January 23, 2010

Strategic Decision Making Trumps The Alternative

A strategist frequently has to temper the desire for structured planning and strategic decision making with the reality of organizational life, which includes:

· Organizational politics (who has the power today to get their way).

· Subjective management whims (I think, I believe, I feel, but mainly I want—regardless of objective facts).

· Situational knee-jerk reactions (due to something that broke, a mandate that came down, an audit that was failed, and so on)

· People with some cash to throw around (they have $ and “its burning a hole in their pockets” or can anyone say “spend-down”?).

The result though of abandoning strategic decision-making is that IT investment decisions will be sub-optimal and maybe even big losers—some examples includes:

· Investment “shelfware” (the seals on the packages of the software or hardware may never even get broken)

· Redundant technologies (that drain limited resources to operate and maintain them)

· Systems that are obsolete by the time they make it into production (because they were a bad idea to begin with)

· Failed IT projects galore (because they never had true organizational commitment and for the right reasons)

Why does strategic decision-making help avoid bad organizational investments?

1) Having a vision, a plan, and an enterprise architecture trumps ping-pong balling around in the firefight of the day, because the first is goal-oriented—linear and directed, and the second is issue-oriented—dictated by the problem du-jour, and generally leads to nowhere in particular.

2) Having a structured governance process with analysis of alternatives and well-thought out and transparent criteria, weightings, and rankings trumps throwing an investment dart into the dark and hoping that it hits a project with a real payoff.

3) Taking a strategic view driven by positive long-term outcomes for the organization trumps an operational view driven by short-term results for the individual.

4) Taking an enterprise solutions view that seeks sharing and economies of scale trumps an instance-by-instance approach, which results in gaps, redundancies, inefficiencies, and systems that can’t talk with each other.

5) Taking an organization view where information sharing and horizontal collaboration result in people working together for the greater organizational good, trumps functional views (vertical silos) where information is hoarded and the “us versus them attitude,” results in continuous power struggles over scare resources and decisions that benefits individuals or groups at the expense of the organization as a whole.

Certainly, we cannot expect that all decisions will be made under optimal conditions and follow “all the rules.” However, as leaders we must create the organizational structures, policies, processes, and clear roles and responsibilities to foster strategic decision-making versus a continued firefighting approach.

Understanding that organizations and people are imperfect and that we need to balance many competing interests from many stakeholders does not obviate the need to create the conditions for sounder decision-making and better organizational results. This is an IT leader's mandate for driving organizational excellence.

While we will never completely get rid of the politics and other sideline influences on how we make our investments, we can mitigate them through a process-driven organization approach that is based on a healthy dose of planning and governance. The pressure to give in to the daily crisis and catfight can be great that is why we need organizational structures to hold the line.


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