Leadership

How do you create a strategic plan?

Too often, strategic planning boils down to vague, impractical slogans such as: <i>We will serve our customer.</i> How do you keep your strategic plan real? Read these tips and then add your own in this week's IT Manager discussion.

While strolling through our Technical Q&A recently, I noticed a post by a TechRepublic member whose alias is Wanhuns.

“Our CIO has asked all the IT departments to put together a three- to five-year strategy,” Wanhuns wrote. “My task is to put it all together in some kind of format. So has anyone done something like this? Do you have a template? Would anyone be interested in my job?”

While Wanhuns is concerned with the formatting, I’d like to take a closer look at what Wanhuns’ CIO is asking of his IT departments. (Although if anyone has a template to send me, I’d be glad to share it with the community!)

As I’m sure many of you know, strategic plans are no small task. It often takes at least a year to develop a viable strategic plan for IT. It typically takes that long to complete because the plan has to go through committee revisions, including the addition of the lingo of corporate politics. As a result, the published plan can often be distilled to a revolutionary phrase such as: “We will utilize technology to support and serve our customers.”

Generally, however, strategic plans tend to focus more on whole divisions—IT, sales, etc.—rather than individual departments.

Does your CIO require you to create a departmental strategic plan? Or are you required to assist with IT’s strategic planning?

We are asking you to share your tips for developing a practical strategic plan that is realistic, useful, and forward-looking.

Guidelines for strategic planning
Gartner analyst Bill Rosser shares my concerns about strategic planning. In his research paper, he quoted former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower:

"A plan is worth very little, but the process of planning is essential."

Rosser suggested that you skip developing a lengthy vision of what the enterprise should be in the future. Also, avoid pontificating on current competencies.

Instead, begin by defining the obstacles that are keeping the enterprise from achieving its goals. Rosser reminds us of management guru Peter Drucker’s advice that it is better to understand what has already happened and use this to form a plan rather than basing a plan on future predictions.

Rosser offers the following guidelines for adapting IT strategic planning to these fast-changing and grossly unpredictable times:
  • Focus on pragmatic obstacles to achieving objectives, as much as on vision or competencies.
  • Comprehend what has happened and plan for it rather than attempt to predict the future.
  • Develop several plausible scenarios for evaluation rather than one most-likely scenario.
  • Create multiple categories of investment objectives, using portfolios across time, risk, payoff, or internal vs. virtual.
  • Transcend the gap between knowing what to do and doing it.

Your turn
How do you keep your feet planted on the ground when developing a strategic plan? Do you really use the strategic plan to guide you, or do you consider it another bureaucratic exercise in paperwork? And what happens if your CIO changes? How does that affect your strategic planning efforts? Join our discussion by posting your comments and questions on strategic planning below.

 
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