One approach to strategy

One approach to strategy

To produce an IS strategy, my team and I would answer five questions. It is so simple we can fit it on two pages.

“Forget the arduous, intellectualised number crunching and data grinding. In real life, strategy is actually very straight forward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.” Jack Welch

I love this quote. It captures so much of where I have ended up when it comes to understanding strategy. Not long after taking up my role as the
CIO of The Warehouse I began to turn my mind to producing an IS strategy.

However as I went through a traditional strategy exercise as a CIO rather than a consultant I came to realise that traditional strategies don’t work too well in the real world. The best possible outcome of a traditional IS strategy is that you produce a list of technologies and projects to be implemented into your organisation over a three to five year period that while they maybe rationally correct they are usually unrealistic and unexecutable. Why? I struggle to answer why with any precision however, if pushed, my answer is that an IS strategy provides a static view of some future nirvana based on conditions today, foisted onto a dynamic and ever changing organisation. Static and dynamic do not mix well no matter how often static is updated.

So if a traditional strategy doesn’t work then what are the alternatives? When I am confronted with these types of questions I revert to type, deep introverted thinking, and try and answer some basic questions. In this case the basic questions are:

Question 1 – Why are we here? Whether this is expressed in the traditional sense of mission, vision and values our alternatives such as an organisational Core Purpose as The Warehouse does, or a “general direction” as Jack Welch expresses it you need to understand why you exist. A clear definition of purpose provides meaning to the team and if it is truly alive will guide all decisions.

In our case the team decided we were here “to help the Warehouse achieve it’s purpose of making the desirable affordable by becoming a world class IS organisation that provides great solutions and great service that makes life easier for our customers and our team.”

Question 2 – What does success look like? The "game" of business is played over a long period of time and you need to know if you are making progress towards meeting your purpose. This is the world of measurement and I love measurement as it very powerfully determines what gets done. The real question is what should you measure? We determined that there were 5 key dimensions of what it meant to be a world class IS organisation and we have developed measures for each dimension. The dimensions are:

  • Customer Satisfaction – Are our users and colleagues delighted with our service?
  • Operational Effectiveness – Are our core IS operations efficient and effective and are we actually providing a quality service? (actual service quality and customer satisfaction with the service is not the same thing)
  • Employee Engagement – Is our team a place where people want to work and are they motivated to do their best work?
  • Project Delivery – Are we agile and do we define, prioritise and deliver the projects the business wants and needs in a timely fashion?
  • IS Value Add – Are we delivering value to the organisation for the money invested and are we bringing great ideas on how to use technology and information to help the organisation succeed?

Question 3 – How mature are we as an organisation? More detail on this can be found in my blog post about the IS hierarchy of needs however the answer to this question will form the context in which you choose your priorities.

Question 4 – What initiatives should we undertake to meet these needs? The initiatives you undertake will vary depending on the culture of your organisation, your leadership style and what needs from question three you are trying to meet in the short term

Question 5 – What are the target measurements that will show we have succeeded? This is how you will know you are making progress and provides clues of when to celebrate and when to dig deeper into an issue that is not making progress.

After much thought and discussion within our team answering these 5 questions forms the basis of our strategy. It is simple. So simple we can fit it on a page, two pages if you count the scorecard with all our measures on it and we hang it up through out our work area, always visible. Now all we have to do is execute like hell.

Owen McCall is CIO of the Warehouse. You can reach him at and through his blog

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