken.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs put a great deal of time and energy in to annual strategy planning sessions; however, the results of these efforts are often ignored. More often than not major strategic decisions are made more off the cuff. In order to change this situation, CIOs need to do away with the limitations of time and vertical IT business units.

Instead, CIOs need to separate the process of making strategic decisions from the planning process. This allows both to continue without being blocked by one another. They need to limit the focus of the strategy planning session in order to ensure that the right decisions can be made. Finally, they need to establish a system so that strategy decisions can be made throughout the year, not just at the beginning.

As IT becomes an ever increasingly important part of every company, CIOs need to reshape the way that their IT department makes strategic decisions. By making the changes that we’ve discussed, CIOs will find that they can make more (and better) strategic decisions throughout the year. This will allow their IT department to do what it was originally designed to do – help the company do more and do it more quickly.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How many items do you think should be considered during an IT strategic planning meeting?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

How long until you end up in jail? They say that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely, so it sure seems as though just about every CIO will eventually become corrupted. How far along that path are you? Would it help if you had a chance to talk to someone who had already screwed up – do you think that maybe what they’d have to say might cause you to sit up, take notice, and stop doing bad things and start doing the right things?

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