If you define your IT initiatives around lengthy “requirements” (arbitrary and presumptuous) rather than business results (outcomes) you won’t like the results, but at least you’ll be worthy of them.
Before you define specific inputs, approaches, technologies, or tasks you must clearly and compellingly define the business outcomes. This list should be short, descriptive, high-impact, and tied back to strategic business priorities.
Don’t proceed until you’re able to compellingly discuss the business context and the value drivers of the work being explored.
Spend 90% of your time and energy here and you’ll reduce 90% of the wasted effort and capital investments made in mediocre and failed IT initiatives. I made those numbers up but you get the point.
Here are a few other related tips:
- Require that key technical problems and opportunities be explained in non-technical terms. If your staff is unable, politely refuse to listen. If you are staff, don’t open your mouth (draft a memo instead until you’re confident you’ve broken things down to their essence). Those who attempt this, at first, stumble or become frustrated, but everyone involved will soon figure out a way. They are smart technologists after all.
- All initiatives need clearly articulated measurements of success, which are tied to specific identifiable metrics. These may be quantitative or qualitative, as long as they are apparent in the environment and that the key stakeholders agree upon how they will be confirmed.
- Invest in innovation not just maintenance “must do” projects. Many technologists love innovating, yet, paradoxically are more comfortable pursuing cost reduction initiatives (because IT budgeting and, in turn, project approval practices are such BS). Timid IT departments get tepid results. Progressive companies with timid IT departments, stall. Timid companies with timid IT departments, die slow deaths1.
- Free up capacity with your in-house technology staff by encouraging automation, delegation, elimination, simplification, outsourcing. Redirect the bulk of in-house resources towards innovation and internal consulting. This is how you shift to creating value rather than just maintaining things, which is just commodity work that is either cut first when resources get tight or best done by outside specialists focused on doing this type of work at economies of scale, consistently, and at very high quality.
- If you utilize outside technology partners, develop relationships with a mixture of both non-strategic and strategic technologists. Some are better at providing non-strategic advice, assistance, and services. Others can provide timely and strategic advice and assistance. Both can be valuable at the right time and in the appropriate context.
The Ernest Hemingway quote on bankruptcy comes to mind: “How did you go bankrupt?” Response: “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” ↩