Most lists for improving IT focus on project management issues like executive sponsorship and so on. While that's important, many IT managers fail to think strategically about how technology fits into their organization's larger business context. That shortsightedness causes lots of IT failures.
Law firm IT director, Peter Birley, developed a list of ten points to help IT folks think strategically. I like the list because it presents practical steps, without getting too caught up in the weeds of detailed project management.
1. Ensure costs are understood and under control. You can't achieve anything unless you understand your cost base so this has to be my number one. Once you have analysed the costs and dealt with any discrepancies, it is important to keep them under control. Also maintain reliable information on projected vs. actual costs and the benefits of any IT investments.
2. Focus on the customer. Some people may say this should be number one. Don't just consider your own company requirements but those that reflect the needs of your customer, otherwise you can become internally focused and your vision restricted by the walls of the company.
3. Create and follow a plan. You need to create a plan for your department so you have a direction. Strategic business and IT systems plans must be grounded in explicit high priority customer needs and must be aligned.
4. Engage the business. You need to obtain and maintain business buy-in and ongoing support. The business should have been working with you on the previous steps so there are no surprises. Make sure you get board approval, communicate directional changes/issues and keep the board informed. Find your supporters and nurture them. Position yourself as a senior manager to act as a bridge between top executives, line management and your IT professionals.
5. Cultivate partners and suppliers. A good supplier strategy can deliver a win-win for both parties. Suppliers can be an asset and a major weapon in your armory. Treat them with respect. Make sure they understand the challenges in your industry.
6. Manage IT. Focus on metrics that really drive the performance of the business. Apply best practice where possible. Manage resources and direct scarce resources to high value/high visibility projects. Support major cost reduction and service improvement efforts. Measure performance of key mission delivery processes and communicate them.
7. Be project-driven. Create a project portfolio and manage all IT projects as a program. Manage individual projects as investments, ensuring a sound business case as well as that benefits are identified and agreed and stakeholders are fully involved. Don't be afraid to cut your losses and if necessary have an exit strategy if a project is not going to work out. Don't forget to manage risk and when looking at implementation.
8. Think team. A motivated, knowledgeable team is a great step to success. Communicate so everybody knows what is happening and what is expected of them. You will be surprised how people react to being treated as responsible individuals.
9. Train the team. Ensure you have the right level of skills available to make things happen. Develop a skills matrix based on your functional needs and match your team's individual skill levels to the matrix. Use this to highlight deficiencies and determine your training program. Developing your people will pay off.
10. Shout about your success. Let other people in the company and industry know what you are doing. Make sure communication is regular and use every opportunity to talk about your achievements in terms of business benefit.
Notice this list addresses business, organizational, and management issues. To achieve successful IT in your company, ensure that technology supports the organization's business goals and plans. If you think that's easy, open your eyes and take a second look.
Too many projects fail on these dimensions, ultimately providing no tangible business benefit aside from keeping IT workers and contractors employed.