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The Business - Part 2


The Business - Part 2

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Andy Warren
Andy Warren
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Comments posted to this topic are about the item The Business - Part 2

Andy
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Jim Murphy
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There is a different way of thinking about "the business". Perhaps the motivation of a consultant is not hours or money, but reputation. Or perhaps they desire to do what is in the best interest of the company hiring them because it's just the right thing to do.

I don't dispute what you say because I have run into many different attitudes in my day. So what you describe is, unfortunately, common and there seems to be an adversarial air between IT and "the business" in many places. In fact, I have worked in such environments in the past, although desiring to steer clear of the politics and to simply do what I think is best for my client rather than what is best for me. Perhaps a model for extinction.

In all of my years as a consultant, I've learned two things:
1) A good reputation is easy to tarnish, but a bad reputation is very difficult to correct.
2) Two birds in the bush are sometimes better than one in the hand.

The first point is self explanatory, so I won't bother explaining it. The second point is reverse what many others seem to live by: grab what you can now because I may not be there tomorrow. I believe that is an incomplete formula. Sometimes, it may be advantageous to trust in the relationship already established with the client, and to choose to bank on that relationship. Sure, this could lead to an empty hand every once in a while. But more often than not, it leads to a full bush. Proverbial birds in a proverbial bank. Perhaps the birds in the bush will be there next month and the month after, or perhaps they will even fly away.

Perhaps, if our interest is our pocketbook above all else, then distrust is abundant and contracts end up being short lived for some reason. Whereas, if our interest is the best interest of our client, then they are happy and may provide even more work next time. And even if they don't, a solid word-of-mouth reference from a happy customer is difficult to appraise.

Jim

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Definitely! A partnership would help align objectives. I think that most of the problems I talked about in "The Business - Part 1" would be alleviated if IT units and The Business worked as partners rather than with a client / consultant relationship. At least, in the organizations I work for.
majorbloodnock
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Hmmm. I agree with what Andy is driving towards, but I'm not too sure about his starting point. To answer a couple of points...

The last time the business asked about my satisfaction was at my last quarterly review. It's written into the process, and actively monitored to the extent that managers are frequently challenged about neutral or negative responses from their team members.

Loyalty is always far more likely to be for immediate colleagues first, team second and business third. However, that's only down to proximity. It doesn't follow that "the business" and "the department" are likely to become entrenched in polarised attitudes. Perhaps some companies do run on a "them and us" model, but I've not worked for one. I do admit I may just have been incredibly lucky and led a sheltered life, but it's certainly not my experience.

What we do manage, however, is to deliver what people want rather than what they ask for. By simply keeping a weather eye on opportunities to streamline (can I get this input automatically from somewhere else? Can I link in with an existing process? Is anyone else in the business trying to do the same thing?), we are constantly educating the business as to what can be achieved by sensible use of IT, and the business constantly responds by treating us well and fairly. And this is where Andy got to; work in partnership and everyone wins.

Semper in excretia, sumus solum profundum variat
repicurus
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This article contains some interesting subtexts; not the least of which is the underlying root reason[s] why this adversarial relationship between IT and "other business units" (OBU) exist.

I also think it's an oversimplification and a bit myopic to reduce this "tension" to the OBU (clients) want "value", but "IT mercenaries want hours". Many shops do not even use "IT mercenaries", and in-house IT staff always want to resolve any issue as quickly as is possible; therefore, such reasoning is fallacious.

Over the past 23 years, I've identified two underlying operational (and psychological?) reasons why this adversarial relationship between IT and the business might exist in an organization (and to be fair - not all companies have this problem).

1) Lack of insight (and ignorance) on the part of the "other business units" (OBU) as to what, exactly, IT people do, how they do it, and WHY it must be done a certain way in order to get good results and that Holy Grail of business: value!
This is partially the source of some of the mistrust and resentment because it also leads to some OBU folk assuming that "IT drones" are being condescending to them, in addition to (groan with me now) "...taking to long to fix/finish the task/project in question".

That said, IT bears a lot of the responsibility for this part of the problem, by NOT TALKING to OBU people about what they are doing, and why - this is key to creating the "value" that OBU is looking for; "value" is as much perception as hard P&L numbers!

2) At the end of the day, ALL business is about one thing: money.
Like it or not, the "market" demands higher salaries for IT people (advanced/specialized skill sets and continued education should be rewarded); and in many cases these IT salaries approach or exceed compensation for "management", and this is a source of great resentment for some OBU people - management and non-managerial, alike! An interesting contradiction is at play here, in that fewer OBU'ers seem not to mind excessive compensation packages for "executives" and sales/marketing staff.

Nonetheless, I believe that a lack of understanding and appreciation for what IT does, drives resentment and the adversarial relationships between some IT departments and the OBU.

Using clever catch phrases/words like "partners" may or may not mitigate an out-of-control toxic relationship but certainly, ongoing quality communication (another catch phrase?) can only help. I do concur that fostering a climate of "partnership" can be an excellent team-building technique, but I don't believe it's enough.

Better, more effective IT departments usually have technical standards, but they need to include documentation and communications standards, to be adhered to by in-house staff and "mercenaries".

Once the veil of misunderstanding has been dropped, and people are talking to one another as "partners" (?), and more predictable results can be seen by all, much of that root resentment that manifests as "tension", gives way to
a more mutually productive, positive, and profitable relationship.
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I think there is an over-simplication of the situation only in that IT staff and consultants are sort of lumped together. There is one aspect of being a consultant that is overlooked in the article - customer service. For the consultant, there is often not the loyalty to the other IT folks at the client site, but to the one signing off on the project.

I have been blessed to have customer service drilled into me as a consultant by one of my employers from the top down so that when I began a job as one of the IT staff, I identified my manager, who was not technical, and the other managers that I supported as the client. The idea of striving to add value as a consultant is true and I tried to bring that to bear as one of the IT staff.
OCTom
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Calling someone a partner doesn't make them one. My experience has been that when a true collaborative partnership exists it happened naturally over time. Some things can be done to help achieve it.

1. I bring up ideas in meetings. When the ideas meet with reluctance, I back off and let the "partner" think about it consciously or subconsciously. Then, if they want to pursue the ideas, I let them own it and give them credit for it.

2. Speak plain language. Don't use buzzwords or acronyms. If you must, then explain them.

3. Listen more than talk. Listen carefully to what the partner is saying and respond only when they are finished.

4. Never, ever dismiss an idea of theirs out-of-hand. Even if you know deep down that it's a bad idea, take time to gather your facts and present your argument to them in a business-like manner.

5. Let them think that the relationship is all about them. If you make them look good and help them be successful, it will come back to you in many different ways.
bwillsie-842793
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repicurus (3/22/2011)
(1) Lack of insight (and ignorance) on the part of the "other business units" (OBU) as to what, exactly, IT people do, how they do it, and WHY it must be done a certain way in order to get good results and that Holy Grail of business: value!


This also works the other way around. Most IT people I've encountered don't really understand the "business" side of business. IE, Sales, Marketing, Accounting, Manufacturing, Operations, "Paying" customers, etc.

You can't just walk in, spend three hours (if that long) talking (listening?) to someone in these departments once a month (year is more likely) and assume you have any clue about what it takes to do their jobs successfully. Yet, that is exactly what many IT people do.

If you really want to help a department spend a week (even better a month) actually doing some or all of the work in that department. You'll be amazed at the knowledge and respect you'll gain.

So, the next time you hear yourself or others complain that "Nobody understands IT." ask your self how much time the complainer actually spent learning and understanding the "business" side of business.
WolforthJ
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repicurus:and in-house IT staff always want to resolve any issue as quickly as is possible; therefore
I'm sure that is true for many, but it has not always been for all of my co-workers. When reading threads like this, I get the impression there are very different environments out there and most of them are not aware of the others. As in comments like this:
majorbloodnock:do admit I may just have been incredibly lucky and led a sheltered life, but it's certainly not my experience.

What would be great would be some data, or case studies. This is a rare one that shed some light:
http://www.simple-talk.com/sql/sql-tools/sql-search--the-search-and-the-sequel/
It is pretty tough to go into a meeting, as a technical person and try to sell something like "partnership" to people who are adept at marketing and talk much faster than I do.
repicurus
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I agree that many IT people do not understand the operational business subject matter, and as I implied good quality communication is essential in any relationship.

And I also agree that one cannot "...just walk in, spend three hours (if that long) talking (listening?) to someone in these departments once a month (year is more likely) and assume you have any clue about what it takes to do their jobs successfully. Yet, that is exactly what many IT people do..."; then again - I never said that either.

So you're setting up a straw man, here.

I, for one, always have endeavored to learn as much as I can about the business and apply that knowledge, but many times - other OBU managers and workers resist attempts to explain processes to IT out of some strange territorialism, perhaps because they, too, fear change (for various reasons).

And I do agree with you that spending time actually doing some or all of the work in a department can be helpful but (oh) try to get management to agree to that! There are, however, analysis techniques that one can use to glean the necessary insights into inter-departmental operations for system design and support that can be helpful.

Finally, I was not complaining, per se, and did not mean to say or imply that "Nobody understands IT"; only that there is general ignorance about IT among the OBU, in spite of our best attempts (at times) to help the rest of the organization better understand IT .

But again - I agree with your premise that it DOES work both ways.

Thanks.
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