IT Governance Rule #2 of 3 – Make sure you are doing things right

In article 2 of a 3 part series on IT Governance, if you have a capability to make sure you are doing the right things (article 1), you need to make sure you are doing them right. With this entry, lets assume you or your organization know what matters most, and your focus is  in determining how to make sure your team delivers.

What matters more, an excellent strategy or excellent execution? If you had to pick one, which would you pick? In Making Strategy Work (2005 Wharton School Publishing – Amazon link here) Lawrence Hrebinak argues that execution of strategy is the key, not strategy definition itself. I concur and this means that this second rule is more important than rule #1, and my experience across multiple industries, countries, and economies suggest the same. It is amazing how delivery of solutions or eliminating problems “takes the noise out of the system”. In my consulting days, I was thrust into many troubled situations. In these situations my clients consistently said “if you can’t deliver on what I have already contracted to you, why do you think I would give you anything else?” Makes sense to me!

So, how do you make sure you are doing things right? Some considerations (in no particular order):

  • Project Management
    • How many projects are active? Is it easy to determine the answer? If not, you have an issue.
    • For each project, what are you delivering, when will you be finished, and how much will it cost?
  • People, Process, Technology
    • Do you have the right people in the right roles (as I type this the 2010 NFL Draft is on my TV in the background)?
    • Do you have the right delivery system or processes?
    • Do you have the right technical capabilities, architectures, platforms?
  • Relationships
    • How do the business and IT relate to each other at the enterprise, project and operational levels?
    • What does the business say about IT? What are the 10 adjectives that the business would use to describe IT?
    • What does IT say about the business? What are the 10 adjectives that IT uses to describe the business?
    • What is working well?
    • What would you change if you were King for a day?

To make sure you are doing things right, it doesn’t take a PhD. It’s really more about the basics. And, what is more basic, better said – universal, than a traffic light? Red, yellow or green? English, Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, or Australian we all understand the basics of red, yellow and green. Use these universal icons to determine if you are doing things right. With this vernacular in place, manage by exception. Be hard on the red items. Watch the yellow items. And, most importantly, determine which green activities are really yellow, and which yellow activities are really red and you will stay 5 steps ahead of your changes.

How important is alignment in executing your business strategy?

“Execution represents a disciplined process or a logical set of connected activities that enables an organization to take a strategy and make it work.” – Lawrence Hrebniak

It is hard to argue that alignment is not critical or is irrelevant with executing a business strategy. Without alignment all you have is “ivory tower” thinking that may be documented and even communicated but not embraced or adopted in execution / operations. This leaves an organization rudderless, with a vision of the destination and no means to get there. How to achieve alignment and how aligned a strategy is aligned with operations can be difficult to measure. Achieving a high degree of alignment is part science and part art.

The science part involved commonly well understood patterns of alignment including topics like a well-defined business strategy, IT governance, CobIT, ValIT, business cases, ROI, NPV, etc. Delivering on these types of capabilities is more of an execution challenge. The models exist and are shared and commonly available amongst a wide range of organizations in your industry. The competitive differentiator for the science of business alignment is in the execution. It’s all about metrics, KPIs, and measurements.

The art portion of alignment addresses multiple items including but not limited to:

  1. Tailoring specific frameworks like CobIT to the particular organization,
  2. Determining which metrics/KPIs are most appropriate to measure the degree of implementation of the business strategy,
  3. Determining which organizational capabilities are most important to implement in phase 1, 2, etc.,
  4. Recognizing which elements of the strategy are most critical to competitive differentiation,
  5. Sequencing the strategy into a series of phases that incrementally build customer value, and
  6. Addressing the human-centric impacts of a business strategy to ensure that cultural barriers are minimized.

Depending on the degree of change represented in the business strategy, there may be more or less emphasis on the art vs the science. The more significant the change, the more critical the art of alignment. Minor “course corrections” in business strategy can be facilitated via the science of alignment, presuming the execution elements are already in place.