I work in ICT for more than 20 years. It’s an ever changing and always evolving field. And I ask myself, are we different than other business areas? Initially I would say yes. The pace of ICT is unmatched. Then, I turn around and remember the day I started at my current company. An elderly lady was sitting on the factory floor and used a hand driven machine making coils. Admittedly that is more then 12 years back. Although, when I walk into production these days SMD (surface mount devices) machines put tiny electronic parts onto printed circuit boards at a phenomenal speed and accuracy. The change these guys have experienced is no less to ICT.
What has this to do with strategy? Winding back say 3 to 5 years how would we have prepared ourselves for the today’s future? What were our plans then? Did our vision then match what we have implemented today? We got here, we know that. Did we arrive in planned manner or incidental? Does it matter?
Strategy has huge value!
Let’s make it clear, thinking strategically is different to thinking operationally. Operations is a management task. I balance demand, resources, capacity, quality, budget and priorities to achieve the desired daily, weekly or monthly target. Lean Management has been the buzz word for some time to do this efficiently. Moving our mind to think strategically means changing our management head to a leadership one. Let’s face it we need envisioning the future. We need to chunk up, take a birds eye view and look a the big picture.
Have you ever been in a glider? I was when being 17 years. Up in the air everything looked different. I had a hard time orientating myself. Landmarks were important, I knew that. We did a 360 and I got the whole view. At first, it didn’t help. I couldn’t figure out enough landmarks to make sense of the view I had. Hills looked different from above as did the 2 rivers. All villages looked similar. Once I had the first fixed point the puzzle pieces came together and with some practice, learning maps, and talking with the experienced pilots I got it.
Stepping up from operational planning to strategic thinking is pretty similar. The individual traffic light doesn’t matter anymore, the fact there are many of them does significantly. I use that example because the city of Blenheim had a vision of no traffic lights in their city. And they have achieved that. So what influences our vision?
- How well is our business unit or department prepared to meet future needs? What is the status of our technology. Is it old, new, flexible, adaptable, at the brink of capacity, trust worthy, … This gives me picture of where our fixed assets are at. I can extrapolate how they will perform in 3 or 5 years given the rate of change I expect. Secondly I need to think about my people. How well prepared are they for the future? Do we have the right knowledge and capabilities? These questions and answers will help me in the planning. More importantly they will help me to catch the minds and hearts when I explain the vision and how we get there.
- How well is our business unit or department working currently? What are the bottlenecks? What is humming along? Where can I see changes coming along.
- How does the Senior Management Team see the contribution of my business unit or department? Am I essential to the delivery of our services and products? Am I an enabler or supporting unit? Is my unit seen as a hindrance or a driving force? It is essential that I know the answer. It is a value question. What is the value of my unit to the business now and where should it be in 3 to 5 years?
- This aspect can be used for internal users of the services my unit provides (for me it’s ICT), although you can happily substitute user with customer and look at who is consuming your services or products. These days there are hundreds of ways to gain that insight. Social media can be helpful, simple surveys could do, even better if you have a close relationship and know already. Again you compare where you are and where you want to be. But most importantly, what do your customers expect? What are their pain points? If you can address those you have a winner.
By breaking the big elephant “strategy” into manageable bites I can tackle that beats. Strategy is still not the easiest of tasks. You don’t do it often and hence practice is mostly rare. I hope the post is helpful to you the next time you work on your strategy.