Scope and Specification: An IT Strategy War Story

Back in 2011 a colleague of mine won an "IT strategy" consulting engagement with a major UK company. He built a small, capable team, and hit the ground running.

Being a seasoned consultant he was acutely aware that project scope must be managed carefully if he was to avoid the dreaded “scope creep”. But for some reason that seemed harder on this project than in previous projects.

Why was that?

Strategy is a big, broad area. If stakeholders are properly engaged it opens-up a many big, broad debates.

Moreover, the level of quality and rigour expected by different stakeholders can vary dramatically.

And as I mentioned in the previous post in this series, the business strategy is rarely well-defined, and rarely stable throughout the formulation of the IT strategy.

So it’s not too surprising that my colleague ran into difficulties. He took four times as long as expected to produce an agreed articulation of the business strategy on which his team could base its work; he failed to address ahead of time crucial mismatches in expectations about the level of detail in the supporting architecture; he felt obliged to do additional, out-of-scope work to estimate the costs of the strategic investments he arrived at; and his team had to rework several of their outputs several times over to reflect the evolving business strategy.

Although this war story features a consultant in the lead role, it's not limited to consultants. Internal teams creating an IT strategy will have just the same problems with scope and cost overrun.

So please take the opportunity to learn from his mistakes: With this article in hand, march into your sponsor’s office to agree some clear boundaries. IT strategy should always start "top-down", and you should avoid digging too deep until the business agrees that you’re digging in the right place. So try to agree that you’ll work with a baselined version of the business strategy, pre-define the outputs, limit the level of detail, and have clear points of authority and approval.

Happy strategising! And let us know if you need any advice or guidance.

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