The final days of January and February signal a change from developing your strategy to implementing it for businesses that base their technology strategy on an annual, calendar-based schedule. While it can be an exciting time, it can also test our fortitude and leadership skills. When shared with colleagues, initiatives that seemed like “no-brainers” might suddenly encounter significant resistance from unexpected parts of the organization, just as initiatives that initially seem straightforward may run into unforeseen difficulties when put into practice.
A successful strategy is crucial for a tech organization but only useful with efficient implementation. A high-resolution map and the most recent GPS technology are helpful tools for navigation. Still, they are only useful if you know how to use the information they provide or how to travel along the proper route to get where you’re going.
Think about these tools as you implement your tech agenda to help make your strategy a reality.
Determine Metrics and Milestones
The tech industry takes great pride in its command of data collection and the ability to draw conclusions from it. Despite this, we occasionally need to work on effectively using the plethora of data to monitor the advancement of our overall strategic agenda. In most cases, this isn’t because there need to be more resources or data available; instead, it’s because success criteria needed to be established and milestones were specified to reach them. This exercise should ideally be finished as you create your strategic plan for the coming year.
In 2023, for instance, a well-known CIO publication lists the top 8 priorities for CIOs, with “building resiliency” at the top. This is a noble objective, but how can you tell whether your tech company is more resilient? What metrics reflect your current level of resilience, and what actions do you plan to take to raise them? How will you know which actions are the most successful?
Things like “building resiliency” are comparable to ill-defined personal goals like “improving fitness.” The goals are admirable and appropriate on the surface, but they are vague about how you will track your progress and what actions you will take to make steady progress.
Install Appropriate Guardrails
Effective milestones and measurements should be accompanied by “guardrails” indicating acceptable result ranges. Upper and lower guardrails define the acceptable range for a particular measurement, and results that fall outside that range should indicate that further investigation is needed. What does it mean, for instance, if your team meets its 6-hour goal for a 24-hour goal when you measure how quickly it responds to a simulated outage? How about 36 hours?
Setting guardrails is often overlooked because it appears to be a self-evident activity during execution. However, if an outlier result occurs without appropriate pre-established guardrails, your team will be unsure whether the result should be considered concerning or within acceptable ranges.
In one case, missing a milestone by 3% may be perfectly acceptable and laudable; in another, it may be a warning sign that requires immediate attention. Establishing guardrails in advance prevents discussion during implementation. It lessens the urge for people to move on after accepting a result as “good enough” when it might be an early warning.
Optimize your “Implementation Machine”
There are dozens of platitudes about the importance of strategy execution, and they are all essentially correct. Without effective execution and implementation, even the best strategy with well-designed measures and milestones and perfectly calibrated guardrails is useless.
As a result, assessing and ” tuning ” your capabilities early in the implementation process is critical. Just as a new athlete is unlikely to perform at an Olympic level after only a few months of practice, your technology organization cannot complete objectives significantly beyond its ability to implement.
As you decide on your strategy and start implementing your tech agenda, be honest with yourself about your current implementation capabilities. Consider these capabilities an “implementation machine,” with a current set of performance parameters and the ability to upgrade various components to increase those capabilities.
Remember to think about the impact of your strategy on your implementation machine from a portfolio standpoint. You can implement each item on your tech agenda. Even so, your agenda may outstrip the capability or capacity of your implementation machine. Consider adding a variety of improvements to your implementation machine to your agenda if you take the time to understand your current capabilities and find them inadequate.
Begin with Small Victories
With your tech agenda in place, your measures and milestones in place, and your implementation machine up and running, the daunting task of execution begins. Simply deciding where to begin can be overwhelming if your strategy is even remotely ambitious.
In many organizations, you may be tempted to engage in what appear to be necessary groundwork activities, such as establishing consensus across various teams, designing the ideal operating model, or waiting for supporting digital tools to be implemented. These tasks can easily become mini-projects that take up much time while your strategy waits impatiently and unquestionably without making any headway.
Don’t be afraid to fine-tune (or abandon) strategy elements
There is a legitimate concern in the current economic climate about avoiding technology-driven boondoggles, whether in untested technologies or massive hiring sprees. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a few “stretch” objectives on your tech agenda. While many leaders frown upon failure, if all of your items are easily completed as originally designed, you’re probably being too conservative.
Establishing suitable goals and milestones early in describing your strategy, preferably before implementation begins, is the best sign that it’s time to adjust a particular aspect of your tech agenda. It is part of including when to modify or abandon these stretch objectives. This could happen for various reasons, from overly ambitious goals to market conditions forcing a significant shift in your tech agenda. If this is the case, spend some time fine-tuning that part of your plan, or think about giving up and focusing your efforts elsewhere. Debugging the outlier result is critical if you’re well outside your guardrails when you arrive at a milestone.