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Smart Advice: Involve Non-IT Peers In Long-Term IT Planning

Put a short-term strategic plan in place first, then fine tune.
How can your company develop a long-term information technology plan, you ask, when it doesn't have a strategic plan?

These recommendations assume you have a double problem--that you lack both a businesswide strategic plan and an IT strategic plan. Don't try to write both a short-term and a long-term plan. Our recommendation is that you write a short-term (12-month) plan with a one- or two-page "long-range trends" section for context, and then loop back on a long-range planning process after two or three months to have a comprehensive IT long-range plan in place as context for your next 12-month plan.

We recommend an initial planning process with the following steps:

> Pick a team.

> Pick a methodology.

> Assign homework (learn the methodology, read some provocative books, analyze the competitors' Web sites, and ask your primary IT vendor for a long-range technology forecast).

> Document long-term trend assumptions for your company's industry and for IT.

> Do the "where are we" components of the plan (competitive analysis, supplier and customer analysis, performance audit, strengths and weaknesses).

> Do the "where do we want to be" components (vision, mission, goals).

> Do gap analysis.

> Do the "what do we do short term to move toward our vision" components (architectural vision; application priorities; capacity, training, organizational, and advanced development plans; and budget).

>>Compile and publish throughout IT. Solicit feedback. Update and republish.

> Do a sanity check with non-IT peers.

> Review with top management.

The first nine tasks above have to get done; the last two are for extra credit.

There are some actions we recommend that you not take:

> Don't ask permission. (If your planning process is questioned, the answer is something like "There are sea changes going on in IT, and so we need to look out into the future to make sure what we're doing short term won't be a throwaway.")

> Don't ask for more budget.

> Don't let anyone outside your group become a gate on the release of your plan.

> Don't even hint that the rest of the company has done something wrong by not having a strategic plan.

> Don't blow a promised delivery because you've put a critical project manager on the planning team.

Let's face it, most of us in IT look at the world through IT-colored glasses. The long-range "business" assumptions in this plan are going to be different than the business assumptions (or planning guidelines) you'd get from marketing, engineering, or manufacturing management. You're almost certain to have missed some key insights that might have changed your IT plan. That's why it's so important to get your non-IT peers accustomed to working on the plan with you.

Wes Melling is an expert at The Advisory Council, a technology advisory services firm. CMP's InformationWeek and Optimize magazines have a strategic partnership with TAC, sharing resources, content, and expertise to provide a range of services for business-technology professionals. The Advisory Council can be reached at [email protected]. For more SmartAdvice columns, check out informationweek.com/advisorycouncil.


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