Strategic Planning and Other Delusions

Strategy is creative. Financial planning is operational.Strategic and financial planning require different skills, timelines, and different measures of success. You must separate the two streams of work if you want a real strategy.

IT organizations are fairly expert and annual plans and budgets, but not so much at creative, strategic planning. So the money wins and the old habits win. Strategic planning turns into numbers-driven operational and cost planning.

Okay, so you have to deliver an IT plan and budget to CEO and the Board but just think about delivering your budget on the planned schedule, and then run an IT strategic planning exercise completely separately, on a different calendar.

Why not come up with a brilliant forward-looking IT strategy and associated investment plan? Then go to the board and say, “We’d like to talk about a new strategic opportunity to drive profit growth.”

Or even better, when you go to get your IT budget approved, also discuss that you are in the midst of a multi-year strategic planning process, and your goal is to create the infrastructure to enable accelerated business growth and systemic cost saving opportunities outside the current IT operating plan, so stay tuned …

What was that on page 132?

You should be able to be communicate your IT strategyto your mom, without a PowerPoint presentation (or an Excel spreadsheet). If you can’t boil it down to a few key points, your team will never stand a chance of understanding it, internalizing it, and making the necessary changes in their day to day work to actually implement it.

Here are some questions you might want to include answers to:

  • Who are your users and customers?
  • What do they value?
  • What business advantage will you deliver?
  • What will your IT breakthrough be?
  • How do you define your commitment to service?
  • What are your measurable objectives for success?

Another common sign of a strategy that isn’t going anywhere is when you have to call in the planning expert to present the strategy. Everyone in your organization should be able to communicate your IT strategy to any other person. And it should be the same story every time! If that is not the case, you don’t have a strategy that will get executed.

Part of the problem is complexity, and part of the problem is taking the time to really include the whole organization in the discussions.

Are you serious this time?

Most long term IT strategies fail not because they are not good, but because they don’t get executed. Most strategies don’t get executed because the natural tendency for any organization when they hear about a new strategy is to think, “This is not serious, this will change again, the safest thing for me to do is to keep doing what I’m doing.”

You need to communicate the basic points of your IT strategy over and over (and over) again, if you want your team to act on it. You need to let them know that they are allowed and expected to work on the new things. Otherwise, they will just stay busy in the weeds, and believe they are making the right choice. You need to make people realize you are serious about doing something new.

So if you want to drive strategic change in your IT organization find ways to communicate what is important every day, every week, every month, and every quarter until it’s done. Without this your strategy will stall.

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find Patty at, follow her on Twitter or Facebook, or read her book “RISE: How to Be Really Successful at Work AND Like Your Life“.