• Keith Latchaw

Traversing the Road to Successful IT Strategic Planning

Your IT Strategic Planning Process doesn’t have to be a long and winding road.

In life, plans are good. You probably have a plan for your daily commute. In public sector agencies, IT strategic plans are necessary. IT strategic plans are the vehicle used to ensure that the Agency is optimizing how it leverages technology to create value for the Agency. They are the on ramps to arrive at short- and long-term organization objectives. But creating a strategic plan takes effort and, well, planning. In this article we take a panoramic look at the 8 steps that span a successful IT strategic planning process.

1. Get on Board

Identify Key Stakeholders

  • Stakeholder assessment

  • In IT and outside of IT

  • Include internal and external

  • May want to include input from customers

The first step toward successful IT strategic planning is stakeholder involvement. Stakeholders hold the keys to input, feedback, resources, and support. Having them on board is essential. What is the best way to go about this? Include them in the planning process from the start. This helps ensure that IT initiatives receive the necessary support and resources to successfully implement. Your planning team might include:

  • IT leadership – of course!

  • Agency executives

  • Senior and middle managers

  • Technical and support staff

  • Customers/citizens

  • Former leaders of the organization

A trusted advisor to provide leadership, governance, and accountability throughout the process. These stakeholders are now your planning team. They will play an important role in formulating the IT strategic planning process.

2. Know the Rules of the Road

Establish Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines

  • Establish planning process and timelines

  • Clearly define guiding principles

  • Establish parameters

Rules are created for a reason – at least they should be. Help the IT strategic planning team be efficient and effective. Adopt procedures that support the planning process, the planning team itself, and information about the IT strategic plan. This will help team members understand their roles and responsibilities for the duration. Include a governance model to establish a clear decision-making process throughout the planning journey and procedures for addressing the planning timeline and budget.

Validate or create a set of IT guiding principles. These principles create the structure or rules that need to be considered when developing the IT strategic plan. Guiding principles should inform 1) What decisions should be made, 2) How decisions should be made,and 3) Who can make and enforce decisions along with parameters to be applied in decision making.An example would be “We optimize first, buy off the shelf second, and customize/build as a last resort”.

3. Know Where You're Going

Define Future State

  • Identify target IT maturity level

  • Identify strategies to close gaps and improve performance

  • Raise the bar, innovate to move the needle on Agency goals and objectives

  • Maximize value to the organization

Begin with the end in mind. It seems natural to start with understanding your current state. However, the best approach is to start your strategic planning by clearly defining your desired future state. Taking this approach will allow you to focus on the IT function from the perspective of how it adds value to the Agency. When you begin with current state there is a tendency to focus on ways to improve IT (internally IT focused). Instead, look at the value the IT function can deliver to the Agency.

4. Know Where You Are

Assess Current State

  • Assess current IT maturity level

  • Gather feedback from business and IT stakeholders

  • Assess current alignment with business goals and objectives

  • Identify gaps/opportunities

Know where you are starting from. A solid understanding how IT currently functions and derives value for the organization is necessary before formulating any plans to move the organization forward.

Understand ITs current state by gathering information and feedback from stakeholders in a variety of ways. Information gathering can include employee surveys, focus groups, stakeholder interviews and any number of Assessments. Leverage industry benchmarks and maturity models; you do not have to reinvent the wheel.

An inventory of IT capabilities is critical to developing a strategic plan. Knowing the current level of IT capabilities and their direct alignment to realized value lays the foundation for planning improvements that will optimize performance in the future.

5. Know Why You're Going

Align Goals and Objectives

  • Understand Agency goals and objectives

  • Define IT vision (desired future state – what you want to be)

  • Define IT mission (purpose and how to achieve Vision)

  • Set IT goals and objectives (how will progress be measured)

As with any trip it is important that you know the big picture and why you are going. With IT strategic planning this begins by clearly understanding the Agency goals and objectives. The planning team should keep the value the Agency wants to create directly in their line of sight. Aligning IT objectives and goals to Agency objectives ensures that IT initiatives, operations, planning, and leadership are synchronized to drive value for the organization. This will accelerate positive outcomes when the Plan is implemented.

This level of synchronization is accomplished by establishing a clearly defined and realistic IT vision and mission aligned with the vision and mission of the Agency. This will provide a unified focus and direction for the IT organization. It will also challenge them to think and move beyond current strategies to achieve the vision and mission.

In support of achieving the IT Vision and Mission the organization should develop goals and objectives to measure progress towards the envisioned future state. When IT objectives are successfully aligned with Agency objectives, you see:

  • Consensus around IT investments

  • Improved decision-making about IT priorities

  • Compatible and supported long-terms goals

  • Agreement on ITs role throughout the organization

  • Download the IT Strategic Planning Checklist

Download Road to IT Strategic Planning PDF

6. Map How You'll Get There

Develop the IT Roadmap

  • Review prior roadmaps/plans; identify keep, stop, and continue initiatives

  • Identify new initiatives needed to achieve the desired future state

  • Prioritize initiatives based on strategic alignment, cost, risk, and complexity

  • Develop initiative roadmap

  • Determine budget impact/needs

With the starting point and desired destination clearly defined it is now time to clearly define how to get there. This is done by creating a technology roadmap to outline how the Agency will cross the bridge from the current state to arrive at the plan’s desired future state.

The IT roadmap should address which initiatives should start, stop, and continue. They should also address specific improvements to IT operations, staffing, security, and any other functions where making improvements will clearly derive additional value for the Agency. The roadmap should include any resources required to make the trip including the overall budget.

A roadmap also ensures that technology and infrastructure investments are aligned to meet the short-term and long-term objectives of the Agency.

7. Are You There Yet?

Measure Progress

  • Identify key portfolio initiative metrics

  • Set targets

  • Develop a monthly (minimum) dashboard

  • Implement leadership, governance, and accountability for each initiative

  • Implement weekly dashboards for each initiative (include cost, time, and quality metrics)

  • Review progress regularly and formally at least monthly

  • Take corrective action

Once the IT strategic planning process is complete, hold your Agency accountable to implement it on time and on budget. Check your team’s progress frequently along the way. Formal metrics are necessary to keep an eye on the road ahead and create common goals that bind all parties to the plan itself. In addition to tracking key IT operational metrics set up metrics to track the progress of key initiative and the value IT is driving for the Agency.

Most importantly, these metrics need to be monitored and corrective action taken to make sure you continue on the path to your desired destination.

8. Do You Still Want to Go There?

Review and Revise

  • Review Agency goals and objectives along with the IT Strategic Plan regularly and formally, at least quarterly

  • Make adjustments

Do not let the finished IT strategic plan collect dust like an old atlas. Ensure success by reviewing it regularly. Track progress and make updates as unexpected factors alter its course.

Present the Strategic Plan to Agency executives, senior management, IT staff, and other key stakeholders. Publish it for internal, and sometimes external, distribution depending on Agency requirements.

It is important to establish a regular planning cycle to keep the IT strategic plan current and aligned with the Agency’s goals and objectives.

Final Destination

The path of an IT strategic planning process does not have to be a long and winding road. Follow these 8 steps of strategic planning and arrive at your intended destination successfully:

  • Identify Key Stakeholders

  • Establish Policies, Procedures & Guidelines

  • Define Future State

  • Assess Current State

  • Align Goals and Objectives

  • Develop the IT Roadmap

  • Measure Progress

  • Review and Revise

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