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IT Plan Without a Corporate Plan???

IT Plan Without a Corporate Plan???

By: Wes Melling

Hot Issue: Can I develop a short-term (or long-term) information technology plan, when my company doesn't have a strategic plan?


·          It is perfectly possible to write an IT plan without a corporate plan, on your own initiative, without incremental budget.  Not ideal, but possible.  (Having an IT plan, short term and long term, is pretty much mandatory.)

·          It is often possible to involve peer managers from line (non-IT) functions to assist in sanity-checking the business assumptions you will be forced to make to get your IT plan written.  (Getting non-IT managers involved in the process is highly desirable.)

·          It is sometimes possible for the IT plan to kick off discussions that lead to a corporate plan, or at least some agreed-on strategic thinking. (Achieving this result is wonderful, but icing on the cake; be pleased if you achieve a solid IT plan, and very pleased if non-IT peers have gotten involved.)


These recommendations assume you have a double problem — that you lack both a corporate strategic plan and an IT strategic plan.  You shouldn’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 LRP in place as context for your next 12-month plan.

Process Summary

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, ask your primary IT vendor for a long range technology forecast).

·          Document long-term trend assumptions for your industry and for IT. (By “your industry” we mean your company’s industry.)

·          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 of the plan (vision, mission, goals).

·          Do gap analysis.

·          Do the “what do we do short term to move toward our vision” components of the plan (architectural vision, application priorities, capacity plan, training plan, organizational plan, advanced development plan, budget).

·          Compile and publish throughout IT.  Solicit feedback.  Update, republish.

·          Sanity check with non-IT peers.

·          Review with top management.

Tasks above the dividing line have to get done; those below are for extra credit.

There are some actions we recommend that you not take:

·          Do not 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.”)

·          Do not ask for more budget.

·          Do not let anyone outside of your group become a gate on the release of your plan.

·          Do not even hint that the rest of the company has done something wrong by not having a strategic plan.

·          Do not blow a promised delivery because you’ve put a critical project manager on the planning team.

Pick A Team

We’re starting with a premise that this planning process has to move fast, which means there can’t be more than five people on the team.  You’re one.  You’re not the process driver, because you want to be able to brainstorm with the group, so you’re not allowed to hold the Magic Marker.  The process driver will need project management and meeting facilitation skills.  All four other team members will need to be assertive enough to tell you [respectfully] when you’ve had a less-than-brilliant idea.  One member should be known for getting outside the nine dots, and one should enjoy slaughtering sacred cows.  One member should be a first-rate technologist, and one should really understand the company’s business.  And one had better be able to write coherent prose using the English language.

Your direct reports may or may not want to be on the team.  They will certainly want someone “looking out for them”. Go with it.

Pick A Methodology

If your company has no strategic plan, we assume it has no approved planning methodology. You’ll have to pick one. We strongly urge orthodoxy. You should anticipate “discussion” of your plan (at a content level) when it’s finished.  The last thing you want to deal with is “discussion” of your methodology as well, so you want to be able to show that you used proven methodology, adjusted wisely for your environment, with rigor, and without sins of omission.

We list below web links to several sources for strategic planning methods. Most have a long-range time horizon, and all are for corporate (vs. IT) use, so you’ll have to adjust them. [Note: When you do your own search, you will see a lot of processes designed for universities or governmental units. Ignore those.]  Also, the word “planning” in the Amazon search engine will produce any number of books.  Pick a method. Tune it for your situation. Publish the tuned version. Make sure the team understands it. Make compliance a primary virtue in your group.

Assign Homework

Invest about a week in getting the team’s head out of “last Thursday’s problem”.

·          First, the whole team should read Stan Davis’ Blur and Future Perfect; they both deal in the radical changes that are going on in all kinds of businesses, and the foundational role of IT will be easy to infer as you read. Both books raise the issue of information and services replacing “matter” in products.  Think about the impact of Internet banking on the consumer banking “product” – when’s the last time you physically wrote a check? How likely are you to change banks now that you have all your electronic bill-paying set up?  Think about the information and service content of the OnStar system in your Chevy Tahoe.  Ask yourselves what the future implications are for your company’s products. Ask what IT’s role should be. Pick someone (not you) to start the team’s first meeting with an “implications for us” presentation.  Set aside time for (possibly heated) discussion.

·          Second, assign your two best “web-heads” to analyze how your key competitors are using the Internet, and to prepare a competitive status report for the team’s first meeting.

·          Third, assign a database guru and a skilled report writer to an analysis of your company’s customer and supplier sets.  How many suppliers are there? How many suppliers does it take to provide 80-percent of the company’s sourcing.  How many customers are there?  How many customers does it take to provide 80-percent of the company’s revenue?  What demands have customers made for direct or Internet-based system-to-system linkages? Have a summary presented at the first team meeting.  (Note: These resources need not be team members. They are input providers.) Map the information flow between your company and its suppliers and between your company and its customers.

·          Fourth, assign your operations manager to provide an operations audit of 2003 performance and a capacity plan for 2004, both to be incorporated in the 2004 plan.

·          Fifth, assign your development manager to provide a development performance review for 2003, and a first-pass application delivery forecast for 2004.

·          Sixth, assign your tech support manager to write a summary of architectural standards in place, with an evaluation of whether each standard is still sensible in the context of emerging technology.  Ask him/her to list architectural decisions that should be made in 2004.

Do the “Where Are We” Components of the Plan

Review the input from the competitive analysis, supplier and customer analysis, and performance audit teams.  Assign a next draft. It helps if there is resource that can go do these sections in parallel with team activities.

Schedule a “strengths and weaknesses” meeting.  There are two questions for this meeting:

·          What are the “strengths and weaknesses” of the IT organization and its systems assets?

·          What are the “strengths and weaknesses” of the way your company is using IT as compared to competition?

Do the “Where Do We Want to Be” Components of the Plan (Trends, Vision, Mission, Goals)

This is the section of your 12-month IT plan where you put the five-year planning assumptions you would usually get from the corporate LRP and the IT LRP, neither of which exists.  This is also the section that’s the most fun for the team.

We strongly recommend that you schedule one or two days off site.   If you were in Tennessee, you would do this in the lodge at one of the state parks (Spartan rooms, unreliable phones, no cell phone service whatsoever, lots of fresh air, and lots of simple, heavy food).

The first item of business is to document where the team believes your industry is going over the next five years, and to articulate the role the team expects IT to play.

The second agenda item is to document the team’s assumptions about technology trends, and to record the ways that technology change can be converted to competitive advantage.

Then on to vision, mission and goals.  Every planning meeting this author has ever seen has wasted at least one meeting in a completely non-productive argument over the definition of those terms. The web is no help. Go to six sites, and you will accumulate six definitions. We offer our own definitions, whose charm is mostly that they are semantically clear and easy to enforce:

·          A “vision” is the dream of what you would like your organization to be.  It is a perfect future state. It expresses hopes and aspirations. A vision statement always uses “state of being” verbs (e.g. “is”, “will be”, “can be seen as”, etc.).

·          A “mission” statement describes what business you are in, why you exist, and how you plan to execute. It contains programs, initiatives and actions. A mission statement always uses “action” verbs (e.g. “operates”, “distributes”, “manufactures”, “designs”, etc.).  

·          A “goal’ is a performance metric, usually numeric, for each program or initiative in the vision statement.  A “goal” always contains a measurement.  For example “Improve user satisfaction with data center service” is not a goal.  “Achieve an “exceeds requirements” response from 80% of data center users to a survey designed and administered by a third party” is a goal.

·          Enforcement is easy.  A vision statement that includes an “action” verb needs to be redone. A mission statement that contains a “state of being” verb needs to be redone.  A goal with no measurement needs to be redone.

We cannot over-stress the importance of letting your team brainstorm during the development of the trends, vision, mission and goals statements. You will be tempted to jump in. If you jump in too early, you will end up writing this section alone (unless the other team members are very assertive). Confining yourself to gentle Socratic questions during the first three hours of the meeting will be productive in the long run.

Do Gap Analysis

If trends, vision, mission and goals are an enjoyable part of the process, gap analysis is painful, and we suggest it not be part of the same meeting. Ask the vision meeting participants to think about the vision, and to send the process driver thoughts about where the gaps lie. Let the gaps accumulate in e-mail form, and then have a review meeting to see if all the gaps have been spotted. You may want to involve folks who are not on the team in the asynchronous part of the gap analysis.

Do the “What Do We Do in the Next 12 Months to Move Toward Our Vision” Components of the Plan

At this point, if your line managers (operations, development, tech support, et al.) have not been involved in the team, they must be brought on board. This section of the plan will commit them to goals for the short term.  After a kick-off to make sure goals are bought into at the 90,000-foot level, this section can be parceled out to the line managers.  Set a simple review and agreement process.

Compile and Publish

You want a document your staff can work to.  You want buy-in from all of IT, so you need a process where everyone can review and comment.  You’ll want to update and republish, and the second version should demonstrate that the team listened to the feedback.

You also want a document you can show to your non-IT peers to get comment and insight. And you want a document you can show to top management, and ideally, use as part of next year’s budget process. So be sure to bill the published document as a “living document,” and make it clear you want help from outside IT in improving it.

Sanity Check with Non-IT Peers

OK, you’ve done the part you have to do.  Now it’s time for “extra credit”.  Get copies of your plan to peers.  With each specific peer, call attention to those issues in the plan you think affect him/her, or to assumptions where you’d really like his/her insight. Try to get a conversation going.

Review with Top Management.

We assume you (or your manager) are a member of the senior management team. A casual mention of the plan and an offer to review it should get it scheduled as an agenda item.  Stress the business assumptions, and graciously accept push-back.  Disagreements are truly helpful – they keep you in synch with management. Agreements, even verbal, are really helpful – they become part of the budget process.

Why Is This Less Than Ideal?

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 are almost certain to have missed some key insights that might have changed your IT plan. That is why it is so important to get your non-IT peers accustomed to working on the plan with you.

TAC SmartGrid


Your first goal is “verbal alignment”…”Yep, this looks reasonable” from a line (non-IT) manager.

If your senior management likes your plan and your process, in the future you may have a corporate plan to align with.


Survival. You can’t run IT with a quarterly horizon and achieve excellence, even with corporate managers who have a quarterly horizon.


Your organization will know where it’s going and why.


Done right, you’ll get business thinking into your technology decisions.


Take this bull by the horns before he gores you.

Related Links:

Stan Davis, Christopher Meyer, Blur, John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

Stan Davis, Ellie McCarthy, Future Perfect, Perseus Publishing, 1996.

QuickMBA: The Strategic Planning Process

enTarga: Strategic Planning

Birnbaum Associates: Reinventing the Strategic Planning Process

360vu: Strategic Planning

About the Author

Wes Melling, TAC Expert, has over 40 years of IT experience with a focus on enterprise IT strategies.  Wes is founder and principal of Value Chain Advisors, a consulting boutique specializing in manufacturing supply chain optimization. He has been a corporate CIO, a Gartner analyst, and a product strategist at increasingly senior levels. He has held P&L responsibility for a $2B systems business unit.  Wes’ specific areas of expertise include the burgeoning arena of supply chain event management, IT product strategies, strategic messaging and end game management.


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