In IT planning, try zero-based thinking

Zero-based thinking is a concept that's used extensively in the business world to turn around failing companies. It can work wonders in IT planning.

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So you're looking to improve your IT organization. And what if you could start today?

Let's look at a proven formula that, when properly followed, can get your operation out of its IT rut. No, it's not magic trickery, but it is something pretty darned close. You can start improving your IT program right away with what's called zero-based thinking.

Approach your IT program as if you have a clean slate from which to start.

Zero-based thinking is a concept -- really a tool -- that's been around for ages and used extensively in the business world to turn around failing companies. You can use it to work wonders in IT planning as well.

With zero-based thinking, you go back to the future by projecting forward to your ideal situation and then coming back to today and determining what must be done to make things happen. You're effectively asking: Knowing what we now know, would we still be doing the same things? It's putting hindsight to work for your IT program.

Before you get started with zero-based thinking, you need the right people on board. Trying to turn around your IT program without help will prove futile, so make sure you have the key players in the business on your side. This will likely include people in finance, HR, legal and operations. Having an executive sponsor won't hurt either.

Once you've assembled the proper team and support for some serious IT planning, ask yourselves the following questions to put zero-based thinking into action:

  1. If our IT program was absolutely perfect in every way, it'd have these things…
    You'll simply go about listing how a well-oiled IT program would look, run and feel. It'll likely involve areas such as better insight and visibility, more streamlined technologies and users who "get it." Whatever your needs call for, write down the ideal situation. This is your long-term view of where your IT group needs to head.
  2. Knowing what we now know, what would we have more of? Less of?
    This should be easy. Everyone on your team, as well as employees elsewhere in the organization, will have their own views of how things in IT help and hinder their work lives. Take these things to heart and do something about them. This is the meat of your concerns.

Your ultimate goal is to determine what it is that you would get into or out of to make things better in IT. You know the answers to these questions. It may take some time, some debating and even some heated arguments, but eventually you and your team will have the answers.

When you have a clear view of what needs to be improved, go to the next steps in your IT planning process. These will include setting goals and determining how to hold yourselves accountable. It's the only way to get things done over the long haul without falling back into your old ways.

There's always room for improvement in IT. Spend some time on zero-based thinking. Approach your IT program as if you have a clean slate from which to start. What can you do -- what will you do -- moving forward?

About the author
Kevin Beaver has worked for himself for over 10 years as an information security consultant, expert witness, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. He specializes in performing independent security assessments involving information risk management and is the author/co-author of many books, including The Practical Guide to HIPAA Privacy and Security Compliance and Hacking For Dummies.

This was first published in March 2013

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