Modern IT is dynamic and fluid. Yet an IT department without a strategy is a reactive department; a department neither the CEO nor business stakeholders fully understand. Defining IT success is paramount to achieving results. It’s also imperative for demonstrating the value of IT’s partnership with the business.
The problem space
Modern IT leaders have a vast responsibility for a wide array of enterprise technology and skill sets. With so many capabilities to manage it’s easy for costs to skyrocket, plans to stall, and staff to churn. Along the journey of building a world-class IT function, virtually every IT leader will eventually ask him or herself the same question:
“What does a ‘great’ IT organization actually look like?”
The answer to this question is often found in bits and pieces; a Gartner guide here, a consulting engagement there. These frustrating “solution fragments” are often painstakingly stitched together across the IT leadership team; resulting in a custom patchwork of disjointed artifacts which are difficult to understand, and even harder to operationalize.
Fortunately, modern enterprises share more similarities than differences. Therefore a methodical framework for defining exactly what “world class IT” means should not be a bespoke endeavor. Here, I’ll focus on a framework for repeatable, long-lived IT success.
The IT framework solution
This framework strives to achieve a minimum viable product of capabilities in a manner that conveys the “why” and the “what” of IT excellence; yet intentionally omits the “how.” This is because the “how” is tactical and granular. Moreover, it’s the job of the mid-level IT managers to craft execution details. Put simply: we are not attempting to create an “IT-in-the-box” framework with cookie-cutter tactics. Rather, we aim to establish principles, key activities, and success metrics regardless of approach or technology. This simple data taxonomy is conveyed below:
We start with principles, because they represent summarized axioms that explain why we do things in the first place. They are essentially guideposts that shape future activities. Although subject to change over time, principles are relatively stable and limited in number. An example suite of principles are shown below:
Each principle consists of the principle itself along with a brief one or two sentences explaining its rationale. Think of the principle as the “why” and the rationale of the value it delivers. For example, we assert our desire to:
- Build a culture of measurement (principle)
- So that we can measure our success and business alignment (rationale)
Finally, principles are a long-lived paradigm that persist across planning cycles. They should not be changing radically from year to year.
If principles describe the “why” behind IT excellence, activities describe the “what.” In other words, activities describe the long-lived ventures we want to achieve. In terms of alignment, one principle will likely have several key activities within a given IT planning cycle. An example activity matrix is shown below:
Activities such as continuous deployment, observability, and enterprise architecture are good examples of table stakes IT activities found within world-class IT organizations.
Metrics and measurements
It’s excellent to define why IT aims to achieve excellence, and even better to enumerate activities for IT teams to follow in order to achieve said excellence.The final piece of the puzzle are measures, which gauge the efficacy of the activity. An example is shown below:
It’s important to realize that some measurements are qualitative, and others are quantitative. An example qualitative metric aim may be to achieve a vendor reconciliation strategy by the end of the year. Subsequent years may add quantitative metrics such as reducing overlapping vendor spend by 20%, and so on. This follows a crawl/walk/run approach and enables the IT managers to ease into your strategic IT framework.
In order for an IT excellence framework to be successfully implemented, there must be owners for various activities and associated measures. While most enterprises own several project management tools, these solutions are often complex and not easily accessible from mobile devices. The image below conveys a simple, yet effective ownership assignment and progress status paradigms:
Analytics and tracking
Reviewing principles should be done at least annually, and activity reviews can be done quarterly or semi-annually. Metrics reviews, however, should be operationalized into monthly metrics reviews.
Tracking progress across potentially dozens of measures can be daunting, so a simple and intuitive consolidated metrics dashboard with ability to filter is shown below:
It’s also important to note that metrics should be assigned to owners. The CIO must not own these metrics directly. Instead, the accountability of success is delegated to mid-level managers and directors so that they can not only achieve the goal in their own tactical manner, but also report on those metrics using tools appropriate for their domain.
How to operationalize
Defining principles, activities, and metrics for the operational year isn’t excessively complex, and it doesn’t require expensive tooling. Center Mast has assisted numerous CIOs with operationalizing similar frameworks within 60 days or less.
Contact Center Mast today for a free consultation on how to operationalize your IT strategic plan.