A friend of mine once led an IT strategy consulting engagement for a UK company. She spent time tailoring the method appropriately, took care to get the right messages in the proposal, built a team, and began work.

At first the focus was on understanding the business strategy. What did the business demand of the technology, with what priority, and what were the likely returns to the business?

So the first document her team produced was a synthesis of these strategic business needs. It was signed-off by the business without too much debate, but the team never did manage to quantify the likely business benefits, and they had a sneaking suspicion that full buy-in was lacking. For example, one of the strategic objectives was to increase sales volumes, but no-one had a reasonable projection of the likely growth, so sales were unwilling to accept higher targets.

The consulting contract was on a Time and Materials basis, and the sponsor requested that the team carry-on despite these worries.

Next they modelled the current and future IT landscapes, before comparing the two views to create a set of change projects on a roadmap.

All-told, the work took a few months. There were numerous problems along the way (which I’ll report on in other war stories) but the outputs all arrived on time, and the team began preparing for its final presentations to the executive committee, and then the board.

And this is where things started to come unstuck. Despite their early engagement, the execs took very different views about the virtues of the conclusions of the work. The board was even more sceptical.

It transpired that without an agreed model of the likely returns from each investment, no-one was willing to back the proposed investments. Hard to blame them really: Would you invest £5M in IT improvements designed to improve sales, if the sales team resisted higher targets?

This was always a risk of course, but we often assume that our sponsors will carry investment cases over the line through their personal credibility, or through sheer force of personality. So I can understand how the consulting team allowed this to happen.

Lesson: For the client’s own good, insist on seeing agreed models of the business benefits expected as a result of any IT strategy work. Or failing that, establish if the board has ever approved large-scale investment without such models.

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