Business/IT Alignment: How does an IT shop with talented individuals, the latest technology, millions of dollars in payroll, and a history of developing business centric applications become so disconnected from the business that they disappoint the very teams who depend on them? What can be done to close this gap and turn this relationship into a trusted partnership? While there are many ideas on how to address this difficult situation, in my experience there are three key approaches IT can use to rebuild burnt bridges and stop unconsciously undermining their business partner relationships.
Learn to speak a common language
In order for Business/IT alignment to occur, IT must adopt the same terminology and language of its business users. (A claim is a claim – not a bill or a statement). IT also needs to be aware that a complex project plan does not communicate meaningful information to the business. Deliverables need to demonstrate real business functionality, QA-passed and ready for review. The more often progress is shown the more involved your business partner gets. If communication is the basis of a good partnership, then a common view of success is the necessary foundation for delivering on business expectations.
Create a common view of success
One of the most disruptive events we can have when working with a partner is discovering you’re not working towards the same goals. Both IT and the business problem owner must work together to establish common success criteria for a project and eliminate assumptions.
Creating a common vision is a process that includes the problem statement down to a detailed description of the individual items to be produced for the solution. In many cases lengthy documents and general conversations are not enough. Pictures are worth a thousand words when developing product descriptions … even for the “simple” reports.
Spending time to develop the detailed components of a solution requires a time commitment from your business partner to get involved. This is the only way to reduce surprises that lead to project disappointment and rework in the development phases. The common view of success needs to capture the results of this cooperative effort in a manner comprehensive enough to help determine project scope, sizing and estimating. Once this process is perfected, it can be accomplished in as little as three weeks for projects up to a year in length.
Allow your business partner to manage change
In order for the project plan to not interfere with business decisions, individual items in the plan must include all costs and efforts. This gives the business the ability to effectively react to change and unexpected events. For example, if three months into a project a business is acquired or sold, the business partner should be able to easily substitute new objectives with the same cost and effort for the original ones.
Negotiate the plan with your business partner. Once the time and effort required to deliver each scenario is understood, the option to manipulate plan elements like building blocks allows the business to determine priorities and set the scope for the project.
Be open and demonstrate your integrity
No Business/IT partnership can survive ongoing disruptive surprises. Rather than trying to make up for problems or delays, communicate them and share options to schedule, resource or scope issues when they happen.
If accurate sizing and estimating best practices are not in place and original estimations are incorrect, IT needs to inform the business as soon as possible and reforecast the release plan. IT cannot afford to jeopardize its ability to deliver business value by hiding information or trying to take drastic measures to make up for project execution problems.
Utilizing these practices can help IT predictably deliver measurable business value and help make Business/IT alignment a reality. While this is not something done overnight, your commitment to building a true partnership with your business partners will go a long way in bringing predictability to a process plagued with missed expectations and cost overruns.
What practices have worked best for you to to enhance your relationship with the business?