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.