Alignment is a Dirty Word



Many of you have heard this rant before, especially if you have read the book!  Focusing on alignment is a dangerous game for an IT organization to play… and it was the #1 concern of CIOs for all of the 1990s and well beyond.

Someone just forwarded me this blog by a Forrester researcher about why organizations need to move beyond alignment… and how to do it.  I really like most of what Nigel says here, its very congruent with what we’ve been writing and speaking about recently.

I have one quarrel and one addition.  But first, in case you don’t read the article, here’s the setup:

It’s the perennial issue for many CIOs and often the No. 1 challenge for new CIOs: “How do I align IT with the business?” And while this is perhaps the most important challenge for IT groups struggling with a bad reputation across the business, it’s certainly not the most important challenge for IT groups with a solid track record of success. For these teams, the challenge is how to move beyond alignment.

My quarrel is around his statement that IT organizations must first achieve alignment before they can move beyond it.  Maybe it is semantics, but I think focusing on alignment in the first place will get them in trouble, even those less-mature, less-reputable organizations.  I’ve heard a similar argument before and it is usually in the context of an elusive “maturity model” that IT organizations must step through to get to a trusted advisor status.  The argument is that you have to be a good order taker before being a trusted advisor.  I think that’s wimpy!  Of course you do, but that doesn’t mean you should focus entirely on being a good order taker (or just being aligned) instead of being really strategic.

My addition to Nigel’s suggestions is to think externally.  The examples he gives are pretty externally focused but when I work with IT organizations, I’m really explicit about this.  IT organizations are so often focused on internal strategies – things like optimizing the data center or improving internal IT processes.  The best technology strategies say how IT is going to help the business compete!

Overall, good stuff.