Our offsite IT Strategy session was very successful. We nailed it. We looked at our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. We considered the future of our businesses and how we could use some great new technologies to help and even transform them. We considered the state of each of our systems, and thought about the directions they should be taking. We thought about our team members, where their careers are going and the opportunities that might help them get there. We had a brilliant strategy document, and 1-year goals to get us there.
When we returned to the office, I described our new strategy and 1-year goals to my colleagues, quite proud of the results and the process. I was describing this to our HR Director. She asks “Is this strategy right for your clients?” I thought about the process. I thought about all our discussions. I thought about our intent. “Yes, of course it is”, I say confidently.
Then she hits me with it.
“Did you ask them?”
Ummm. Not really. Well… no. Darn.
Although the idea of including direct (internal) client consultation in IT strategic planning is obvious to you, I had missed it. Rookie mistake. OK, back to the drawing board.
Our team ended up (after some trial and error) following a systematic approach to consultation. Here are some steps to consider:
1. Client survey. You want to understand how your clients view IT services to help you understand where to focus your efforts. Ask questions about all areas of your services (ERP’s, IM, network connectivity, phone system, unified communications, desktop and mobile equipment, support, etc.). It is best to use a third-party to conduct the survey to ensure that respondents feel they can be candid with their responses. We use Info-Tech’s services, and are very happy with them (see below). If you don’t have budget for this, consider using SurveyMonkey or other online survey tool and ask a colleague from another department (Communications, perhaps?) to help. You will want to have ratings and comments at the departmental level.
Be ready to hear some critical comments. The critical comments are the most useful to you.
Here’s what part of the Info-Tech survey looks like. This is a sample not our actual results (ours were a little higher :-).
2. Discuss the findings with each department. Hold candid meetings with the departmental management teams. Invite negative as well as positive comments (making sure all negative comments are framed in a constructive way). Listen. DO NOT BE DEFENSIVE. You want your clients to tell you what is not working well. You are not there to defend or to set plans, you are there to hear their views. I found that using specific comments made in the survey and asking for more information about them gets the conversations going.
3. Recap discussions. Be diligent in taking notes during the departmental meetings then recap, via email, everything you heard (positive and negative). Make sure everyone agrees. Remember, you want your clients to help you help them. You can only do that if they validate your notes. This holds them accountable for giving you complete and accurate feedback.
4. Set Goals. Now it is time for you to be accountable. Set goals in your annual plan to address any issues or needs raised. There will be items raised that you won’t be able address in the coming year. Be clear about what you won’t do as well as what you will do. Of course, these goals are set in collaboration with your team.
5. Report early and often. Report on your goals. Meet your goals. Report regularly on your progress.
6. Repeat. As you want to continue to adjust your services to what your clients require, you will want to do this annually. Things change in the departments you serve, and you want to be on top of the changes.
Conducting a client service survey has become part of our strategic planning process. Year-over-year our client satisfaction rates have been increasing. In some areas (areas we have set goals in), satisfaction has increased dramatically.
I’m glad I listened to my HR Director’s advice, and asked my clients.
P.S. Thanks for reading my post. If you have any other suggestions for how to client consultation in setting IT strategy and plans, I’d be grateful if you included them in the comment section below.