You can run but you can’t hide

I sent out notes to folks talking about my new situation, and some came back with interesting comments. Here’s one from W, a brilliant guy with Big-6 background and plenty of business acumen. However, he (like me) is a coder at heart, and really wants to focus on the technology (not like me). More power to him – but his eMail had a telling statement …

… this is my 5th month at [BigCo] and all is going well so far. Enterprise architecture in a large corporation is interesting. One misconception that I had was that this position would be one step removed from the business. I was very wrong!! I should know by now that NOTHING is detached or not driven directly or indirectly by the business strategies.

Well put, and I will tease him a bit – as if you can separate business from tech. I am already involved in conversations around a number of projects for 4Q05 and into 2006, and like most companies, we have many more project ideas than resources. I do notice some folks come at “opportunities” tech-side first – as in

“… now that we have [foundation technology X], what can we do with it [to bring business value]?”

I’ve found it easier to get buy-in and participation from the business by asking …

“What business outcome[s] are we trying to achieve, and what (if any) technology can be brought to bear?”

If you want/need to get priority in a sea of great ideas, the key is to define fundamental business value – and within most organizations, this starts with some “gun” that the business is staring down the barrel of. Could be a growth target, cost-cutting, whatever – but that’s where you start, that’s what you need to understand and empathize with.

Think “top-down” … start with a concise set of two to three statements that define “success”. Try to answer questions like “How will we know we are done?”, or “What does ‘success’ look like?”

NB: This does not mean you must give up on bottom-up, technically-focused projects. On the contrary – there are many reasons to keep moving forward with server OS updates, version upgrades for your foundation systems, even some “pioneering” stuff like introducing WiFi, PDAs, IM, or FLOSS. However, these need to be a reasonable percentage of your “portfolio”. In fact, it is an investment in the long-term health of any organization to put some resources towards these “pioneer” types of projects. Too much focus on the short-term, bottom line stuff will hobble an organization’s capacity for growth, and start it down the long slide towards irrelevance. Like Portfolio Management in the investing world, we need to drive to a reasonable mix of categories (Utility, Enhancement, Frontier is a typical breakdown).

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.