How to Finish First
I have recently had the opportunity to spend some time observing and helping out with competitive cycling across all levels from club racing to the National Road Series to international level in Europe. One of the stark contrasts was that teams are divided into two types, the haves and the have-nots. Some teams are highly organized, highly motivated and have clear roles, responsibilities and a purpose. Other teams look lost and in a constant state of disorganization, are under resourced and as a result rarely win any races. It would appear they are just going through the motions, making up the numbers and seem increasingly reliant on luck and goodwill to get by. While funding is clearly a factor at the extremes having a lot or a little money doesn’t translate into either a have or have-not team.
What provides this translation and I am sure subsequently the difference between being able to attract an increment in funding (until a self feeding loop is essentially created) is the execution against strategy of the entire team. The teams that have a clear strategy and therefore everyone is pulling in the same direction reflects the higher level of organization. This carries into attracting funding through sponsors by understanding and creating alignment with the values of the organisations providing the financial backing irrespective of how large or small the investment. This strategy then flows through to individual roles and responsibilities right from the top from the sponsor objectives down to how races are won and lost. Nothing is left to chance; the riders have specific jobs (ride the race to the plan provided), while support staff looks after all the small details. Everyone is clear on what needs to be executed to reach the goal. Races executed well are won, be it club races right through to World Championships or Olympics.
When looking at IT Strategy you can see many similarities with cycling especially the translation between the have or have-not teams. While many have-not teams may start with large amounts of sponsor dollars quickly this money dries up as sponsors have decreasing faith in IT teams being able to deliver on what was promised. Many times the have-not teams are a result of a lack of strategy and therefore a lack of direction and understanding around what team members should be working towards. Where a strategy is present it is often disconnected from the sponsors objectives having being developed in isolation as part of a 3 or 5 year technology plan.
A good IT strategy should provide the translation between business strategy and technology. It should act as a ready guide to influence day to day decision making to confirm (or deny) the question of; are we heading in the right direction? For IT which can often have long lead times for supporting technology and requires investment decisions to be prioritized an aligned strategy provides an indication of what needs to be prepared ahead of time in order to support the business in it’s execution of it’s strategy.
While all of this is generally known and understood within the IT business the challenge comes down to providing the translation of the business strategy into day to day activity execution. Essentially how do you make the transition to wanting to win to actually standing on the top step of the podium? While the SABSA framework outlines the use of business attributes (and other architecture formats have an equivalent) many practitioners struggle with the initial bootstrapping effort required to present relevant attributes back to the business.
Navigating the Course
A solution may sit in the use of Strategy Maps. A Strategy Map outlines the salient objectives of the business strategy group into supportive dimensions. Each dimension relies on the foundations below to be in place to provide for execution of the strategy.
Once completed a Strategy Map provides a quick reference guide to support day-to-day decisions. The map can also be used for traceability to bootstrap business attributes as part of the opportunity to educate the business around requirements in order to reach each objective. An organization may choose to start with a single enterprise Map and then build sectional supporting Maps for each business unit objectives. Once the intial Maps have been produced referenced guides for IT staff can then be produced outlining each key type of stakeholder within the business and how to communicate with each stakeholder based on their unique strategic requirements.
From a day to day IT perspective a sectional Map can be produced that highlights the strategic IT objectives required to support the business in meeting the overall strategy. Feeding into existing architecture frameworks as an input the IT Strategy Map should then identify gaps in current technology, tools, templates and other supporting initiatives that will be required to support the business strategy. As part of this process gaps will be identified which left unfilled will prevent execution and duplication and conflicting priorities can be identified. This provides the IT business with the ability to proactively fill those gaps and resolve conflicts. An added benefit is that discussions can take place around investments in non strategic items or items that cannot show traceability back into an imperative contained within a Map dimension. Each dimension can then be used to develop a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) with a set of appropriate measures to monitor progress on a day to day basis towards the execution of the strategy.
Developing and using a Strategy Map establishes the opportunity to build out your sponsor’s objectives into a winning team.
Book - Strategy Maps: Converting Intangible Assets into Tangible Outcomes by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton (Feb 2, 2004)
SABSA Attributes - http://www.sabsa-institute.org/the-sabsa-method/sabsa-attributes.aspx