Think Strategically, Proceed Practically

Knowing the strategic solution is only part of the challenge. Let’s assume you are able to establish the “right and just” solution either because your enterprise has well documented target architectures and roadmaps or your solution has a well established “best practice” pattern you can apply.

Take a moment to savor your success, but only a moment! Now let this sobering thought sink in – your awesome design brings zero business value to your organization until it is instantiated and running in production. Zero. No business value at all.

In most cases, designing the strategic solution is the easy part of the challenge. Let’s review the remaining roadblocks between you and providing business value, then discuss the winding path to success.

Again, in the ideal situations, either the strategic solution is cheaper and easier to implement than other tactical options, or there is funding in place to support a strategic direction, but frequently such is not the case.  Often times, we find ourselves advocating for the strategic to an uninterested audience.  These are the most typical excuses, um…  reasons, for not implementing a strategic solution.

  1. Business need is much smaller scope than the strategic solution.  They need a report, but the strategic solution is a yet-to-be-implemented enterprise data warehouse with a reporting and analytics capability.  They’d love a meal, but only have the time and budget for a snack. (see #2 and #3)
  2. The strategic solution costs more then the business wants (or has) to spend.  There are many shades of gray here, ranging from thriftiness to an empty wallet.
  3. Strategic solution takes longer to implement than the business can wait for a solution.  Be sure to do the math and probe the reality of the timeline.  Often times the tactical doesn’t actually take less time.  Other times the timeline isn’t nearly as set in stone as it is communicated to be.

So now you try your best to get buy-in for the strategic solution – you drive a fact based discussion based on an options analysis of the strategic options vs. the alternatives.  You discuss the fact that good enough, is not always good enough with your business sponsors.  However, for the sake of this article, let’s assume for any (or all) of the reasons above you are not successful.  Don’t take your ball and go home just yet! There are numerous ways in which you can still move your organization toward an appropriate end state instead of licking your wounds in the dark corner of your cube.

  1. Design a tactical solution that at least starts to implement the strategic solution.  In lieu of a strategic funding model, it is often necessary to build out the strategic on the backs of a long strong of non-strategic projects.
  2. At the very least, avoid designing a solution that diverges strongly from the strategic solution.  If you can’t drive toward the strategic goal, at least minimize how far off course you go!
  3. Document the tactical design decisions.  Making decisions that differ from the organizations strategic direction is one of the 3 reasons for which design decisions exist!  Leverage the fact based analysis you produced above.
  4. Track the architecture risks associated with the tactical choice.  If there are no risks, ask yourself why the the choice you just made is not the strategic one.  If your organization has formal operational risk tracking, evaluate each of your architecture risks to see which should be tracked under the formal program.

If you are lucky enough to operate in an enterprise with strong enough IT governance, fanatic-level business support, or a magic money tree, then swing for the fence. If not, swing for the fence, but have a good bunt strategy in your back pocket!

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Dan Hughes

Was a principal consultant at Systems Flow, Inc.

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