Organizations invest in new IT capabilities to improve a variety of business factors, including revenue, market share, cost-position, security, and reputation. Many go through planning cycles with anguish, re-estimating and realigning dozens of times, using a dizzying array of budgeting methods, such as top-down, bottom-up, MBO-centered, SMART, portfolio-based, and zero-based.
No matter what the approach, IT investment planning is fundamentally a knowledge process. Yes, ego and emotions play in, but in the final analysis, it all comes down to the ability of the CIO and other decision-makers to synthesize information about how each investment will help individuals improve performance.
IT executives ask: How can we go through the planning cycle, get the performance we need, and minimize surprises? After all, organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours on figuring out which IT investments to make. Then they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more - often just a few months later - on revising those plans. And this doesn't even take into account the negative impact of cost overruns or lost customer confidence.
Getting these dollars, and hours, under control requires reimagining your IT investment planning processes.
Investment Planning as Learning
Imagine approaching the IT investment planning cycle as a learning opportunity -- specifically, a transfer of the insights of one generation of projects, support initiatives, or installations (and their internal and external customers) to the next generation. With this approach, we could learn about:
Customer segment needs, vacillations, and adoption challenges;
The limitations of core application languages, architectures and hardware;
The impact of standards and regulations; and
Initiative overlaps that are only vaguely (or protectively) known.
Imagine informing IT investing with minimal searches and white papers, and just a handful of focused conversations. These conversations could be aimed at drawing specific and useful insights into each planning area.
Imagine that your project shifted scope mid-stream because of vendor upgrades or unanticipated accounting requirements. Let's say that in one of these conversations you tell me that those upgrades caused headaches because of the customization the company did, and we were blindsided by the disruption it caused. You also explain to me that the accounting change is part of a set of changes being dictated by a new regulatory environment. Now, I can consider whether those events could apply to my projects before I submit my budget.
It sounds simple enough, right? Yet, for many organizations, this level of knowledge-transfer is far from routine. At best, it happens in a crisis. Making this type of learning habitual is the purpose of the "Knowledge Jam." Knowledge Jam is a knowledge transfer method designed to ferret out insights by using facilitated conversation. Knowledge Jam entails putting together experts, such as planning or project veterans, with the people in various departments who are responsible for undertaking future investments.
This article was originally published on 08-25-2011
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