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Time For Actionable Strategy

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book Actionable Strategy: How IT Transforms Traditional Strategic Planning which focuses on the changing nature of strategic planning in light of the disruptive technologies that permeate every industry.

It has been my experience that strategic planning has always gotten a bad rap.  Strategy has often been viewed as a theoretical exercise, a make work project, that yields a lofty plan that is placed on a shelf to collect dust.  The sad reality is that in many respects, strategic planning has earned that bad rap.  I’ve been inside numerous organizations where past strategic attempts have results in exactly that scenario.  From an IT perspective, which is where I’ve focused most of my strategic engagements, grand plans have often been developed only to find no foothold within the organization to begin adding any value.  I started asking myself the question “why” many years ago.  Why is it that strategic planning seems to yield so little result in many circumstances?  About 6 six years ago, I realized that IT strategic planning was missing an important element, namely, a solid connection to the business it found itself in.  There was often a disconnect between the business and the IT group. Any strategy produced in this kind of silo approach was doomed for failure.

At the time, I refined my approach to delivering strategy to ensure that it began and ended with the business and the goals of the business.  I took the huge cookie cutter approach methodologies and created a series of tool kits that were rooted in understanding an organization and its business.  I called my approach at the time Business First Strategy to reflect the mindset that IT could not be viewed strategically, until a solid understanding of the business needs were established and supported.  In time, I refined my approach to take into account a new dimension that began to emerge back in 2008.  Strategic planning exercises simply took too long.  The longer the time frame, the higher the risk that the strategy would fail.  This was true for a number of reasons:

  • stakeholder would come and go.  Organizations changed and often you’d have to deal with different people.
  • the business environment changed before you could finish the strategic planning exercise and people would get discouraged that they were dealing with a moving target
  • the cost to deliver a big bang approach strategy was difficult to justify and if such an exercise did begin, the strategic objectives needed to provide huge ROI to justify the process in the first place

Taking those factors into consideration, my approach to strategic planning for IT built off of my previous work, but endeavoured to chunk planning done into smaller pieces of work.  Each piece of strategic work would have to standalone and produce value on its own.  That value, if proven to be true, would drive further future strategic engagements.  I called this approach Rapid Strategy, which allowed me to deliver strategic IT plans to organizations within a 90-day period.  This was a real breakthrough moment for me and the many client’s I was privileged to work with.  It allowed me to take my initial toolkit approach and find ways (processes and technology) to accelerate the process.  It’s a “do it fast” and “uncover surprises fast” and “make adjustments fast” and “realize value fast” approach.

Now in 2011 it seems that the strategic planning approach needs to evolve once again.  It’s a natural evolution that has been occurring, but has now been accelerated because of the environment we are finding ourselves in.  The progression has been to take strategic planning from a step-by-step cookbook approach, first to an approach rooted in business needs, then to an approach that was faster and now, for the next step in strategy, to transform it into an approach that retains the value in the first two iterations but added a much-needed third component.  What is that component?

Action!

I first began to realize that something was missing when I observed what happened to strategy I’d done after I’d delivered it to an organization.  In some cases, I stayed involved at the organization’s request and we observed that real and expected value began to be realized from the strategy.  In some cases I remained with organizations through to the completion of the implementation of strategic plans, and again, there was value.  There were instances, however, where I was not involved in the implementation of strategy, only to find out later that the organization hadn’t realized the value they’d hoped for.

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