Annual Business Planning Exercises and Technology Alignment

spotadmin/September 12, 2017 Business Strategy

Here at The Fulcrum Group, we just finished our 2017 annual planning sessions and I wanted to share some tools we utilized in our planning. These tools can greatly help organizations seeking technology alignment with business requirements. Why? Because you need the right tool for the right job. Before you go out and start buying technology tools you need to understand what the business task is that you’re trying to accomplish.

Begin with the end in mind
Here, I’d like to invoke one of my favorite quotes, “Begin with the end in mind.” This suggests that if you know where you’re headed, you’re more likely to get there. I grew up hearing plan the work and work the plan.  During my time as a project manager I found that many technology projects didn’t fail because of bad technology but because the wrong solution was chosen; or there was poor project management along the way.

I love the sport of basketball.  Before you shoot the ball, you typically want to make sure your feet are pointing towards the basket (also called “squaring up”).  During the shot, the last step is to extend your arm and finish with your hand pointed toward the goal. By pointing in the right direction it helps make sure the shot is truer and more likely to be on target.

A critical heads up here – don’t ever get me into a discussion about the Dallas Mavericks or basketball unless you have that kind of time to spend with me.

By deciding what’s important to you and your organization, you’re more likely to accomplish those goals and help the business evolve. Evolution could mean greater sales, greater profits, better quality, a better client experience, faster delivery – or any number of things.

Plan and prioritize
Thorough business planning will also help clarify the business context of your technology investments. In designing technology, many of our clients have heard us say, “I can design any system or solution you’re after, but I always need business context.”  In other words, you don’t try to fix $1,000 problem with a $50,000 solution. Prioritize your technology investments in areas of your business where they will have the most impact.

Use an organizational framework
Our organization manages its business using the framework constructed by Gazelles Growth Institute and Vern Harnish. In his seminal book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits and the follow-up book Scaling Up, he introduces tactics to help growing businesses keep up with the challenges of growing.

Three exercises he recommends during annual planning I believe can be helpful for a small business owner in understanding their own business context and therefore have the ability to get better technology alignment include:

  • FACe – the functional accountability chart is a one-page document that lists the typical components of any organization, such as who’s in charge of sales, marketing, HR and other areas. In a smaller organization you might have one person responsible for multiple areas but as you grow, these areas get subdivided.

This exercise also challenges you to think about the leading indicators for each area and what financial impacts they result in, on your profit and loss statement or your balance sheet. This information helps identify which business contacts should be part of the decision in selecting specific business technologies. You still want your IT person or team part of the discussion with technical criteria, but the business side has to select their own business criteria for computer products or IT services. Your technology return on investment might even be tied to some of the profit and loss or balance sheet metrics to recognize profitable decisions.

  • PACe – the process accountability chart is helpful for prioritizing projects and computer service needs. The document asks you to first identify a small number of processes that are key to driving your business. The greatest part of that question is trying to narrow down all your processes into the most impactful process.

Once you know your drivers, you have a sense where technology can have a bigger impact. Additionally, once you name the process and determine the person accountable you might determine different Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to make sure that you’re continually getting better, faster and cheaper. Check out the http://kpilibrary.com/ site if you are looking for information on various types of metrics to measure your business on.

  • SWT – referencing Strengths, Weaknesses and Trends – is the last document I wanted to highlight as helpful for establishing technology alignment to the organization. This is similar to the SWOT exercise that I learned in business school, but instead of four quadrants there are just three that focus on strengths, weaknesses and trends.

If your organization is simply concerned with keeping your computer network up and running, or avoiding being hacked then these methods may not be ideal for you. The SWT document challenges you to think about what trends are going on with you, your market and competition. It forces you to think about what your core competencies are, what some of your successes are today or where you want to be in the future. To balance that, it’s also important to recognize what weaknesses you have, or what your team has to work around, to accomplish your mission.

What you can do next
If you are having more than acceptable number of computer issues, computer support problems, need a new managed service provider or are just generally not happy with your computers, I might suggest you consider changing your behavior before changing your current technology provider. It could be your existing IT person or provider just doesn’t have the business context to do right by your needs. It could also be you haven’t pinned down exactly what your needs are, and with that, it is highly unlikely you’ll get where you want to be.

There is a whole philosophy around a concept called Lean IT. Lean IT discusses managing IT but it focuses more on business context than the technology itself. The philosophy applies many manufacturing concepts to technology solutions and services. You can find good summaries here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_IT or to pursue certification check out http://www.leanitassociation.com/certifications/lean-it-leadership/.
A key point is that the business, IT support group and software development teams should work together when making key changes.

If you determine a change is in order, it might mean starting with you and/or your management team. Here are some free links to download the sample documents I discussed above, at Gazelle’s site. Even if you are content with your current technology environment, I would feel comfortable advising that for great IT services, you’ll want to start with a snapshot of where you are currently, and then develop a map for where you’re headed. After all, it’s not like the Millennium Falcon just took off without knowing where the Death Star was first, right…?

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