Finding Common Ground

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In my job you don’t go to many days without hearing someone talking about the gap between IT and “the business”.  It may be from someone in IT, who is struggling to be heard and understood by their colleagues.   It may be from an executive, who is trying to “go digital” and is finding it difficult to get the support they need from IT.  It may be from a user, who is frustrated at the complexity and limitations of the current systems.  It doesn’t really matter who you are or your role in using IT to add value there seems to be a large streak of dissatisfaction in many organisations.  It’s as if the different groups live in different worlds.  They definitely speak different languages and by in large they seem to be motivated by different things.

This situation, IT living in a different world than executives and users, has existed pretty much since computing became a significant thing in organisations.  The problem is, in 2016 with nearly every organisation looking to go “digital”, it will be almost impossible to become successfully digital if IT, and non IT continue to live in separate worlds.  We need to find some common ground, a perspective that makes sense to both parties.  Now let’s be clear, to me successfully going digital means that you have utilised a set of technologies that have enabled your organisation to build and operate a set of distinctive capabilities that add unique value to your customers and to your organisation.

As in every situation where common ground is required it is likely that there will need to be some change in perspective required by both parties, while recognising that our aim is not to try and replicate skills.  We are not trying to turn our organisational leaders into geeks nor are we trying to turn out great IT team into executives, rather we are looking for ways to enhance, or perhaps create, effective communication.

The starting point for common ground is to ask questions that will support you to discover the other person’s world.  If for example you are a CIO / senior IT person consider asking the following questions of yourself and of your business colleagues.

  • What is your definition of high performance in IT?
  • What is your definition of a failure?
  • Within the context of our business strategy, what do you believe to be the primary goal for our IT investment?
  • Over the next year (or a time frame of your choice), what are the most important outcomes / deliverables you need IT to deliver?
    • Can you walk me through the rationale for selecting these outcomes?
  • How do you propose that we measure these outcomes?

If you are a non IT executive consider asking these questions of yourself, your network and of your IT professionals:

  • What is the definition of high performance in IT?
  • What is your definition of under performance in IT?
  • What opportunities do we need to focus on?
  • What are the most significant risks that need to be managed?
  • How do we measure performance?
  • What signs should I be looking for to know if things are going in the right or wrong direction?

The goal of these questions is to help you to establish a joint view of the organisational expectations for IT.  These expectations should be expressed predominantly in the form of organisational outcomes to be achieved and a series of success measures to validate  whether you are on track or not.  Once the organisational expectations are agreed upon the interaction between IT and non IT executives can focus on managing these expectations.  By linking IT delivery issues firmly back to their impact on these organisational expectations IT and non IT executives can begin to address highly technical issues by relating their impact back to the expectations.  

I am sure there are many more questions that could be asked.  What questions would you add or change?

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As an aside, I don’t like the whole IT and the business view of the world.  It implies that IT is somehow distinct and separate rather than part of the whole business. A view I reject.  If you are interested you can read more on this here.

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