A strategy should inform an institution where business process improvements will have the largest impact on realizing its mission. Both for-profit and non-profit institutions should pursue projects and initiatives that help them reach their strategic goals. A strategy should help guide what projects and initiatives are pursued.
In a for-profit institution, the main strategy is to increase profits. Projects should be pursued if they have the potential to increase revenue, decrease expense, or both. In such a setting, it is reasonably straightforward to compute a financial return on investment (ROI) for digital transformation projects and initiatives and use it to prioritize them.
In a non-profit institution of higher education, our main strategy is to help students succeed. Projects and initiatives should be pursued to help the institution reach its strategic goals. Computing a financial ROI in this setting is not straightforward and perhaps not beneficial; therefore, we need an alternative mechanism for prioritizing which projects and initiatives to pursue. The ideal metric is a measure of a project’s ability to decrease the gap between where an institution is concerning its strategic goals and where it will be after the project is complete, i.e., its strategic value. Those projects with the most potential to decrease the strategic gap have the highest strategic value and should be pursued.
This post will describe the creation of the strategy map for the UVU Division of Digital Transformation. I’ll also describe three ontologies we’ve created:
- An impact ontology that illustrates the impact divisional business processes should have on our strategic objectives.
- A performance ontology that describes the impact our business processes are currently having on our strategic objectives.
- A project ontology that illustrates each project’s strategic value or its ability to close strategic gaps.
The impact and performance ontologies are used to determine the strategic gap between possible impact and current performance. The project ontology determines which projects have high strategic value in closing the identified strategic gaps. Finally, a list of projects and initiatives, prioritized using their strategic value, is presented.
Utah Valley University
In early 2019, Utah Valley University (UVU) organized a Digital Transformation Task Force, which issued its final report in April 2019. In their report, the task force defined digital transformation like this:
“Digital transformation is the process of applying technology to fundamentally change how organizations operate and provide value to those served. Digital transformation requires an integrated enterprise approach to workflow, process, data management, technology, and culture.”
The use of digital technology and an accompanying change in culture will allow the university to reduce complexity, function efficiently, and provide delightful products, processes, and services to our students, faculty, and staff. While digital transformation strategies and tactics must be aligned with the institutional mission and strategic initiatives, they must also be easily understood and implemented by those participating in the transformation of digital technology, culture, and institutional practice.
Institutional Mission and Strategy
Digital transformation efforts must be aligned with institutional goals and strategy. UVU has an exceptional strategy document entitled Vision 2030. Vision 2030 includes the UVU Mission Statement that reads, “Utah Valley University is an integrated university and community college that educates every student for success in work and life through excellence in engaged teaching, services, and scholarship.” Vision 2030 outlines three strategies, with accompanying priority initiatives, employed to accomplish its mission:
- Enhance student success and accelerate completion of meaningful credentials
- Implement the UVU Completion Plan 2.0 (2019-2023)
- Assess and remove barriers at every stage of the student life cycle
- Support completion through comprehensively designed curriculum and services
- Enhance educational quality through the recruitment and retention of excellent and engaging faculty and staff
- Improve accessibility, flexibility, and affordability for all current and future UVU students
- Build out a coordinated multi-campus plan
- Expand flexible educational and online offerings
- Strengthen outreach to and support for underrepresented students
- Maintain commitment to affordability and accessibility
- Strengthen partnerships for community, workforce, and economic development
- Create seamless processes and practices for student transition from K-12 to UVU
- Improve industry partnerships to meet workforce and community needs
- Strengthen engaged learning and community engagement opportunities for students, faculty, and staff
A strategy map is a diagram that shows an organization’s strategy on a single page. A strategy map has three significant uses:
- It helps every employee understand their organization’s overall strategy and where they fit in.
- It helps keep everyone literally on the same page.
- It helps employees see how their work helps the institution meet its strategic objectives.
At the top and center of a strategy map, we place the organization’s mission or vision statement. Stacked down the map’s left side are four perspectives: financial, customers or stakeholders, internal processes, and enablers. A for-profit enterprise would typically place the perspectives from top to bottom in the order previously described. In a non-profit organization like UVU, we place the financial perspective at the bottom. Making money is not our aim, but financial objectives support everything else we do.
Within each perspective, we place a small number of strategic objectives. Arrows indicate how one or more strategic objectives help accomplish others. Finally, we add a weight to each strategic objective indicating the amount of effort and resource we want to commit to them currently. While most aspects of the strategy map remain as is for a considerable length of time, the weights assigned to each objective should be regularly reviewed and potentially adjusted to meet changing needs.
We created a strategy map for Digital Transformation at UVU with Brett Knowles and others at Hirebook. Brett and his colleagues patiently helped us craft our strategy, asked probing questions that refined our language, and acquainted us with powerful ontologies and techniques to connect our project work with our strategic objectives.
At the top and center of the strategy map, illustrated in Figure 1, is an abbreviated form of the UVU Mission Statement. You can see the four perspectives down the figure’s left side: stakeholders, internal processes, enablers, and financial. We’ve added brief definitions of each perspective to help us remember who or what is included in each. Within each perspective, we have added strategic objectives.
Within the financial perspective, we have a single strategic objective, Plan, Budget, and Assess, which represents the UVU planning and budgeting process known as PBA. We used a shared governance approach, with much discussion and compromise, to determine the weight associated with each strategic objective. In this case, we determined that we’ll spend 10% of our effort and resources on this objective. This strategic objective supports all other objectives in the strategy map. Arrows have been omitted for clarity.
The enablers perspective contains three strategic objectives: Be Responsive, Invest in Staff Development, and Manifest UVU Values. Accomplishing these strategic objectives is essential to enable the organization to accomplish the strategic objectives above them. We must invest in staff development to ensure they continue to be productive professionals who can deliver high-quality results. The staff must also be responsive, i.e., react quickly and positively to institutional concerns and needs. Finally, they must manifest UVU values of exceptional care, exceptional accountability, and exceptional results. This perspective will receive 35% of our effort and resources.
The perspective dealing with internal processes contains four strategic objectives: Practice Exceptional Product Portfolio Management, Provide Transformative Solutions, Strengthen Our Partnerships, and Deliver Delightful Experiences. Our division doesn’t currently have a strong practice in product portfolio management. We must develop this process to enable the delivery of the other three strategic objectives in this perspective. A strong product portfolio management process will strengthen our relationships with internal partners and enable our organization to provide transformative solutions. Together these three strategic objectives will enable our division to deliver delightful experiences to our stakeholders. This perspective will currently receive 50% of our attention and resources.
The stakeholders perspective includes three strategic objectives: Achieve Student Success, Include All Learners, and Engage Our Partners. While we organize our division, strengthen our internal processes, and develop our staff, we will only expend 5% of our effort and resources on these strategic objectives. However, these objectives are shared by all divisions at UVU. We expect that pursuing the strategic objectives in the internal processes and enablers perspectives will increase other divisions’ ability to focus on these important strategic objectives.
An impact ontology describes the impact that business processes ideally have on strategic objectives. The UVU Division of Digital Transformation has nine major business processes:
- Product Portfolio Management
- Service Management
- Human Resources
- Research and Development
- Data Delivery
- Risk and Security Management
- Digital Transformation Strategic Planning
Note that these nine business processes are not necessarily organizational units.
The impact ontology illustrated in Figure 2 shows the impact that business objectives have on achieving strategic objectives. Our nine business processes are included across the top. The strategic objectives and associated weights from the strategy map are included down the figure’s left side. We have a value from zero to five at the intersection of each business process and strategic objective. Like the strategic objective weights, these values were obtained through a shared governance exercise and much discussion. Zeros indicate that the associated business objective has no impact on reaching the associated strategic objective. In contrast, fives indicate that the associated business process strongly influences reaching the associated strategic objective. The grey levels are added to aid in identifying impactful business processes. For the UVU Division of Digital Transformation, the Operations business process impacts our strategic objective of Delivering Delightful Experiences but does not impact our objective of Invest in Staff Development.
We can glean other interesting information from an impact ontology. For example, intersections containing fours or fives identify business processes that greatly impact the associated strategic objectives. We should monitor these processes using key performance indicators (KPIs) and improve them. Additionally, a business process owner can use the column associated with their business process to determine where to deploy their best people and the most resource for the greatest impact. Finally, looking across a row tells us which business processes should be represented in activities intended to enhance the institution’s ability to achieve the associated strategic objective.
The performance ontology illustrated in Figure 3 shows a relationship between business processes and strategic objectives.
In this case, the relationship we’re mapping is how well our organization performs each business process to pursue associated strategic objectives. Like the previously discussed impact ontology, the performance ontology includes our nine business processes across the top. The strategic objectives and associated weights are included down the figure’s left side. For convenience, we have included the impact ontology values from Figure 2. We have added a score from one to five, indicating how our organization performs each business process to pursue associated strategic objectives. These scores were obtained through self-evaluation and much discussion. In the future, these scores should be obtained through the measurement and evaluation of key performance indicators (KPIs). The color-coding indicates the magnitude of the strategic gap. The strategic gap is calculated by taking the difference between the impact a business process should have on a strategic objective and the actual performance we’re achieving and then multiplying by the strategic objective’s weight.
The color-coding of the performance ontology directs attention to important areas where there is a strategic gap. For example, the Data Delivery business process and Deliver Delightful Experiences strategic objective. In this case, the difference between the potential impact of the business process, determined to be a four, and our current performance, determined to be a two, multiplied by a strategic objective weighting of 17 creates a significant strategic gap of 34, is color-coded red, and demands our attention. The Operations business process has a potential impact of four on Manifest UVU Values while our performance receives a value of two. The impact and performance values are identical to those of the previous example. Still, a lower strategic objective weighting of 7 results in a strategic gap of 14, is color-coded yellow, and deserves less attention. Similarly, the Data Delivery business process’s desired impact on Achieve Student Success is a four while our performance yields a two. A strategic gap exists, but because the importance of that strategic objective is low, the strategic gap of 4 doesn’t warrant our attention and is color-coded green.
As previously described, the difference between impact and performance, weighted by the importance of a strategic objective, results in a strategic gap measure.
The yellow portion of each bar illustrated in Figure 4 represents the total strategic gap for the associated strategic objective. The yellow portion’s height is the difference between the desired impact, total bar height, and our current performance, height of the blue portion. In the figure, the strategic objectives are ordered from greatest to the least strategic gap. The largest strategic gap in Figure 4 is for the Deliver Delightful Experiences strategic objective.
Each bar’s height is the total impact we desire to exert on each of the strategic objectives. This is computed for each strategic objective by multiplying the strategic objective’s weight and the sum of the business process impacts for the given strategic objective. This result is multiplied by five to enhance visualization.
The blue portion of each bar represents our current performance towards each of the strategic objectives. This is computed for each strategic objective by multiplying the strategic objective’s weight and the sum of the business process performance values for the given strategic objective. This result is also multiplied by five to enhance visualization.
The previous section illustrated a process for determining which strategic objectives have significant strategic gaps and need attention. We want to pursue the projects and initiatives with the highest strategic value or the greatest promise of decreasing strategic gaps. Figure 5 shows the project ontology, where we can discover which projects have that promise.
The project ontology includes the strategic objectives on the figure’s left side and across the top a list of potential projects and their costs. The costs are in $100,000 increments and include cash and the value of required labor.
The values within the ontology range from zero (blank) to five, where zero indicates the associated project has no ability to close the strategic gap of the associated strategic objective. These projects have no strategic value concerning the associated strategic objective. Five indicates that the associated project has high strategic value and will significantly decrease the strategic gap of the associated strategic objective. For example, a project to create a mobile application will result in a product that significantly closes the gap for several strategic objectives, including Achieve Student Success, Include All Learners, Deliver Delightful Experiences, Provide Transformative Solutions, Strengthen Our Partnerships, Be Responsive, and Manifest UVU Values. This project has a high strategic value.
In Figure 6, the yellow bars represent the strategic gap for each strategic objective, as described in the previous section. The red dots indicate the sum of the projects’ strategic values that impact the associated strategic objective. The successful completion of the proposed projects, which have significant strategic value, would nearly eliminate the strategic gap associated with several objectives: Deliver Delightful Experiences, Be Responsive, Strengthen Our Partnerships, Achieve Student Success, Include All Learners, and Engage Our Partners. In contrast, the other strategic objectives receive insufficient project work of sufficient strategic value to eliminate their strategic gaps.
If resources are fully allocated, the results illustrated in this figure may be used to adjust what projects and initiatives are pursued to distribute the strategic value more uniformly. Alternatively, if more resources are available to pursue additional projects, the graph indicates where strategic value is needed, which may be used to select appropriate projects.
Project Priority and Value
As shown in the previous section, a suite of projects may significantly decrease strategic gaps. However, the ability to close a strategic gap may also be attributed to individual projects. We should pursue projects and initiatives that have significant strategic value, i.e., significantly decrease strategic gaps.
Figure 7 illustrates the strategic value or gap-closing ability of each project and initiative. The initiative with the highest strategic value is creating a business intelligence unit and associated governance and processes. Projects to create a new web site, intranet portal, and mobile application are also strategically valuable.
The dark blue bars in Figure 7 indicate the impact value of each project. This is simply a project’s strategic value divided by the project’s cost. The MS Telephony project may not be strategically impactful, but it saves the institution money and has nearly zero cost.
As a division, we will seek approval and funding to pursue the strategically most impactful projects, those with high value, and those that save the institution money that may be applied to other high impact projects.
As pointed out earlier, a strategy should inform where improvements in business processes should be made and what projects and initiatives should be pursued. In this post, I described a process to determine the gap between an organization’s desired performance level and its current performance concerning strategic objectives. Also, a method to determine the strategic value of projects and initiatives was described. Combining these two activities enables us to evaluate proposed projects and initiatives in terms of which will best help us meet our strategic objectives. In environments where ROI is difficult to determine, this is a powerful tool to help us realize our mission.