The bad news: There is a tremendous disconnect between the average IT professional and the other groups in most organizations.
The good news: There is an easy solution.
The average IT professional is extremely busy. With all the systems we support, applications we develop, data we warehouse and infrastructures we maintain, it seems impossible to get it all done. However, this busyness has caused many of us to seem disconnected from the rest of the organization.
Have you ever heard comments like this?
“Those IT people just don’t understand what we need to get done.”
“If the programmers just knew something about the business we’re in, we might be able to make some progress.”
“I don’t understand why we need a new system. The old one was doing just fine.”
As the IT Communications Doctor™, let me diagnose these symptomatic statements.
Diagnosis: There is a disconnect between IT and these individuals – sometimes entire departments.
Prognosis: The IT group will have difficulty obtaining needed budget dollars and will be under continual stress from lacking accomplishments.
You may be thinking something like, “Tom, these people are just not technical enough to understand.” Are you ready for harsh reality? The problem is not entirely with “them”. It’s usually not that they are not “technical” enough. It’s usually that we, the IT professionals, are not “business” enough.
In order to connect with your customers, you must understand them. You must know how they do business. You must know what their business goals are. You must realize how they do their job and the reason they’re doing their job.
For example, can you answer these questions about the marketing manager in your organization:
-What is the marketing manager’s primary focus right now?
-What are some of the problems she/he is facing at this time?
-How does his/her department research a new product?
I know. You’re thinking, “I don’t have time to learn these things. I have my own job to do.”
You’re partly right. You don’t have to know all the nuances of how the marketing manager runs her department, but you should know the basics. The next time you’re tempted to say, “That’s not my job” as yourself this question:
What is my job?
Here’s the answer. You are an Information Technology professional. What does this mean? It means you implement, manage and/or develop technologies that are used to manage, store and/or deliver information. Did you catch that? Information. Information!
How can we possibly implement technologies to deal with information if we don’t know what information we need to deal with or how our cUStomERS need to deal with that information? We can’t.
This is why we must remember that it is our job to understand how our organization operates from a business perspective.
If I am a database administrator, I need to understand how our databases are being used. I should know why information is being stored, how it is being retrieved and, at least basically, what it is being used for.
If I am a programmer, I should comprehend the processes the my application will be used in, how the process works from start to finish, what problem/need the process is intended to solve/fill and anything else that will have an impact on the users of my application.
Creating the Connection
Are you ready for the easy solution? It’s really simple. You have to create the connection.
Don’t rely on the other party to create the connection. Remember, you’re the expert in this scenario. They will be afraid to approach you. They will fear they might look stupid or unlearned. You have to create the connection.
How? By asking questions. Questions like these:
-What is the biggest challenge you’re facing at this time?
-How has technology impacted your group in the past year?
-What is the single most important area where we, the technology group, can help you do your job more efficiently?
-What is your short and long-term vision for your group?
Do you see how these questions create a connection? I am not trying to make the IT group look good. I am expressing a sincere interest in the other person’s problems, needs and dreams. When you do this, you begin to create connections.
Now, if you think you have the connections you need, answer this question honestly:
Can you remember a time in the last sixty days when you sat down with someone from another department or group and asked questions like those I’ve mentioned in this article?
If not, you don’t have the connections you need. The good news is that you can do this once or twice a month and it will begin to create these needed connections. The discussions will usually last less that thirty minutes to one hour and the rewards you reap will be tremendous.
Where do you start? That’s easy. Start with the group or individual that you feel is your biggest problem area. The group that you hear the most complaints from. The group that you think has a real problem with you. Begin to relate to this group or individual.
Before you meet with the group manager, prepare your questions and be prepared to listen without taking anything personally.
Do these things and you’ll begin to form connections that will lower your stress levels and really begin to show the “value of you” as an Information Technology professional.