IT Strategy Roadmaps: No Knee Jerking

Tracey Flanders Published Sep 6, 2014 at 6:30 PM MST by Tracey Flanders Tags Strategy, Roadmap  Leave comment

Predicting where your company will be in the next 3 to 5 years can be a difficult task, to say the least. As an IT leader, you'll need to be aware of and in tune with your company's goals. Understanding where the CEO is driving the company is the key to your IT strategy's success. In particularly, aligning business goals with IT is the primary reason you and your team exist. I've seen many companies use an IT strategy I call "knee-jerking", I'll explain.


Knee jerking is when one of your customers requests an unplanned, immediate need for a solution and your only option is to comply. Even though you lack the proper resources and skill-sets, you'll make a knee jerk reaction to get them what they want, because a VP says so. No matter the cost.


So now you have to stop what your team is working on to focus on this new high priority. This happens even to the most organized of IT shops. But if this is an ongoing struggle, you'll never get to the projects that will make you and your team more effective.


You want us to buy what?

One place where I worked, the marketing VP requested that we buy a few Apple xSAN storage devices, to accommodate their high visibility video project. They had a need to store large files of raw and encoded video. It was apparent that the marketing VP had little trust in our ability to pick the correct solution for his team. Needless to say, marketing really didn't need that particular solution. After getting the proper requirements, we ended up placing them on an EMC SAN, our standard at the time. I'm not positive, but I doubt Apple xSAN's are sold today.


Without documenting your company's agreed upon strategies onto a roadmap, I'd say you are definitely setting yourself up for failure. For many IT shops today, having the time to plan and execute on a real strategy is a challenge. Even if all of IT understands the vision, the business may not agree. This is why it is important to have agreed upon roadmaps with business leaders.
Don't get me wrong; this is not easy to do. I'm not saying you'll be able to guess every big business initiative that's going to be thrown at you, but you'll have the important ones covered. Some business units do not understand how or if there is a better way to be more efficient when it comes to IT solutions. So back to my original statement about knee jerk reactions. If you can tightly couple and align your roadmap with your customers, and then deliver on those expectations, you'll be a business hero.



Roadmap Formats

Although the proper format for a roadmap is debatable, you'll want to create one that is consumable for other people. If it's too complex or confusing to understand, you won't get them to support your vision. No matter how great it is. You may have multiple levels of roadmaps, some for executives and others for more technical teams, all of which need to understand the plan you're proposing.


The below diagrams represent two possible approaches I've used to represent a three year technology roadmap, mainly around infrastructure. I've found that it provides little value to go beyond three years. Your mileage may vary.



Bulls-eye Heat-map

The map below represents a heat map of the enterprise value and risk of not implementing a particular solution. This type of map doesn't necessarily show clear dependencies of each initiative. So it's best used to display a much broader perspective of your strategy for executives.



Linear Timeline

A linear style map will better display a hierarchy of dependencies, using high-level pillars on the left side and then drilling down to the progression of a particular technology on the right. This type of map is much more catered to technical people whole can identify with their pillar, i.e. domain.


As you build out your roadmap, you'll quickly realize how short a year is. Pay particular attention to how much work you are generating and the resources you'll need. Finding that balance will take a few cycles through your plan, you'll most likely have to reorder and push initiatives out further. Having this information also allows you to be able to match your training programs to what will be needed in each fiscal quarter. That will ensure there isn't a large skill gap within the IT teams to complete projects.


Defining a roadmap will certainly hold you accountable to the business, but at the same time it gives you a good business case to ask for more money or resources, if needed. 


Another beneficial factor in defining your strategy is the ability to forecast annual and quarterly budgets. No company has unlimited funding, but without identified benefits, you won't be getting a bigger budget or more resources. Your roadmap can also lend a hand to predicting resource requirements for quarterly project efforts.



Gathering the right information

Don't just talk to the leadership, talk to the people in the trenches. Just because someone doesn't want to be in charge doesn't mean they don't have great ideas or important insight. As an IT leader, it's your job to understand and interpret these technical and business conversations. Hopefully you're as equally technical as you are business savvy. I've rarely seen this attribute in IT leaders, so rely on the input of your technical people.




Having a shared common view of the future enterprise after partnering with the business, you'll ensure the success of your roadmap strategy. Team moral will increase because they now have an idea of what will be expected of them.


Will your roadmap be an all-inclusive vision of the future? Not likely, you should periodically check the validity of your course and tune as needed.

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