In some organisations, it can often seem like a case of 'IT versus the rest’. You’re constantly the bad guy, delaying the project due to another change demanded by a business partner halfway through the development cycle. Polly Devaney explains how IT workers can build better relationships with the rest of their business.
Key frustration factors
While you know that effective IT requires a more considered and long-term strategic view on projects, the front office almost always wants quick-and-dirty tactical fixes. Many of them get annoyed that even apparently easy changes still require a full development cycle. The result? IT is seen as an obstacle rather than an enabler.
As an IT professional, it’s vital you empathise with the rest of the business, as they’re in a competitive market trying to win or keep existing customers. However, it 's also important to explain why certain processes must always be followed; the phrase 'more haste, less speed’, almost always holds true for IT projects.
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Bruce McKee, financial services market development manager at Microsoft, says, "A key challenge the business faces is understanding why testing is a longer process than development. Putting code into production before it’s ready can cause serious customer service issues that end up costing more to fix than the original development, which is why it should be avoided."
McKee highlights the need to stand your ground: "The pressure to deploy the code as soon as it is ready will be immense. The key is strong communication via stakeholders back into the business around the timelines and progress of the project."
How to spot the signs of a relationship breakdown
In many ways, the signs of a relationship breakdown between the business and the IT delivery group are the same as in any other relationship — communication is usually the first casualty. If project meetings were happening, they soon become less frequent and less productive.
Mark Whitehead, a manager of business and IT development projects for lastminute.com and Lloyds Banking Group says, "Poor communication often results in people on both sides trying to short-circuit the agreed process. People also start doing jobs that aren’t theirs, or persuading others to take on tasks outside their job description, asking developers to do project manager jobs, for example."
The meaning of bugs
Finding lots of bugs when new software goes live indicates the business did not spend enough time providing detailed requirements, and if the business isn’t clear about what they want then IT will never be able to build a perfect solution.
A high defect rate in the live environment can also be a sign that the business did not devote the right level of resource to user testing, resulting in the release of software that does not meet their needs.
Of course, lots of bugs in the production environment can also be indicative of poor quality work by IT, so bugs should always be viewed as symptoms rather than as a means to blame other departments.
Frequent re-prioritisation and project 'creep’ (the ongoing change and extension of a project’s aims and scope) can show that the business is not giving enough consideration to the time and effort involved in the development cycle, with the result being that time and money is wasted on both sides.
This constant 'stop-start’ leaves the IT teams frustrated, and leaves the business feeling it’s not getting what it wants. If the business feels that IT is not able to deliver the solutions they need, they will often look elsewhere for the answers.
Some business users will develop their own software (end-user developed applications), some will look to use 'off-the-shelf’ externally hosted (or 'cloud’) solutions, while some will pay a premium to have new software developed by external suppliers.
As Mark Whitehead points out, "All these can lead to a loss of control, security and ownership by IT, which reduces the ability of the IT department to deliver what is strategically required in the longer term."
Building a bridge
As soon as you realise that a relationship with the business has broken down, put an action plan in place to fix it. This might include:
- Acknowledging the issue as early as possible rather than skirting around it;
- Explaining the benefits of the IT development process and a stable portfolio of work;
- Establishing and maintaining regular and open two-way communications
As Microsoft’s McKee points out, the value of a strong relationship between IT and the business cannot be underestimated: "IT and business sponsors have a symbiotic relationship — both need each other to move things forward.
"Projects always hit difficult times and unforeseen issues crop up. The well-run projects can cope with these changes as the sponsors on both sides of the IT divide are well briefed and have a single purpose — to deliver successfully and in a pragmatic fashion."
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