Strategic planning is most successful when thought of as a process for generating ideas for improvement and innovation and distilling those ideas down to funded projects. The key terms here are funded and projects. A funded project has priority, a defined scope or charter, outcomes and resources allocated to the project, and a clear owner. Each project has a well-defined beginning, middle and end to the effort.
The hard part is figuring out what projects to deprioritize without getting crippled by analysis paralysis. This is where leadership has to make the tough priority decisions. Often, organizations tackle too many initiatives by failing to say no (or at least ‘not yet’) and wonder why they don’t make progress. Strategic planning doesn’t stop with the ideas. It stops when the ideas have been converted into funded projects and are ready to be executed.
Think of strategic planning as a large funnel that receives ideas as inputs. It starts wide, and through the application of several filters, which might include priorities, feasibility, resourcing constraints or risk, what comes out are funded projects. Once the projects have made it through the funnel, they are ready to be executed. When projects have made it this far, their probability for success is greatly amplified, and the expected results from strategic planning become a reality.
Many organizations struggle with how to incorporate IT into the strategic planning process. One simple way to start is to have the IT team present as the ideas unfold. The team can estimate the potential impact on technology procurement, development and existing infrastructure, as well as the total cost of ownership for the effort.
To make sure your strategic planning is setting you up for success, remember these three key considerations.
- Strategic planning is a well-defined process. And it doesn’t stop with the generation of ideas, purpose or direction; it stops with the identification of funded projects.
- Involving IT in strategic planning is critical to success. Both business leaders and IT leaders need to be involved in selecting funded projects. When IT strategy is part of the overall business strategy, then there are no IT projects – only business improvement initiatives.
- Be clear about the distillation process filters. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to project ideas that don’t make it through the strategic planning process. Too often, these ideas can receive life through informal channels despite not being a company priority. These types of projects are distractions and contribute to failure of priority projects.
Bringing IT into strategic planning discussions can strengthen an organization’s focus and support the overall business goals. Don’t wait until the last minute to involve IT, because at that point, it’s often too late.