Developing Technical Strategy

I have been surrounded by brilliant technical minds throughout my career. I have been inspired by them, challenged by them and supported by them.

Few things are more satisfying than to see these minds in action; passionate, energised people innovating in pursuit of solutions to difficult challenges. In full flight, the achievement is the reward. Success feeds endeavour and progress breeds creativity.


Conversely, it is upsetting to observe technically excellent people that are demotivated, frustrated and under-achieving. This often occurs when there is little purpose to what they are doing: the objectives are unclear; resources and support are absent, and decision-making is chaotic.


The importance of having a coherent technical strategy should not be underestimated. It can engage and energise the technical workforce but is also essential for maintaining a sustainable business. A technical team working without a clear strategy will do what they are doing until they run out of steam and enthusiasm. A good strategy will point the way towards ambitious new goals and will stretch and inspire the team into a positive cycle of effort and reward.

In my experience, it is common that:

(a) there is no technical strategy; because everybody is too busy delivering on today’s obligations.

(b) the technical strategy is poor; because there is confusion about what a strategy is.

(c) the technical strategy is not effective; because people have not been adequately engaged.


A great technical strategy will have the following attributes:


The support and sponsorship of the board or senior leadership

Only then will it be taken seriously. Senior leaders need to be the first to realise the importance of a technical strategy to the future of their business and to provide adequate vocal support and resources to make it meaningful.


It is geared towards a key business goal(s)

Strategy and goals are often confused. First, it is important to decide what the goal is (e.g. increased market share) and then to develop a strategy for achieving that goal.


It is powerful and achievable

Some strategies are little more than a collection of obvious statements (e.g. we will develop our people and continuously improve our products). A great strategy will identify truly unique means to achieving the goal.


It is not an action plan

Some people confuse strategy with goals, others confuse it with an action plan. A good strategy will determine how the goal is going to be achieved, planning the actions can follow.


It is developed and implemented by an engaged technical team

A technical strategy that is written by a business leader and issued to a technical team to implement is unlikely to succeed. The same is true for a strategy that is created autonomously by a technical leader without any engagement of the wider team. Engaged teams will buy in to a strategy and ensure that it is implemented.

The correct engagement of a wider technical team, genuinely supported by a senior business leader will generate passion, innovation and discretionary effort. It will also inevitably create some emotion and disagreement and therefore clear ownership and strong facilitation are essential.


Here is a very abridged summary of a hypothetical technical strategy, to clarify the separation between business goals and action plans:

Goal: To have greatest sector market share for supply of mechanical robotics

Strategy:

· Build a great team quickly by headhunting established talent

· Only develop robotic solutions for real customer needs

· Collaborate with third-party researchers and developers to access the latest technology

Actions:

· Appoint an appropriate headhunter

· Initiate deep-dive workshops with customers to establish their needs

· Develop a list of potential third-party partners


Does your business have a coherent technical strategy? If not, then I recommend that you consider developing one straight away. The benefits will far outweigh the effort and it can often be the first step towards an inspired and engaged, high-performing technical team.