Process & Strategy: What's The Plan?

By Craig Settles — January 19, 2009

In our ongoing Process & Strategy series, industry analyst Craig Settles addresses the challenges and pitfalls along the road to mobility. Here, he outlines the differences between strategic and tactical planning, and provides tips and advice on how to effectively form and execute both types of plans --  and what to watch out for along the way.

Read more from this series:
Effective Needs Analysis
Mobile Device Management
Taking The Pain Out Of Mobile Expense Management
Playing Politics


What's The Plan?
Proper previous planning prevents pitifully poor performance. This alliterative ditty should sit atop the computer screens of everyone working on the deployment of a mobile solution. If you want to travel the road of mobility project success, you need the best roadmap and trip planner you can put together.

There are two types of planning -- strategic and tactical. Strategically, you develop plans to integrate various mobile and wireless technologies with your organization's overall technology infrastructure, hoping to impact several business processes throughout one or more departments/business units.

Tactical planning comes when you deploy specific mobile or wireless technology for a single application (e.g. mobile e-mail), or to address a single task such as streamlining a department's paperwork processes.

For all of mobility's hype, there have been mostly tactical deployments over the past eight years. After one or two applications sprout up and show positive ROI, other people within an organization start demanding similar applications. Eventually, someone may roll all of these wish lists into one strategic plan.

Now that mobile technology has proven itself, and also come down significantly in price, however, organizations are beginning to plan strategically, and then create tactical plans as needed.

The particulars of the planning process are as varied as the organizations and people planning them, but the primary steps of both strategic and tactical planning are the same:

  • Formulize an idea or vision

  • Conduct thorough needs analysis

  • Recruit the planners

  • Write the plan

  • Test the thinking behind the plan

  • Execute the plan

Following these basic guidelines should lead to an effective plan appropriate for your organization's needs.


Capturing the vision

Generally, a plan for mobile technology begins when someone reads or observes something that sparks the idea: "if we had these devices or that application, we could do these things'."

Depending on the culture of the organization and the personality of its decision makers, it is advisable to first float the idea either to several individuals who will actually use the application, or to a couple of people in upper management who would be good project champions. Even if they shoot it down initially, early feedback helps identify issues that the eventual plan needs to address.

The next step is needs analysis. Nothing is more vital to effective planning than getting end users and their managers to state how the technology will benefit them and the organization.  [See Mobile Enterprise, July 2008 for an extensive article on conducting effective needs analysis]. Using this analysis, planning teams may want to do their due diligence next to determine which technology best meets users' needs. Technology choices affect the planning process.


Bring together the right people for planning

Have one person drive the plan development process. The actual writing of it can be assigned to other staff, a consultant and even a VAR or system integrator if the organization is small and doesn't have appropriately skilled staff to tackle the job.

"Our deputy CIO was instrumental in developing the plan for our municipal wireless network, but received significant assistance from a consultant," says Minneapolis CIO Lynn Willenbring. "The consultant wrote the plan, which was edited by the deputy CIO and ultimately reviewed by the City Council, [which] gave final approval to the plan."

Selecting the right people for the planning team is another critical element. Have a balance of managers and workers, though tilt the balance toward those who will actually use the technology. And be sure I.T. participates.

Mobile workforce representation is assumed, but also make sure to include individuals who represent the office staffs that handle data collected by mobile workers, or whose jobs will be impacted by the data collected. Select individuals for the team who are capable of being application champions among their peers. This goes a long way  when you execute the plan. 

Probably the most important participant besides the team leader is the project champion. This person is vital to working the plan past organizational politics and getting final approval from management.  Yet, there are times when a champion can become a problem child.

Given their influence and role in getting the plan adopted, the team is oftentimes obligated to address any new requirements these project champions want to add. This can lead to the dreaded "scope creep" that dooms projects to cost and time overruns.

The team leader should write a summary of the impact these changes will have and get the champion to approve and sign the document. Forcing the champion to take documented responsibility leads them to reconsider their changes, or, at the very least, provides the team with a record of accountability when the inevitable blamestorming happens.

Before presenting the powers that be with a document for final approval and budgeting, present a preview of the plan to those who will be involved with the mobile deployment, particularly for plans that affect multiple departments.

Logistics, pilot project personnel, training, multiple vendors, geography and other factors make deployments a challenge. A preview provides an avenue to uncover details the planning team otherwise could miss until the plan -- and its financing -- is locked into place.

Organizations should never assume that planning stops. Once they deploy initial applications, tactical planning is ongoing and likely dispersed throughout the organization.


Tactical planning -- the song that never ends

"The task we bought the remote data access application to address has become a small piece of what we're doing now," says Mississippi Department of Corrections Network Manager Jerry Horton. "It's been expanded to address 1,200 users. As more people learn about new features, they ask if it can do 'x'. Contractors who we do business with want to share an inmate-tracking application after they hear about it."

Willenbring agrees. "This is the most challenging piece of a project," she says. "The expectation is that each operating department, in collaboration with the I.T. department, identifies opportunities and develops the tactical plans. Because Minneapolis has no City Manager position, each department is on its own. No one can force the issue."

In order to prepare for the success that initial success breeds, organizations need to structure a process by which new tactical plans are created, approved and managed. This ensures new applications fit within the organization's strategic objectives, and there is minimal duplication of effort or creation of technology silos within the various departments.

Craig Settles is a wireless business strategist, marketing expert, author and speaker. His blog on business mobile application strategy can be found at http://roisforyou.wordpress.com


Tips For effective mobile deployment planning
  • Float the idea to several individuals who will actually use the application

  • Assess your needs; technology choices affect the planning process

  • Team with those who can tout the application among their peers

  • Include the office staff who will handle data collected by mobile workers

  • Present a preview of the plan to all involved before bringing it to the powers that be

  • Remember, tactical planning is ongoing and likely dispersed throughout the organization.

Craig Settles is a wireless business strategist, marketing expert, author and speaker. His blog on business mobile application strategy can be found at http://roisforyou.wordpress.com


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