Finding the balance between the objectives and delivery ambitions of both business and IT, is crucial.

In our last blog we explained why alignment is essential for successful change, and we outlined the five key aspects of that process. We will now explore each of these aspects in a bit more detail.

The first challenge is getting the balance right between the objectives and activities of both business and IT. Don’t assume that functional strategies and objectives will align appropriately: it’s surprising how often they don’t.

Ambition has to be balanced across business and IT, and focussed on the same outcomes

Stephen Covey* advocates starting ‘with the end in mind’. This is vital. It is not unusual on our first contact with customers to find change that is either too biased towards the business functions, so that unreasonable expectations are placed on delivery, or too strongly led by an IT function that is putting delivery ambition before clarity of business need. IT strategy should enable the business to realise outcomes, it cannot be an end in itself; business strategy must recognise the art of what is possible technically.

Even when direction is agreed, there still needs to be agreement on pace. Early, low-quality deliveries, driven by an eagerness to get on, undermine confidence in the transformation. On the flip side, over-engineered solutions waste investment and time. There will often also be a logical delivery sequence. A commitment to either the business solution or the technology choice, made too early, is very difficult to undo.

Ambition, whilst stretching, must acknowledge the challenges for delivering solutions and also for landing change effectively in the business. A cross-business/IT understanding is needed as to what those challenges are, and then agreement on the right balance between the pace of delivery and quality, and the consequences for investment.

Outcomes must be both practical and purposeful, with focus on the right enablers

The target portfolio must then be developed and balanced – choosing the right things to do across all of the business and IT – guided by the capability gaps implied by the organisation’s strategy. Developing cross-business agreement on the outcomes required; the enablers of those outcomes; and the consequent capabilities to realise those enablers is logical and essential, but often overlooked. Without this there may be conflicting agendas, and a risk of inefficient or ineffective investment.

Identifying the right capabilities, and how to build them, is essential

There will often be options to build the required enabling capabilities. These may blend degrees of technology leverage with people and process change; they may offer different end points, with varying degrees of future-proofing. There is rarely one answer, but taking time to explore the options, understanding the whole-life cost-benefit of each, is time well spent. There is no value in being a slave to strategy if that strategy is either unaffordable, impractical, or pointed towards inefficient investment.

Appropriate funding, and control of spend, is essential

Clarity is needed on how the change will be funded and governed. Is capex being spent on the right things, at a manageable pace? Is enough budget being allocated? All of this requires the high-level objectives to be agreed, balancing IT versus business change and proposed technology strategy. This is why proper definition of a transformation, supported by cross-business governance, is key. It should also make leaders think hard about how transformation is funded, where budget is held, and how spend is agreed and controlled.

It is no good building a consensus on direction if responsibility for providing the budget, or controlling it, is then vested in just one function. There is always a risk that functional interests will start to prevail, and spend is no longer optimised for the ‘plc’, but for just one part of it. This is why the make-up of steering and governance, and the ultimate choice of sponsor, is so vital to success.

Agreeing the right things is a genuinely cross-functional task

Tensions between business ambition and IT change capability often undermine transformations. Getting the right balance is essential in establishing a credible, achievable transformation. That balance is about shared focus on the same end goals; clarity on the capabilities to be developed to realise those goals; agreement on the investments required to enable the capabilities; and then funding and governance to ensure that the transformation is both fed, nurtured, well-directed and managed.

At Project One, our teams have worked across various sectors and with many different transformation agendas, helping clients wrestle business and IT objectives and activities into balance. Are you happy that you have the balance right in your transformation portfolio? Contact us to find out more.

* Stephen Covey – American educator, author, businessman, and keynote speaker who wrote the famous book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.

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