A couple posts ago, we spoke of the importance of defining what users, what business, is allowed to do on the internet (Don’t be a blockhead: Block… or Define…). The challenge of “friending” and “businessing” on all sorts of unsupported apps and enablements is a real temptation. But what of The Cloud, and fully sanctioned solutions that are “borderless” and outside the organization’s virtual “four walls” of control?
Controlling these new circumstances may feel like you’re squeezing a wet bar of soap: The harder you squeeze, the slipperier the conditions. How the heck do you monitor cloud applications for real-time performance metrics? In shifting apps that serve business to The Cloud, you have to ensure business makes real use of, and in-turn can pivot and make real deliveries as a result of, these new ways of supporting business and what it does.
When shifting elements to The Cloud, it is presumably to save money, for one thing, and to make things shareable and easier, for another. Take some of the anticipated cost benefits and spend a little to monitor your performance in this sphere. Justify what you’re doing.
At the same time, look to capture entirely new solutions in this realm. While you do, look for solid solutions partners who can help you to mount the tools, processes and measures that track what you’re doing, why, and what the ultimate payout is to the organization. You can’t afford to fly blind in this realm.
If you’re just entering The Cloud, and most organizations are in a fairly novel realm here yet, your tools and measures are likely poorly equipped to deliver real-time data that tracks in an agile fashion what your apps and supports are doing at any given moment.
Here, as anywhere, it’s essential that you chart your course with empirical measures.
NP: Black Cat Moan – Clara Smith and Her Five Black Kittens – on original Columbia 78 rpm disc, played on a modern, Esoteric Sound, 78 rpm turntable.
What’s a poor IT leader to do? Whether you’re CIO/CTO, IT Director, IT Manager, Network Manager, Programmer, Business Analyst… or the real glue of the IT department – HelpDesk – you’re coming across more and more people doing more and more of their own thing.
You know, blending “friending” and “businessing” in the course of their day… and perhaps worse, doing it on and through apps that are… um… forbidden at worst and simply unapproved at best.
How about Business’ take on all of this? Half the time senior execs and mid-level business managers are either clueless, uncaring, or even supportive. Frequently, their shrug of “whatever gets business done,” is simple ignorance for all of the security holes and lack of accountability for content, as shared via apps that are outside the control of the organization. What of a recent, critical, online business conversation – supposedly documenting agreements and forward progressions – that went down a rabbit hole and simply disappeared? Hey, no problem, we’ve got the content right here on this backuuuuuu uhhh…….. oops, no we don’t.
Consider the plethora (ah, finally – a chance to use “plethora”) of apps for communication and share: blogger; AIM; YouTube; Skype; Twitter; MegaUpload; NewsGator, Facebook… we could go on and on.
In the case of Facebook, things are becoming a bit complicated: Facebook started as a basic “wall” that allowed posts and communication on that wall. However, it now has a chat mechanism, and an e-mail system. Further, Facebook has morphed into an applications platform, with innumerable apps – and more being developed all the time.
IT leaders, in concert with savvy Business counterparts, must identify what’s “out there”, and do one of two things:
1) Block unwanted, unauthorized, outside apps.
– or –
2) Define allowed use of specific apps and systems – by virtue of your policies and user education.
Actually, there’s a third thing you must do: Make certain that all in the organization understand that they are not to start making de facto use of apps and tools that are outside the organization’s virtual four walls simply because an individual stumbles on something, decides it looks good, and thus begins conducting official business on it or through it.
Tackle this now, before it tackles you.
November 23rd: On this day in 1848 the Female Medical Educational Society was founded in Boston
Hmmm… word comes that the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that should be of concern to any website, and any content provider: It would grant the Attorney General the right to shut down offending websites with a court order if copyright infringement is judged to be “central to the activity” of that site.
Of particular concern to me is that the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) seems to be overly broad. A site need not contain illegal content: apparently links alone can qualify a site for “shut off.” I don’t know about you, but I sometimes embed links in some of my articles, as referencing other documents and policies – most if not all protected by copyrights. It helps to reinforce my content – that is, what I’m saying – and with proper acknowledgment, that should be ok. Ok? I think it still is… but every bill generally has unintended consequences…
It’s a scary thing in creating a hammer with a very broad head – it just might start smacking the wrong things. Web censorship is anathema to probably any reader here. Certainly offended parties can go after entities that are violating copyright… right? Do we need a huge government bill, granting the AG the power to snap off websites with a simple court order to the ISP? (Which is how this will be achieved).
I don’t support piracy and illegal activity. However, I’m not alone in my concerns: this bill is garnering concern from a number of people and agencies. You can Google to find more info and what the specific concerns are, but a primary one is that parties that are supposedly in offense of this act have no real opportunity to contest the AG’s allegations for unlawful content.
In effect, we’re censoring the web without something extraordinarily important, necessary, and… American: Due process.
I’d like to link to a couple articles regarding this, but I dunno… I’m not sure the present Attorney General is tech-savvy… maybe I’ll send him a copy of “I.T. WARS”… that should help. :^ ) I think it’s safe to link to my own copyrights…
NP: Hampton – Tatum – Rich, on vinyl, Pablo label; this jazz gem is from an August 1st, 1955 session. Catch it if you possibly can.
Interesting news comes to us that half, or slightly more depending on the survey, of all organizations are banning access to social networking sites. (You may wish to see my earlier guest-post at the Enterprise IT Watch Blog, Social Networking and the Blended Environment).
This is a sea-change from a few years ago, when organization’s had sort of a Wild West situation going on. The “Business” half of the organization was mired in business – the doing of doing what ya do – and “IT” was lagging a bit: particularly in small and medium business environments.
Acceptable Use policies made little if any mention of social networking. Many policies were even thin on e-mail etiquette. Remember “netiquette?” How quaint that seems.
Even today, as I review policies, many are remiss in their treatment of social networking. As I remarked in an earlier article, I think a Permitted Use section of an AU policy is a good thing, spelling out the when of what you can do on social networking. It’s a blended environment, and people are going to use company assets such as e-mail, to apprise spouses and other significant others of their schedule: My arrival time home, who’s picking up the kids, etc. To say nothing of “Friending”…
Now consider that Facebook is adding e-mail to its services: Employees have another tempting avenue of communication via work-related assets for purpose of handling personal affairs.
Some companies allow social networking on lunches and breaks. Some ban it altogether. However, what is important is that you size the employee expectations and associated use- and establish protections for your organization. The general caveats that have stood in time apply: No bad-mouthing the company, its personnel, its practices… Do not divulge corporate secrets… most of it dumps straight out of HR, and gets quickly tuned and rewritten as IT policy, and as a section of IT orientation for each new hire. Be sure that employees aren’t conducting official business through social networking, as that doesn’t come under the umbrella of your content management policies, your backups, your oversight.
Periodic refreshers for appropriate use of social networking, or no use at all, for all staff are in order, too.
Nov. 17th: On this day in 1853, street signs are authorized at San Francisco intersections.
[Note: You may wish to see Velocity of Risk prior to reading this post]
Recently, a colleague was crafting policy at a satellite organization. In other words, it was subordinate to a parent organization. This was not a case of one specific type of company owning another type of company, of a wholly different mission and set of products and services (albeit a common enough occurrence). This was like-companies providing the same product and service set, but having robust business operations in different physical locations, and one reporting to the higher headquarters. Futher, headquarters published most policy, with minimal room for local influences or accommodations.
Interestingly enough, the satellite wanted specific policy that was further-reaching than the higher headquarters’ policy. It involved security. My colleague was careful to consider that any policy crafted, as a draft, should not violate the “trunk” of the headquarters’ policy. Further, any additional security measures should be “greenlighted” by headquarters.
And, of course, any satellite policy would have to be approved by the headquarters, wouldn’t it? “Yes,” replied this IT leader. Through careful query, I was able to determine that the IT leader felt a liability in his particular environment due to lagging policy on behalf of headquarters, and headquarters’ guidance. It was his intent to await the next regularized meeting with headquarters to lobby for his local institution of what he felt his superior policy to be.
Absent approval, he at least had a policy that, in the event of a breach or bad outcome, he could pull from a drawer. Ah ha! Look what I wanted to do!
This represents a divide in communication on a couple levels. 1) He should have called his boss upon completion of the policy. If the policy had merit, and if he can communicate effectively, he should suggest that the robust policy supplant, or be used to infuse, the headquarters policy for update, with subsequent distribution to the satellites.
Minimally, headquarters should look anew at all security measures: Solicit input from all satellites. Collect and evaluate. Use the occasion to bolster the central headquarters security policies, and distribute. Consider a degree of local freedom in allowing satellites to make proper adherence of policy to local liabilities and allied protections – all with full knowledge and approval of headquarters, of course.
Why wait? Velocity is now associated with risk. Risk does not wait.
November 4th: On this day in 1939, the first air-conditioned automobile was exhibited in Chicago, Illinois.
We need to keep a balance in our reaction to all criticism because there is value even in much criticism that is poorly delivered. There can be merit in critiques that are rude, or even delivered in “attack” mode. Too, we can recognize criticism at the bottom end of the scale, and dispose of empty criticism through appropriate channels before it spreads and infects other opinions and attitudes to the detriment of the organization. It helps to build immunity to the negative sort of criticism that, unfortunately, permeates certain endeavors.
With experience, knowledge, and well-placed faith in the organization comes a patience that, however unjustified and harmful some criticism may seem, it can be handled and disposed of in a forum sanctioned by the organization. This is especially important: I recently consulted in an environment where a supervisor refused to mediate a relatively minor spat between two individuals – one of whom wanted to meet to iron out difficulties in person, and the other who did not. An e-mail record well-documented the problem and the attempt at resolution. The irony? A 25-foot virtual circle would have encircled the desks and people involved, in offices along and across a single hallway.
We also need to take a look at the sponsors of different sorts of criticism and learn how best to handle those people. It is always helpful, and in most circumstances downright necessary, to consider the source. Here it is especially important to maintain a balance, as many critics are powerful people.
As we consider the receiving end of criticism, we see that too many of us assume that our efforts should be immune from criticism. In that unbalanced posture, we cannot fail to resent criticism – no matter how on target, and no matter how expertly delivered. Reasons vary, but perhaps it’s because we feel we’re doing an excellent job: we’re putting in extra hours (without being asked!), we’re “carrying” our department (“they’d be in big trouble without me”), or maybe criticism just catches us on a bad day. Often, we feel that we’re doing the best we can in murky circumstances (another reason to get The Weave under control). Therefore, when criticism is directed at some of us, we respond in a negative fashion – with negative outcomes. Responding to criticism with anger, sarcasm or defensiveness is counterproductive. At the same time, it’s counterproductive for leaders to allow others to engage in invalid criticisms. If we don’t take care, this can become a self-reinforcing cycle; for the individual, and even for the organization. Criticism and its disposition, as much as anything else, influences the organization’s culture.
For leaders, criticism can bring a particular kind of pressure. Too much pressure for anyone can lead to an imbalance: the stumble of mistakes that otherwise wouldn’t be made. Pressure can yield bad judgments. Managers – Business and Technical alike – should watch for undue sensitivity to criticism; in them and in helping others. Ultimately, everyone needs to inculcate a healthy perspective to criticism – this includes the deliverer and recipient. Balanced people are aware of the appropriate, positive, responses to criticism – take what is positive, accurate, suggestions for the betterment of business and yourself, and move along. This healthy perspective toward criticism, and the appropriate method in delivery, receipt, and disposition, will defuse sensitivities and lead to progress. None of this is to say that we should ignore egregious instances of pure belittlement. Leaders need a balanced, objective, ability to weigh criticism, assign the relevant worth, and dispatch or handle it on that assigned basis.
Cloaked Criticism: As mentioned above, there can be validity in criticism that is poorly delivered. This leads us to acknowledge a category of criticism that is generally not addressed in other discussions. It is a category that is especially important to IT and Business, as we cannot afford to miss important requirements and details (regardless of source).
Simply, cloaked criticism is either constructive or destructive criticism that has the appearance of the other.
For example, you may receive “constructive” criticism that has you doing busy-work at the expense of emerging priorities. The critic may have a good heart, but in this case the criticism will destruct our efficiency. Too there is criticism that has the appearance of destructive criticism, but which nonetheless contains merit. In pressure environments, criticism that is often legitimate (therefore valid), gets perceived as unjustified criticism: it is criticism that comes to us in anger, or as an attack, and therefore it is poorly expressed. Regardless, the issues may be legitimate. If something is in dire need of attention, we can’t afford to miss it just because we don’t care for the critic or his delivery.
Therefore, in all cases we need to recognize that criticism isn’t always packaged correctly – like anything else, the delivery of criticism won’t be perfect. In extreme cases, we could say that criticism is “cloaked.” Because some “constructive” criticism can yield poor outcomes, and because some “destructive” criticism can have value in part or all of it, we’ll discuss how to recognize this cloaked criticism. We can then handle it according to what it truly represents; we pan for the legitimate portions of critical information, and neutralize whatever remains.
We’ll take a couple days’ break from our discussion of criticism, but in the coming month we’ll weave a furtherance of this important topic through the blog.
NP: Oh, Mother I’m Wild – Jack Kaufman, original Columbia 78rpm disc, 1919 – played on a red mahogany Victrola.
The absent are never without fault, nor the present without excuse.
The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.
Why The Criticizing of Excellence? Because that phrase snaps all criticism into an important perspective: Once it’s understood that criticism is going to come, regardless of circumstances, we can recognize that fact, accept it, and effectively deal with it. In a challenging arena like the Business-Technology Weave, we know that criticism must be driven toward constructive criticism. As it is, for most of us, dealing with criticism is not the best part of our day – whether dispensing it or receiving it. Poorly managed criticism, and critics, can impair business.
If not carefully managed, criticism can set up a sort of negative ping-pong exchange of recriminations, attendant “scoresheets,” and possible “get even” scenarios. Preventing this sort of atmosphere is far easier than repairing an environment that has been allowed to drift. You don’t want personalities clashing. We must not allow problems between people to be woven into your organization’s fabric.
Many an organization suffers through the “silo-ing” of departments and the resultant impairment of communication and efficient business. At the same time, various people are silo’d vis-a-vis certain other people – and all manner of cumbersome alternate methods of getting the job done start to impact efficiency. Working through a minefield of political liabilities is what mucks up many good faith endeavors. But that’s largely because most people haven’t learned what criticism really is meant to be, and how it is to be used (both in its delivery and in its receipt). When we understand the nature of criticism, we learn to value criticism. In learning how to value and use criticism, we need to recognize constructive (or justified, valid) criticism – and destructive (or unjustified, invalid) criticism – and we need to act on criticism to effect the appropriate outcomes.
In Defense of Criticism: Let’s establish a little background: In a field as challenging, dynamic, and high profile as IT, there is much that presents a ripe target for criticism. At the same time, the pressures faced by Business, and their demand for quality support and services, generally means that Business has a fully stocked quiver of critical arrows. Yet, healthy criticism is necessary to the Business-Technology Weave. Critical evaluation and communication will be ongoing. This, paired with the challenge in creating, interpreting, and implementing a Business-driven IT strategy, makes it extremely important that we understand criticism and how to wield it. If you’re not making effective use of criticism, then you not only lose out on the positive lever to be had in progressive business, but you allow the deployment of a negative, depressive lever. Particularly in circumstances where we suffer divides, and have not yet achieved a proper Business-Technology Weave, there is that tendency to mount criticism from a less than fully informed perspective. When we combine that with a natural tendency to bristle at criticism, and mix in the resultant impairments, we find that we have a “perfect storm” formula for significantly diminished returns.
In those circumstances, we build resentments – we damage relationships between people, departments, and even organizations. We create avoidance to people and issues, we slow progress, we hamper business. Repair is costly. So, we have to take special care with criticism and its disposition in all circumstances. When we do, we find that proper criticism and proper reaction to it helps to expose important issues and aids in the resolution of problems. Criticism must always satisfy the “does this move business forward?” question. Therefore, criticism must have a positive motivator, helpfulness in spirit, and a benefit to be had in the form of suggestion and outcome. Again, valid criticism has value – business value.
Once we know this, we realize that we need to manage criticism under a dizzying variety of circumstances. It must be managed at all levels of the organization; criticism between individuals, as well as between and within departments. Criticism must be managed between organizations that have relationships: it is dispensed between discreet organizations involved in shared missions and outcomes, for example. Here there is a special risk: poorly managed criticism can severely damage effective cooperation between “allied” organizations, particularly when it is motivated by protectionism and jealousy.
Criticism is delivered to vendors, and even, in carefully crafted communication, from vendor to organization. On a more local level, there is a critical need in keeping individuals on balance. Those technical people directly supporting business on a daily basis are in a particular zone: They face business staff who need to accomplish business, often under pressure, and these support people can face a larger proportion of criticism than the average staff. The supported business people in direct contact with their support half are also in a target environment.
The good news is that criticism, large and small, is essentially handled the same way. If we’re able to take a dispassionate, objective look at the full range of criticism – from whiny, empty, counterproductive carping – to the valid critiques, suggestions, sound advice, and requirements – then we’ll be much more adept at recognizing and handling criticism. We can vet criticism: defusing negativity and leveraging the positive to yield better outcomes.
Next: Maintaining a balance in the face of criticism.
NP: “Brown Eyes Why Are You So Blue?” by The Golden Gate Orchestra – on original Edison disc (and player).
The One-Year Plan
A properly maintained Five-Year Plan means that your One-Year Plan is being worked on and readied not only in a “near-term” advance; you’ve been working on it to one degree or another for five years! That’s powerful. Again, this plan drops into place from the front of your Five-Year Plan. It outlines all of your major objectives for the year with just enough detail so as to present an efficient, informative overview of each objective. Items on the One-Year Plan are broken out and assigned to individuals and, as necessary, groups, to manage as projects for the larger endeavors and as tasks for the smaller initiatives. Hence each item on the One-Year Plan is on at least one person’s Individual Action Plan; some items on the One-Year Plan will be on several individuals’ action plans, since they will require a team, or project, effort. Group initiatives will show on the Individual Action Plans as a specified role and set of responsibilities for that individual.
The Individual Action Plan
Each IT staff member’s Individual Action Plan is a roll down from the department’s One-Year Plan. Each item on the One-Year Plan is on various Individual Action Plans, with expanded detail and specific expectations. Here are the actual projects, tasks, duties, and ownerships – indeed this plan is one of the most effective levers for getting things done. Sure, you’ve got goals listed in each of your employee’s appraisals, and you may have a professional development document somewhere – these are generally filed away until a mandated annual review. But the Individual Action Plan is drafted and maintained by the individual IT staff member, and approved by the manager. It has projected dates for completion of items. It is reviewed quarterly at a minimum, and on an ad hoc basis as necessary. Items are marked as completed or pending as appropriate.
If an item is not to be undertaken – for example if something cannot be funded as anticipated – it is removed. Initiatives that were not originally planned, but which have been added to the year’s objectives, are assigned and added to an appropriate person’s action plan as necessary. A well maintained Individual Action Plan is a ready reference come review time, and makes the preparation of each employee’s appraisal much easier – it also makes for great supporting documentation.
A current year’s Individual Action Plan can also include items from any year of the Five-Year Plan. For example, a somewhat distant future initiative may need researching now. However, the Individual Action Plan is primarily a “get it done” document for achieving the near-term objectives of the coming year.
The “Who” of Getting Us There: Further, as we consider the importance of ‘where we are,’ ‘where we’re going,’ and ‘how we’re getting there,’ consider the ‘who’ of getting there. Who exactly is doing what? Within the organization, the Individual Action Plan is the ultimate setting, documenting, and control as to who is doing what.
Leveraging your plans
Toward the middle and end of each year, a major focus shifts to year-one of the Five-Year Plan. It is now the upcoming One-Year Plan, and it should be on the agenda in the BIT meetings. It should be raised in budget meetings, all-staff meetings, and IT staff meetings: anywhere futures discussion and planning is happening. The IT leader must be sure to do a final survey of Business regarding all of their needs, real and imagined, and the various Business teams must vet and justify each. It is also very important for Business to make their own effort: to make needs known to IT on a timely basis, particularly as regards changing needs that evolve between formalized meetings or understandings. The fourth quarter of the year is a good time for IT’s sponsor(s) to attend a BIT meeting or two. Getting everything on the table and identified as a “need,” “want,” and “wish-list” type of item is very important.
Once the year starts, remember that the current One-Year Plan is a living document. As the BIT team meets, and issues are raised or fine-tuned, relevant items add to the plan and get tracked. Some items may drop. There should be very few “surprises” in a properly maintained plan environment. IT works within its supervision to make sure the BIT-developed and other work is on track with the organization’s goals and expectations.
The One-Year Plan’s Support to Projects
As a One-Year Plan approaches actualization, specific items take shape as separate, defined, and detailed plans in support of managed projects. As the bulk of the work is viewed from a requirements standpoint and a budget perspective, and as work is discussed and balanced in terms of load to departments and individuals, it starts to become apparent what can be supported – and perhaps what cannot.
In other words, the overarching One-Year Plan becomes fairly steadfast, and becomes a catalog of sanctioned projects and initiatives – pointing to detailed plans that are under development or ready for execution. As importantly, any delayed or disapproved work will be known to all participants – expectations and requirements are now being satisfied according to the organization’s authority and sanction, with everyone’s full knowledge.
Any specific IT plan should have a match to a business plan or objective in the organization. The Five-Year, One-Year, and Individual Action Plans must support sanctioned business initiatives. IT’s plans help to establish where you are, where you’re going, and the route for how you’re getting there.
As importantly, direct responsibility is assigned through the plans; the specific “who” of getting you there.
Remember to leverage BIT and its agenda in support of managed change according to plan.
October 31st: It’s Halloween. :^ )
Three Plan Types
IT’s general support to the Business-Technology Weave can be effectively planned and managed through three major plan types. These are the high-level, across-the-board support plans – which acknowledge and mark the upcoming projects.
We’ll refer to these IT-Business support plans as the Five-Year Plan, the One-Year Plan, and the Individual Action Plan. You may wish to label these plans differently in your organization; you may need to look further into the future with a ten-year plan – or more. But here we’ll use these generic names for ease. Let’s take a brief look at each plan type, how it relates to the other plan types, and how together they help maintain your directed change, and adjustment to outside, impacting, change.
The Five-Year Plan
The Five-Year Plan begins with the upcoming (next) calendar year, and extends through each of the upcoming five years. The upcoming first year becomes the organization’s detailed One-Year Plan, upon the turn of that new year. Therefore, the first year of the Five-Year Plan should contain everything you intend to do in the upcoming year. Since the One-Year Plan is the near-term focus for what needs doing, it should be as detailed as necessary – it is executable in that it has been vetted and sanctioned, is budgeted, has been announced, and all preparatory steps have been taken for each element of the plan. It matches the organization’s business expectations, needs, and overall business plan for the year. Also, the One-Year Plan spawns all of the detailed project plans and individual action plans as necessary for the organization’s various managed projects and changes. The organization’s overall project management benefits from the coordinated tracking on the Five and One-Year plans; supports, dependencies and competition for resources can be adjusted in maintaining optimal results.
The Plan’s Progression: Years Two, Three, Four and Five are progressively less detailed, respectively, as you consider periods of time that are further out from “now.” Looking out to Year Five, we can see that in a year’s time, its detail and plan moves into the Year Four slot; the former Year Four is now Year Three, and so on. At each turn-of-year, a new Year Five is added to the back of the plan. As each year of the Five-Year Plan marches toward you, it is massaged into better focus; adjusted according to changing business priorities or objectives; availability of resources; advancing technology; changing environment; and new methods and practices. There is an ongoing maintenance for the organization’s alignment of business and technology. Eventually, our original Year Five clicks forward, having evolved and focused according to needs, until it moves into position as the One-Year Plan. In this manner, we find that a properly maintained Five-Year Plan can efficiently generate a comprehensive, executable, sanctioned, and aligned One Year Plan. This means that an organization’s staff is fully informed and qualified to tackle the forthcoming changes, and changes align with business needs in fulfilling expectations accurately, comprehensively, and efficiently.
At any given time, we can expect that Year-Two doesn’t have quite the focus or detail as Year-One – however, most major initiatives are known and a fair amount of detail is present. The more distant years will have large bullet items without a lot of detail, because technology and business factors change, sometimes radically, over a period of years. Your Years-Four and Five may even contain rather whimsical “wish-list” type of items, just to keep them on the radar. Your organization may have potential mergers or acquisitions under consideration, which will require different technology and business practices – these considerations can call for placeholders on the plan, ensuring some exploratory discussion and gathering of pertinent information. These efforts establish and define a ‘where we are,’ also project a ‘where we’re going,’ and ensure the start of a bona-fide, progressive, route for future actualization.
The Plan’s Direction and Flexibility: Planned items can go one of two ways: Some things become certified as bona-fide objectives, and additional detail is accumulated and added to the plan. Just as importantly, other things may be dropped due to a change in business priorities. Likewise, other things may pop on as completely new items. The flexibility of the plan means that you may “bump back” certain items over the course of a couple months, or even years – maintaining them as placeholders – perhaps until a return-on-investment threshold is reached. Other things may “heat up” and slide forward.
At the same time, the Five-Year Plan cannot simply be a receptacle for every crazy brainstorm or trendy practice that comes along. It must represent a managed plan that adheres to the true needs of the organization, as best as you can determine them at any given time.
The Five-Year Plan (or any long range plan) also does something else that’s very important: it should not only expose dependencies, but should also show vulnerabilities and strengths. For example, if your plan is to implement a new content management system in the course of the next few years, you may need to consider an upgrade to your hardware platform and infrastructure. Your plan may have to accommodate new fileservers and workstations, for example. You’ll have a significant training and support burden. Once that decision is made, it may be evident that another project that was waiting for these upgrades can now move forward. The preparation and timing for implementation of many things will coordinate nicely through the plan.
Remember: As the first year of the Five-Year Plan becomes the current year, that part becomes the new year’s One-Year Plan. The Five-Year Plan adds a year at the end of its range, is populated as necessary over the course of time, and all years are updated and tuned accordingly. A properly maintained Five-Year Plan not only means that you know where you are, and where you’re going, but also means that you’ll always have your One-Year Plan ready at the beginning of each year. In fact, you’ll have one-year plans under development for each of the next five years. That is managing change as a continuum. Also keep in mind that you can project further if you feel you need to. Just remember to match your time and effort to the likelihood that a particular plan objective will actually be undertaken.
Coming: The One Year Plan, and the Individual Action Plan.
October 31st:On this day in 1956 Brooklyn, NY ended streetcar service.
I was speaking about plans and projects with someone the other day. As far as challenges go – next to people – change and the associated planning is the most difficult element of The Weave.
Change is a continuum. For the organization, something is continuously changing that affects it: Change is happening within, and it is happening in the surrounding environment. All change must be weighed and assessed for impact, and there must be a ready posture for doing this. Too many organizations think of change as something mounted in a burst; “now we can rest.” This is why so many organizations seem to take action at the back edge of the envelope: change for them is constituted as an addressal of problems under pressure-filled and even desperate circumstances.
When change is mounted under pressure, there is usually a failure to fully survey where you are. It may seem obvious, but in planning a destination (that is, a project’s destination), with appropriate directions, you must know your point of origin: the organization’s true station and status. You must survey business process, your technical enablements, and your people. If you don’t know where you are, the route to destination is a broken one – reaching the destination is painful, inefficient, and sometimes not even achieved.
The smart organization doesn’t disengage from change – nothing around the org stands still if it does. Therefore, the management of change isn’t just some reaction to what is happening internally, or some engagement that is “forced” by outside change. You must present a position of readiness, so that you have the “muscle” in place to exercise change. You must be able to forecast, develop, and schedule. This requirement for readiness presents itself to the individual, to groups, and to the organization in equal measure, as we’ll see.
Today, we need to realize and acknowledge that even change changes. How does change change? Consider: While we’re busy implementing a documented, sanctioned change, some of our assumptions, support products, fiscal supports, regulatory requirements, business practices, etc., haven’t done us the courtesy of standing still. Further, various projects and their change can compete for common resources; they can shift in schedule and crash into one another; they can have interlocking dependencies and impacts that must be carefully coordinated. Any time you make a course correction, an accommodation, an expansion in scope, etc., you are making a change to change.
Circumstances such as these, and the quality of planning in your organization, yields one of two things:
1) A house of cards, or
2) A solid structure of mutually reinforcing initiatives and projects.
Because things are shifting and evolving around us all the time, we need plans that have enough structure to guide us effectively, but that are not so rigid as to “straightjacket” us. We don’t want to be implementing so-so or broken solutions today that looked great yesterday. We don’t want the organization to be thrashing as it attempts to mount major changes without regard to prudent sequence, or that are even in direct competition with each other.
High Level Plans in Support to Detailed Plans
From a high level view, we need to plan support to the Business-Technology Weave. High-level plans should identify, guide, assist, and facilitate that which you wish to accomplish. They provide the general documentation and a calendar position for a collective of projects and initiatives, the sum total of which represent the organization’s forward thrust, and each of which have their own detailed, operational plans as separate documentation.
Aligning an organization’s detailed plans, projects, and initiatives is similar to tuning a car: you want all of your cylinders firing in proper sequence and timing. When properly tuned, your car not only has maximum power in ‘getting to where you’re going,’ it is making the best possible use of resources (in the form of highest gas mileage, and with minimal wear to the engine). Your organization’s individual operational plans are like cylinders – each contributing to the organization’s forward movement relative to time and circumstances. You must ensure that each of these plans “fires” in proper sequence, so as to assist the next plan – or at the very least not impinge upon its “firing.” You must get the collective of projects and initiatives making a concerted best-use of resources.
At the same time, any higher-level plan must have some flexibility in order to make allowance for an adjustment in schedule or direction. Yet, they can’t be so ill defined as to provide no structure at all. And, we have to preserve order: an order in change, and the order of the organization. How do we effectively manage this trick?
If you’ve followed The Weave over time, you know that we’ve discussed the importance of communication between Business and IT. And we know that it’s wise today for Business to make known its planning and direction for early participation and contribution by the organization’s technical investment. Certainly Business must facilitate IT’s understanding of required support to business initiatives, evolving technology needs, and changing environmental factors (such as security, expansion, new regulatory requirement, etc.). But realize that whether this happens effectively or not, IT still exists for, and at the pleasure of, Business. The onus is on IT to support, align with, and enhance Business’ plans for business. IT must dig where and as necessary.
There is plenty of chance to do that, so recognize your opportunities: There will be the obvious occasion for plans’ creation and adjustment within specific, formal, plan meetings – but also formally and informally in the course of budget meetings, staff meetings, board meetings, etc. The exercise of snapping them into focus happens largely in the BIT forum (The Business Implementation Team), and in specific IT plan meetings: but anywhere that there’s a discussion of futures planning contributes to the overall opportunity to assess change, and to effect the “gel” of a plan.
Further, in a changing world, there is the onus on IT to “hear” and garner everything, as a weigh on a scale of possible change requirements.
Coming: Part II – Three Plan Types.
NP: Bessie Smith, on original 78rpm.