Plan like your enterprise

Effective CIO participation in corporate planning is critical for business and IT success. However, engaging in corporate planning can be a bumpy road for CIOs due to conflicting timelines, power politics, unforeseen shocks and shifting priorities in business units and the corporate office.

Fortunately, it’s possible to follow the taillights of some CIOs who have successfully navigated the potholes and washed-out bridges. Their starting point in the planning process was figuring out their enterprise context.

There are basically two ways in which enterprises approach corporate planning. First, there are enterprises with formal corporate planning practices involving specific activities that produce what is typically labeled as ‘the corporate plan’. These companies tend to be of the larger sort, operating in mature, predictable and complex markets or developed geographies and having relatively formal cultures.

Then there are the enterprises whose corporate planning could be characterized as being chaotic and ad hoc. These companies emphasize a fluid, “sense-and-respond” approach, making up their plan as they go along. Comparatively, they are more agile and culturally informal, frequently competing in immature, uncertain and fast-changing markets, or located in emerging economies.

The type of enterprise you are in will impact your choice of approach and style of engagement in corporate planning. If it is the formal type, improve your contribution by synchronizing your efforts with a grand plan and segmenting your internal client base to produce plan offshoots to address specific needs. If your enterprise engages mostly in sense-and-respond planning, adopt a decision-aid approach and conduct frequent strategic experiments, creating strategy maps, and engaging in ‘planning lite’ and making rolling adjustments as needed.


CIOs first need to understand the politics of planning and play the game. They must understand who their colleagues influence and how. And they must understand how they can influence their colleagues.

To effectively manage planning politics, lead from your power base. Power maps serve as very useful tools to this end. They are essentially relationship diagrams that show how your stakeholders influence each other. They are best drawn by hand and kept locked out of general view.

Then comes the identification of your source of influence. Typically, it comes in one of three flavours:

Position. Your influence flows from the formal authority of your job. Knowledge. Your influence flows from the real or perceived belief that you have unique and desirable information. Relationship. Your power flows from your social network.

Consciously apply the power base that will most influence each stakeholder in a decision.

Another good way of managing the politics is through scenario planning, which encourages creative thinking and helps better prepare enterprises for what may come. There are two complementary ways in which scenario planning can be used.

First, there’s business-centric scenario planning. IT can lead or participate in a scenario-planning exercise at the beginning of the corporate planning cycle, before specific projects have begun and commitments made. The aim is for IT to be aware of different possible business futures and prepare to react more quickly in the face of change.

The second common technique for scenario planning is the IT-centric sort. Here, the idea is to create IT-centric scenarios to understand the consequences of significant IT decisions.

Both types of scenarios – business-centric and IT-centric – can be used in all organizations. Whatever the organization, IT should provide input into both types of scenario planning, along with the business and others outside and unfamiliar with the business for a more rounded and objective view of the real environment. T

he trick for CIOs is to strike a balance between creating a stable planning environment with long-term plans, and an agile organization for adapting quickly to new circumstances. CIOs can moderate these extremes by pulling planning toward the centre of the planning continuum, increasing either stability or flexibility. This approach helps CIOs avoid the bumps in the road and washed out bridges caused by corporate politics.

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Andrew Rowsell-Jones is vice-presidentand research director for Gartner’s CIO Executive Programs.

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