A Business Technology Place

IT Annual Planning

These customers want the basics.

Wired Magazine published an entertaining read about the preferences of public transit riders.  The results showed that it wasn’t the technology services like WiFi and charging stations that topped the list of what riders wanted; it was the basics like reliability and predictability of the service. We so often hear the phrase “get back to basics” and this study supports that thought. But the nature of progress and business has a gravitational pull to do more than the basics. We want to add more features and more services. We want to be the most competitive solution provider with more to offer. We provide more service to justify higher pricing. I feel this pull for bigger, better, faster as both a consumer and business professional offering a service.

But really.  

Is all this really important to customers?

Back to basics for business planning.

Last year I started using the A3 problem solving approach for annual planning. The output of the A3 process is a single sheet of paper. That’s important to me because it forces my team and I to narrow down our communication to what’s truly important and necessary to communicate with our audience. The Information Technology group is not immune to making problem solutions more complex than they need to be. An approach like the A3 technique creates a framework to get us to think about the basics of problem solving and communicating in a succinct manner that adds value.

Here is the template I have used thus far. The process involves documenting prior year results (current state), current year goals, rationale for the goals, action plans to achieve the goals, and follow-up items. I put the initial plan in an A3 format for discussion with managers and business department heads (suitable to print). Then I translate the plan to a single power point slide for when presentation and projection to a larger audience (suitable to project).

IT Annual Plan A3 IT Annual Plan

 

Follow it!

I keep a printed copy of the annual plan on my desk and reference it each week. I use it in discussions with my management team and as part of the performance management process with employees. Monthly I will make updates to the plan with progress on the activities timeline or updates to unanswered questions.

Continuous Improvement in business planning.

In addition to the annual plan, I’m also starting to think about converting the long range plan to an A3 process as well as my monthly status report. I don’t claim to have achieved an optimal approach to this process. But what is happening is that I’m thinking through the basics of the lean problem solving techniques and how to communicate them with my audience. That’s the beauty of the A3 approach for planning. It creates a conversation with the audience. More than just sending a large report loaded with information that people probably won’t read, this approach gets the conversation to something manageable.

 

Onward and Upward!

 

Business planning for the simple minded

We plan with good intentions.

Every year business teams go through planning and budgeting for the upcoming year. It’s a time consuming process. Middle and upper management work and rework presentations to present to executive management possibly board members. Budgets are submitted, then slashed, then reworked, and submitted again. Hours upon hours of work.

and then……….business happens.

New clients are signed that need to be on-boarded. Expected sales fall through or don’t materialize. Competitors upgrade their offering and drop their prices. Technology advances in a new direction.

Suddenly all that planning seems like a distant memory. Is anyone looking at the business objectives and roadmap that was planned for the current year nine months ago? My experience is that the plans are often forgotten and overruled by the tactical maneuvers of the current day.

Let’s not over complicate the matter.

Strategic plans are well intentioned. We have to plan to reach a goal or as the saying goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” One way to help soften the risk of changing course due to changing market conditions is to plan smaller for a reduced time horizon. Instead of trying to plan for 12 months of work 15-18 months in advance, try planning six months of work nine months in advance. Don’t set 10 strategic goals, instead set 3-4 strategic goals and so that the organization can begin at the start of the measurement period.

It’s a similar concept to sprints in an agile development methodology for software development. Why not setup sprints for business objectives. Then remain more nimble to change as needed to match market conditions.

For technology teams one bit of advice is to first see the direction of the business (sales, marketing operations) and then align to help support those goals. In this way the plan will represent the core foundation (operations) of the business as well as the growth area (sales).

 

 

 

 

Strategic alignment – an eCommerce pillar

One of my fundamental working habits is to make sure that activities and work produced from my eCommerce organization are aligned to the strategic plan of the business.  I define eCommerce strategic alignment as the condition when work output supports or satisfies items listed in the annual business plan and company mission statement. Strategic alignment cannot be treated with lip service or discussed at the outset of a project and never mentioned again. To do so reduces the importance and significance of the strategic plan. There are valuable practical benefits to alignment that make this course of action a no-brainer for those in leadership or management positions.

Practical benefits of eCommerce strategic alignment

It validates work – work that supports the strategic plan should already be officially sanctioned or approved . With the approval of management, resources are assigned, money is allocated, and schedules can be set.

It motivates employees – People rally behind and support work that they know is created for a greater purpose. Aligning to the strategic plan is an automatic validation that the work produced is approved by management. Happy boss, happy employee.

It keeps the output in sync with the whole – Just as team members must work together, the work output produced from each group must be in sync with each other to have the desired and full impact. The strategic plan is the playbook that each team performs to so that they stay in sync with each other. Avoid organizational chaos and entropy and stay aligned.

Sources for finding the strategy and plan

Finding the company’s strategic plan shouldn’t be a difficult task. I reference the annual business plan and company mission statement. The mission statement provides purpose of direction while the annual business plan will contain specific and actionable items that management hopes to accomplish in the current year. Some business plans are summarized lists of objectives, while others are listed as financial metric goals. Both of these are valuable because it gives a good balance to both customer focused and financially focused goals.

Tools for showing alignment

The eCommerce organization can’t realize the practical benefits listed above unless the leader communicates the alignment outward into the organization. To do this, I use a set of documents that are geared for specific audiences or set to publish at periodic intervals.

Roadmaps – A roadmap document can be used with management and team members. It shows the sequence of work output as well as the contents of each work effort. I’ve used two types of roadmaps in the past. The first is a release roadmap that shows releases and release contents on a sequential timeline. Typically, I will color code the releases to designate different content such as defects, enhancements, contractual, or technical. The second is an application roadmap that focuses on releases by application. This works if you have multiple eCommerce properties in the portfolio. Once I create the roadmap and summary level list of contents, I will then create a cross reference to specific items on the strategic business plan. Think of this as just a grid showing release name and which strategic plan elements it supports. Now, at any point in time, I can produce a current and relevant roadmap that shows how the eCommerce team is in alignment with the company strategic plan.

Project Business Case – Business cases and Return on Investment (ROI) analysis documents are typically created at the outset of large projects to unlock the expenditure of monetary, equipment, and human resources. A defining part of this document is the “why?”. It shows why it is necessary to complete this work. Everybody has more work than they complete so you have to make wise choices about what you work on and what you don’t. Know the business. Use alignment as your guide for what gets done and what does not.

Status Reports – Weekly progress reports are not the place for showing the alignment because it would be too repetitive. But monthly, quarterly, and project closeout reports are the perfect opportunity to show and communicate the alignment of the team. In fact, depending on the audience, I will often reuse the roadmap report or pieces of the roadmap. Redundancy can be good in this sense because I like to keep my work top of mind with management about how it supports the planned objectives of the company.