A while ago I wrote a bit about business alignment and strategy. I got quite a few reactions on that one, in comments or through other media. Of course, I didn’t exactly moderate my statements, so I suppose I was asking for it. But I felt I needed to write a more thorough reply to all those comments than what I cooked up so far.
The gist of the previous post was supposed to be this: ideally, all parts of an organization should strive to achieve the same goals, the same strategy. Any part of an organization has a … well, a part to play in that strategy, and also has no goals other than playing this part (remember, ideally). Sure, there’s some wiggle room in how you fill in this role. Allowing for more than this bit of wiggle room implies that there’s room for other parts to play. And that’s exactly what ‘business alignment’ implies – that any part of an organization has its own separate direction which needs to be ‘aligned’ with that of an organization.
Of course, as I was rightly called out for, my little sketch of an ideal world was just that – an ideal. In reality, there are often many ‘strategies’ in any organization. The way strategy is often portrayed in organizations doesn’t really help. At my work at IT-eye, we often encounter what we tend to call ‘the smiley’: an organization with a bunch of long-term goals, a lot of short-term goals, but fairly little to link the two. These short-term goals often include pet projects, well-intentioned improvement efforts, ideas for which there was no room in the previous year’s budget. Mostly, goals that are on there not because they fit the strategy, but because they fit the preconception of the people drafting these plans.
So when you start an alignment effort by somehow taking that department or business unit-level ‘strategy’ and trying to ‘force’ it in the right direction (f.e. by executing those strategies ‘under an architecture’), you’ve pretty much already lost. An architecture can’t ‘align’ what is inherently ‘unaligned’ (incidentally, that’s why at IT-eye we developed our STAP methodology – it ensures that this kind of thing doesn’t happen).
The solution to this isn’t in forming up some sort of process that should guarantee business alignment – not, at least, in a form of architecture. It is in looking at the process of how these ‘strategies’ – year plans, most likely – are drafted. In essence – we prefer to prevent, rather than cure.