Aligning To The Emergent Strategy

by Gene Leganza 

Gene-Leganza Business-IT alignment efforts are a mainstay in most CIO’s agendas. And enterprise architects’ business architecture initiatives take that a step further, aspiring to find a nirvana where creating, vetting, and maintaining business architectures that map to well thought-out business strategies are regularly occurring activities (see the Forrester report, "Business Architecture's Time Has Come"). Then aligning application, information, and technical architectures completes the loop, and there’s plenty of information to feed into innovation incubators, too. The IT organization and the architecture become aligned and the IT strategic plan practically writes itself

But many IT shops are still stuck figuring out just what to align to. That’s because most organizations don’t follow deliberate and static top-down strategies – not even when they have taken the pains to create them. Instead, most organizations follow a pattern described by Henry Mintzberg, a professor at McGill University and internationally renowned author on business strategy. Mintzberg states that strategy more often emerges as a cumulative pattern of actions that is only retrospectively rationalized and organized as a plan. He advocates studying this, stating that it is better to “…respond to an evolving reality rather than having to focus on a stable fantasy.” His many books describe numerous compelling examples.

Mintzber’s body of work was brought to my attention by a presentation at Forrester’s EA Forum EMEA in London last month, where Jon Hill of BNP Paribas presented his approach to creating an “emergent architecture” in the alfabet Guest Executive Session. Hill laid out an approach for unearthing the emergent strategy and reconciling it with the clearly articulated top-down strategy. What struck me about this presentation was that this very interesting formal body of work on emergent strategies describes something we at Forrester have observed time and time again working with clients, and Hill’s solution paralleled our approach to dealing with it. We’ve thought of these short-term decisions as tactical responses to problems in lieu of a strategy, perhaps at best called a de facto strategy. In Mintzberg’s work, this is the strategy – full stop. Learn to deal with it.

How? Go out and interview all the decision-makers who are making all the short-term decisions that will look two years from now like the strategy of 2009. Yes, all of them. Get out there and ask: “What are your current plans for delivery between now and year end?” And ask “We know it won’t be perfect, but give us your best guess as to the major deliverables and projects that you’ll be doing next year?” And “Looking into the crystal ball, what do you think will be important further out – 2 to 3 years? Give us something with a 50-70% confidence level.” Analyze the answers to these questions and group similar types of initiatives into themes, connect them to capabilities, functions, and systems, and you’ve defined your emergent strategy. If you do have a top-down vision, you can now reconcile one with the other and make adjustments (to the static vision or to the decision-makers’ plans). Next year, do it again.

No shortcuts here, no silver bullet (see the Forrester report, "Choose From Five Basic Approaches To Business Architecture Based On Your Context And Goals"). The solution to the information gap in today’s business-IT alignment efforts, and to the future problem we’ll see when the relevance of the newly created future state business architecture is challenged, is to make the major effort to pull information from all the decision-makers who are creating the emergent strategy as we speak. A good time to do this is now, as you’re beginning to build your business architecture capabilities. As you develop your own capabilities to apply technological innovation to help achieve business goals, you’ll be training the business side to plan more effectively and to begin to think about reconciling day-to-day decisions with the vision for where they want to be in the future.

If this is a topic you're struggling with, be sure to check out the Enterprise Architecture and CIO track sessions at our upcoming IT Forum in Las Vegas.

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re: Aligning To The Emergent Strategy

I agree that many companies do not have "formalized" top down strategies. However, even when firms implement formalized "strategic planning" initiatives, IT is not necessarily included in these sessions. This is especially true if the firm is not a technology vendor or solution firm.For the most part from planning, through SWOT analysis, and definition of long, midrange and short program and project plans, IT is not a partner at the table. So, why is there a "gap" between IT and Business? Almost ridiculous to ask the question but if there is any answer here is my perspective:1. IT is not seen by the business as part of the firm’s core value-chain (no arguments unless you are selling vendor technology solutions IT is not part of the chain)2. What does business Strategy Planning focus on? The Porter Model and value-chain related items (e.g. New Market Entrants, Power of Buyers, Suppliers, Competition, etc.). This analysis focuses on business not the solution so IT as a strategic value is not visible during business strategy planning. This relates directly to item 1 above.3. Most IT organizations today do not report the CIO? Even when a CIO is promoted to get a seat at the table, the title of the individual changes to something other than CIO? Why? Again, see item 1 above. So, let us face it. Information Technology is embedded as a necessary operational function levels down in the corporate decision tree. It not viewed as a strategic asset in most firms. The larger the firm the more operational IT is viewed, IMHO. Hence IT will not be included up front in strategy planning even when firms do initiate or have top down business strategy. As a result, I would argue, IT must always focus on developing it’s OWN strategy.Finally, IT must map their defined strategy to the business. Until IT becomes recognized as a core piece of the business value-chain, IT will always have to manage their own strategy. Hence the GAP between IT and the business will continue to exist between IT and business at least in the USA.A final word of hope here…...If Enterprise Architecture can be driven into the culture of the company top down there is hope that the value of IT by the company will lead the business to understand how strategic IT is to their company success. Architecture at all levels of the company and embedded into the culture will surface IT as a core part of the value – chain. In- fact in every step of that chain. I would argue the paradigm of the value – chain itself may have to change to accommodate this view (an opportunity for another topic). The hope is in EA pushing architecture into the culture of the business. How do you know when you a company is successful? When architecture is no longer a separate group reporting to IT but is dispersed into and throughout the enterprise organization as part of all methodologies and practices (strategic and tactical).G.