IT Strategy Principles
In this newsletter we will discuss the value in defining Principles as part of your IT Strategy, we’ll discuss what they are, how they can be used and why you need them.
It is very easy, when going through any significant change to lose your way, there will be challenges, pressures and forces at play that might cause you to deviate from the plan that you have agreed on. This is true of both the definition and execution of an IT Strategy, your assumptions, decisions, strategy and tactics will be constantly tested by internal and external factors.
What is a Principle?
Principles are a great way of codifying a significant position or decision and making explicit things that might represent a risk to your strategy were they to stay implicit. I see Principles as Flags on a slalom ski slope, guiding your way on your change journey and helping you stay on track.
What exactly constitutes a principle? The TOGAF framework has a good section defining and providing templates and examples of Principles here
A principle is made up of:
- A Name, that is easy to remember and captures the essence of the rule e.g. “Control technical diversity”
- A Statement, that succinctly explains the rule
- A Rationale, why are we committing to this Principle?
- Implications, What will we have to do in order to adhere to this principle
It can be difficult to get the right level of definition in a principle, if it is too abstract then it may be difficult to discern whether or not you ever break the principle. For a Principles to have real meaning a good test is to ask yourself, “is the direct opposite of this principle an equally plausible principle?” if the answer is no, then perhaps you’ve not sufficiently defined a strong enough position in the Principle.
Maybe this all sounds a bit abstract? Here is an example of how defining a Principle helped keep a strategy on track. A few years ago I was working on a large business transformation programme, part of that programme involved a reorganisation and consolidation of a contact centre function. Early on in the discussions we explored options around the reorganisation and consolidation, we of course explored options around resourcing, including partly or completely outsourcing the contact centre function.
For a number of reasons including alignment to company values and the type of interactions and relationships we wanted to build with the customers, the consensus was that the company’s own people should own the direct contact with customers, this felt like an important decision that needed codifying in some way so we defined a Principle around the company ‘owning’ direct contact with their customers, defined the implications and rationale and got the principle signed off by the executive team as part of our governance process. Several months later when the rubber started hitting the road and with a new member on the executive team, I sat in a meeting with said executive where they started to challenge “why don’t we outsource the contact centre?“, I was able to state that we’d explored this as an option early on and disregarded it as an option as it contravened a key Principle of the transformation that had been agreed by the executive team. Of course, we also had the work we’d done to get to our decision enshrined in the Principle if we needed it, but we didn’t, my rebuttal and recourse to the Principle was enough to prevent a potentially very costly and time-consuming return to square one and a 2nd trip round the same decision-making loop.
In this Newsletter we’ve discussed the value of defining Principles as part of your IT Strategy and how they can help you stay on track and protect against deviation from your strategy once you get into execution.
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