Are IT and Business fully aligned on tech priorities? Our 2020 Tech Trends Survey found that 81% of tech leaders say IT and Business are aligned but only 54% of tech employees feel the same.
In June, 2021, ProFocus hosted a discussion with technology leaders to address this question and share their methods for achieving alignment (or trying to). The insights below are based on the notes and resources shared in the discussion.
Common Issues Between Business & IT
In a perfect world IT and Business would align perfectly. IT would supply business leaders with the strategic plans and resources necessary to achieve maximum performance, efficiency and profits. And business leaders would partner with IT to ensure IT is involved in the decision making and budget setting necessary to achieve their plans. Yet, as our group of tech leaders keyed into immediately, achieving this kind of partnership is difficult for companies of all shapes and sizes. Here are the tree main issues we discussed:
- Time Delays – IT often meets the needs from last year. The business side has ideas but takes a while to test, design, and implement those ideas. And vice versa, sometimes IT needs things like a new generator but leaders drag their feet on those costs until an ice storm hits and they are scrambling.
- A Perennial Problem – Business is always looking for instant gratification – tech is looking at long term. IT tries not to focus on the shiny new thing but investments to achieve business goals.
- Roadmaps – It is difficult to stay on track with the roadmap – Business and IT need to be aligned and moving at a similar pace.
Questions to help you assess your strategic alignment:
- How aggressive is your roadmap targeting business goals?
- What technical goals will help IT deliver the business initiatives?
- Is this roadmap vague? Does it even include IT?
How to Help Business and IT Align
Speak Their Language
As all the leaders in this discussion highlighted, it it IT’s responsibility to use language that business and execs can easily understand. Not only does this improve communication but as one leader mentioned it is a way to build trust. Translating engineering to business often takes IT leaders learning marketing terms and examples such as:
- SWOT Analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats
- New Product, New Market: Ansoff Matrix
Example: IT needs to help them understand that this new product is considered a threat because they don’t yet have the tech to make it happen.
“I wouldn’t bring anything to the CFO without a business case – security is difficult, it’s hard to put a price tag on security, you can never have enough security. I see we have a gap, and I can’t tell you what it is worth but it’s not cheap.”
Get Involved Early
IT needs a seat a the table and can’t be an after thought to have a successful partnership with business. A seat at the table is critical for creating a roadmap, that way IT can advocate and anticipate the resources and time needed. These leaders had success with laying out timelines for things such as data requests or projects by giving business a plan that includes:
- What you can have now.
- What you can have next week.
- What you can have next month.
- What you can have next year.
Doing this for each project helps business form better habits and better understand the time and scope of the requests they are making.
Business still not getting it? Consider bringing in a third party who’s done this thing before and let them walk your business leaders through how long the project took.
Find the Passion
Sometimes the most convincing IT case doesn’t come from IT Director, it comes from a passionate team member that has hands-on experience with this issue or product. And yes, I know we just talked about translating engineering language to business language but the truth is passion is a universal language.
Consider finding a champion, a very talented person who understands IT needs and goals, and tap that talent to talk through the case to business. Regardless of their job title or position in the department, this person may bring perspective that could help business and IT align further on tech priorities.
Create Opportunities for Cross-Over
Building a productive partnership that will satisfy stakeholders’ needs while meeting IT’s time and budget constraints takes collaboration. And at times that collaboration looks more like chaos.
Here are some of the ways these managers provided opportunities for business and IT to not only collaborate but better understand that company as a whole:
- We have our engineers sit in the IT & Business leaders so they can listen to the ideas and issues.
- Anyone can join leadership in a meeting for an hour a month to talk about anything.
- We partner up two people in the company randomly for a virtual coffee or happy hour.
- As a manager, I host a daily open mic hour for IT. We talk through a difficult ticket or let them share ideas.
- My team looks forward to Hackweek where they have time to try out something or test their ideas. This often leads to business improvements and innovations.
One challenge to consider as remote work is still the norm for IT, how do you get people to show up or participate? Donuts, pizza, and beer aren’t as easy to provide for demos or other cross-organizational events.
Flex Your Money Making Muscles
The traditional view of IT is a cost center – BUT as all these leaders mentioned, tech can drive revenue directly and indirectly. It is crucial to help business understand that IT is not just an expense by offering ideas and improvements that drive revenue . A great example from our discussion was how powerful data can be for enabling your business leaders.
“We need to understand that like human resources or marketing, IT exists because the company exists. And guess what? They all exist because the company exists. Our value comes from the ability to anticipate needs, stay on top of trends, and volunteer to support the business.”
One suggestion to help IT flex their money-making muscles is to have a high-level Strategic Plan for IT AND day to day plan so that IT can be opportunistic when it comes to new ways it can support business.
TREND ALERT – Agile-minded companies tend to have more interaction between business and IT – compared to waterfall methodologies that can cause more push and pull between departments. Consider an Agile training not only for your IT department but for operations, product, and business. For one leader, this larger scale agile training led to more participation in their demos.
Resources for IT Leaders
- An Elegant Puzzle
- The Mythical Man-Month
- Radical Candor
- Dare to Lead
- Gitlab or Coursera courses and resources.
If you are a leader in Technology and would like to be involved in future roundtable discussions like the one above, please send an email to [email protected] with a request to be invited to upcoming Leaders Lunches.