You are not in such a bad position. It is far better to have unspecified business goals than to have specific business goals that you cannot meet with the resources on hand! To start out clean you want to set realistic expectations. If you are in an organization where expectations and blame run down hill, you need to be very careful and you probably do not want to take on business goals without knowing whether or not you can do them or afford them.
In any case, I recommend analyzing/auditing your existing procedures so you can understand what they cost the organization in terms of human and technology resources as well as operating budget. It may be difficult to get precise numbers, but daily/weekly averages and estimates will suffice. You will probably find missing, undefined, inadequate and inefficient processes. That's OK, things can become better, but it all starts with a realistic analysis of the work that is being done. The outcome of this work should also include how often these processes are run and which resources are used to run them.
Next, start collecting opinions or attitudes about business goals to start understanding the expectations of business leadership. Then, find a process to clarify and prioritize these goals - if possible do not prioritize them yourself. Let your business leaders make those decisions. Make sure your business leadership understands that business goals for IT organizations all have a dollar cost and may also have an opportunity cost. (Doing one thing may preclude another from being accomplished due to resource conflicts). If there are business goals that you cannot cover due to lack of resources, you need to make sure that the business leaders owning those goals are aware of the problem. Your analysis of how resources are consumed on a daily, weekly and monthly basis will help you support your positions.
Finally, establish management policies based on the relationship between business goals and resource availability to execute your processes. You will probably find that many of the policies almost write themselves if your procedures and goals are clear. One of the difficulties in creating policies is defining metrics. Metrics are the feedback mechanisms that tell you whether or not you are in compliance with the policy. Chronic non-compliance with a management policy is an indicator that your expectations are inaccurate and that changes must be made to procedures, goals, policies or their metrics.
If you cannot get business goals, you cannot really generate meaningful policies, which means it's difficult to generate fair metrics. That's not so unusual, but it's not necessarily fair either.
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This was first published in July 2002