You might recognize the name Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, but what about Katalin Kariko or Drew Weissman? They created a platform for mRNA vaccines that in 2020 produced the fastest vaccine ever developed, which helped slow the global COVID pandemic.
What is the real difference between these cases? Both changed the world. The answer lies in the two words, discover and create. One was an accident. One was not. Innovation can be planned and accelerated in medicine, information technology, and other sectors.
So, how can you accelerate innovation and convert strategy to action? Here are five steps.
1. Capture the business strategy to determine a common set of goals
Enterprises large and small typically have strategic planning exercises, and these usually produce materials in various forms. Chances are that thought leaders and executives also participate in planning cycles that often result in more cycles rather than plans. These can be quite elaborate, and many times they're siloed to represent business domains and areas of interest that then can be parsed out and divided into those constituencies. Context is lost and the plans never make it to the "ground" intact.
When I started looking for it, I was surprised that IT strategy material is not hard to find online and that it's also very good and very insightful. My two main thoughts were: "Everyone should see this!" and "How can I simplify this so it's easy to communicate quickly?" That turned into the "big picture" we could share with our CIO Hybrid Cloud Platforms Architecture Chapter to form our integrated roadmap.
Our roadmap consists of a single-page strategy organized by business domain, and within that, the high-level strategic outcomes and a short list of capabilities needed to realize them.
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2. Brainstorm the specific capabilities needed to enable strategic goals
We collected any roadmaps that existed and asked individuals and thought leaders for random, ad hoc brainstorming. In some cases, nobody had ever been asked for a roadmap beyond the next quarter. The idea of how to get to that strategic place really had little traction beyond 90 days. The thought process and reactions ranged from cathartic to stunned.
This was going to be good.
We organized this input and tried to consolidate it. The good news is that the consolidated list of capabilities at that level also fit on a page. This allowed us to add the "why?" that I could see in those themes and combine them into categories. Given this shorter list of capabilities against the backdrop of our platform, we could start to surface who would be the owners to deliver the capabilities. They became real even though they didn't exist yet.
[ Learn how to build a flexible foundation for your organization. Download An architect's guide to multicloud infrastructure .]
3. Make a first pass at your roadmap
We looked for a community forum to kick off roadmap development. We chose our CIO Hybrid Cloud Platforms Architecture Chapter.
We asked them to:
- Look at the one-page strategy.
- Look at the platform and the capabilities we need.
- Look at the outcomes we want to achieve to inform prioritization.
- Look at the dependencies to inform sequencing.
- Make a first pass at what parts we need to implement first and in which quarter we might do that over the next year.
- Come back to the group and present their first pass.
In retrospect, this prep work got us most of the way to our roadmap.
[ See this related reading: 5 tips for succeeding with stakeholders in architecture projects. ]
4. Come together to build it
Include all stakeholders, whether they will be doing the work reflected by the roadmap or not. We want one view of strategy and one roadmap, and for everybody to pull for that common destination as our "North Star." We scheduled an in-person workshop to build and align the entire roadmap across stakeholders and connect the pieces. Tradeoffs, priority, and timing were all aligned together.
This single output and this way of working were just as important as what we had on paper. We came together as a team and learned a lot about adjusting to a post-pandemic digital workplace. Deciding who should be in the room, or could be, and how to deal with who could not be there in person was enlightening, and we didn't lose sight of that. We took away actions from that, too.
5. Take concrete actions toward realization
Now that we had an integrated roadmap organized by quarter, we committed concrete objectives and key results (OKRs) for the next quarter. We already used this process effectively, but now it has been elevated. We know why; we know where it leads us. We know what we will get from it. We can cite the strategy. And we can see it in the work we do. Now we are creating, not just discovering.
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Roadmaps do not navigate information technology. We do. The roadmap is a tool. When you have clarity on the strategic destination, everyone knows why it matters and how the work they do connects to it. An integrated, platform-based roadmap with a single view of how to get there brings the future of IT closer. It's right around the corner. Do you know your next turn? How about your next three? Creation is not an accident. What will you create?
This originally appeared as Planned innovation—converting strategy to action with an integrated roadmap on Medium and is republished with permission.