IT planning is dead

My big takeaway from Forrester's Digital Transformation conference? IT planning as we know it is a thing of the past

I recently attended a Forrester conference about digital transformation. In the midst of one of the sessions, I couldn’t contain myself and posted a tweet that went like this:

Planning is dead. “We don’t know what we don’t know.” The world is #Agile. #FORRdigital

Now, I must confess I don’t tweet a lot. It takes true inspiration for me to dig out my Twitter app and say something to the twitterverse. Usually nobody takes much note anyway. But this tweet got a curiously enthusiastic reception. Comments of excited affirmation. Retweets. Likes. Follows. I felt I was getting high-fived for saying something everyone is thinking, but couldn’t quite put into 100 characters.

The problem is I didn’t mean it that way. I was actually being mildly sarcastic. My wife always tells me to stop with the dry sarcasm, because nobody gets it anyway. I must concede once again. She’s always right.

Our industry has a tendency to get carried away. Actually, we love to get carried away. We go to digital transformation events or disrupt events or hack this, hack that events where shiny happy people gather to talk about how their worlds are going to get blown up. Nothing will ever be the same. How we’re in the third industrial revolution. Our industries won’t even be here in a few years’ time. This isn’t unique to Forrester, of course. I witness the same intoxicated frenzy at Gartner, IDC, media-sponsored events, et alia. The result is the going Digital orthodoxy (is that an oxymoron?). Today’s world is agile. Incremental. The world is now. Dump those legacy systems, practices, plans. Fail fast. Disrupt. Hack. Speed uber alles.

Yeah. Maybe. 

Of course it’s hard not to marvel at the combined power of connected devices, Cloud and machine learning, possibly also blockchain. These technologies enable such a myriad set of capabilities that the journey for most enterprises is indeed unpredictable. Technology impact has always been unpredictable, and perhaps one could even gin up a version of Moore’s law to predict the pace of unpredictability of technology’s impact on business.

I would posit that precisely for this reason planning becomes even more important. But, planning does need to evolve. It may no longer need be the traditional Gantt chart, or documented manifesto, or some other static artifact. It may need to be different.

When it comes to IT systems, I think that architecture is a form of planning. System design is also a form of planning. Product roadmaps that evolve are a form of planning. Building an ecosystem is a form of planning. What all of these forms of planning have in common is that they encapsulate some kind of vision of the future, some basic assumptions of what’s needed to build actionable, useful platforms that will support future capabilities. I believe that building frameworks, architectures and roadmaps requires significant upskilling and focus for IT-driven enterprises. This is perhaps the most important, and most overlooked form of planning.

Incrementalism will only get us so far. It’s fun and games to throw new features out there. Instant gratification. But eventually these capabilities will crumble under the weight of their architectural and technical debt. The firms that will succeed in our unpredictable digital future will be those who understand and take serious control over the design and construction of the systems they have today, and control over how these architectures and roadmaps evolve to meet the future needs that emerge from the unknown. 

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