You Don’t Need a “Tech Strategy”

One of my pet peeves as a consultant is being approached by prospects asking for help with establishing their tech strategy. At first glance, it might seem an obvious fit: I work with tech executives, and I offer Sentient Strategy® workshops. The crux of the problem is that by the time you’ve decided to compile a tech strategy, you’ve already lost half the battle.

Focusing on a tech strategy makes sense only you’ve settled for having R&D act purely as a delivery vehicle for the company’s decisions. You get a roadmap handed to you; you provide what you committed to. Great success!(?) What happened to striving to use R&D as an innovation center and a force driving the entire company forward, not merely a bunch of orders takers and an overly expensive Jira-resolving-machine?

Don’t Be Compartmentalized

The misconception that gets people to think creating a “tech strategy” is the right step stems from failing to realize their true role in the company. More and more businesses are coming to terms with technology being a major tenet in any modern company. The WSJ touted the reincarnated CIO as a semi-COO: We must strive for business accountability.

Maximizing the potential upside from a world-class R&D organization is not possible if you wait to first be told what the “general strategy” of the company is and only then set out to think about how best to achieve it. That means that you are not privy to discussions at the right point and thus have allowed tech to be compartmentalized in your company.

In The Tech Executive Operating System, I delve into the importance of moving upstream: You have to claim your spot around the table where decisions are being made. No more being handed a strategy; you should be a partner in its conception.

The Real Strategy

Have you ever been hit with an initiative, only to think to yourself, “I wish they would have involved me earlier”? That’s a lagging indicator for not being positioned high enough in the decision stream.

The Decision Stream from The Tech Executive Operating System
The Decision Stream from chapter 4 of The Tech Executive Operating System

Not claiming your spot might feel natural. For many, it is the path of least resistance. However, it is essentially absolving from or even abdicating your responsibility as an executive in the company. You owe your direct involvement to the company and for the sake of your talented team.

When you take part in comprising the actual strategy, you achieve several clear benefits right away:

Fewer fires to put out: By knowing where things are headed, you are less likely to be elbow-deep in executing on this quarter’s “tech strategy,” failing to realize that in two weeks the CEO will tell you about next quarter’s initiative that requires staffing that should have taken place two months prior. Perching yourself high atop the decision stream allows you to see what’s headed your way.

Better plans in the first place: We all know that the farther downstream that a decision needs to be changed, the costlier it gets. By being involved in creating the plan, you can help shape it so that it will provide the most ROI. You can hear about needs and objectives and come up with the ideal utilization of your team to achieve them. You open the door for forming product teams as opposed to feature teams.

Fostering product engineers: Only by playing an active (even proactive) part in the strategy process can you obtain a deep understanding of the company’s direction and objectives. That knowledge is a prerequisite for your personal product mastery and for you to be able to inculcate that same product mastery in your team. That is how you create more product engineers who are able of focusing on the right thing. These product engineers will know which questions to ask. They will have an intuition about the inherent ROI of different features and decisions. And, sometimes most important, they will possess the knowledge necessary to come up with real tech capital, rather than obsess over tech debt.