By Al Strauss
Your IT staff can do more for your business than just produce software; they can be an excellent source of information if you invest in their learning about the needs of the organization. Compare and contrast these two examples from my days as a software developer.
Early in my career, a sales manager arranged for me to spend a couple of months on a printing project with highly customized information for products being shipped to our customers. I was proud of my work. In addition to its efficiency, it had all kinds of bells and whistles and after thorough testing, all agreed it functioned flawlessly. Months later, I discovered the shipping department didn’t consider the extra printing necessary and were only printing the mailing labels and invoices. The dedicated printer for my work collected dust. I gave my company everything it asked for and more, yet the project was a failure. Also, the company had to pay my salary and benefits during that time and there was a lost opportunity cost because I could have spent that time and effort on something more valuable.
A few years later, the same company assigned me to another customized printing project. To make a long story short, the internal customers all thought it would speed up a critical process, allowing the company to be more productive and profitable. As I learned about the requirements, I realized the process will not be the idealized state everyone wanted but would create a bottleneck instead. When I pointed this out to a group of managers, I was met with a long silence before one said, “I think we’re done.”
The difference was that I knew more about how the company operated and was able to look at the project with more than just a technical viewpoint. Stopping the project turned out to be the best thing I ever did for that company. I could have delivered every requirement my internal customers were seeking. Had I done so, the results would have been chaos and the associated costs of that chaos. I provided value to my employer without writing a single line of code.
Tips for getting your IT staff more involved and invested in the business:
- Let the IT staff become end users of the systems they support for a short period of time. They will see their output from a different perspective and learn more about how the company operates and what it needs.
- Ask! Many in IT – certainly not all – tend to be introverted. IT is a great teacher of process so take advantage of it and let these people know their opinions are valued.
- Implement the Agile methodology when possible. This will create a close proximity for the IT staff with their business counterparts and let them learn from one another. And it will increase IT’s efficiency. See agilemanifesto.org for a good starting point.
Al Strauss, M.A. is the author of The Newman Adjustment: A Fable About Bridging The Gap Between Business And Software. It is available through Amazon and other fine booksellers. For more information about the author, go to www.alstrauss.com.