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How Internal Pressures Can Implode an IT Organization

When an IT Group Unravels

Many of us have gained valuable insight from articles about lack of business-IT alignment. But what about an IT organization that is misaligned with itself? How prevalent is this and what causes it to happen? There are many kinds of organizational pressures that can cause this to occur. Over the next two weeks, I will reveal how IT can implode from within.

This week, I’ll talk about what leads up to an IT organization becoming internally misaligned. But first, let’s define what “misaligned” means. It means that groups or individuals think that they are all focused on the same agendas, have the same motivations and are marching to the same objectives and goals, but in reality, they are not.

Think of a deep sea submersible designed to withstand immense pressures.  During a deep dive, all it takes to implode that submersible is a single breach that isn’t discovered until it’s too late. Similarly, an IT organization may be designed to be resilient to pressures and stretching, but may have weaknesses that eventually reveal themselves and result in implosion.

So What Causes an IT Team to Become Misaligned … With Itself?

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how IT should actually be a part of the business team and not exist as a separate entity. In reality this is not actually practiced in many organizations. For the most part, IT exists as a separate, autonomous organization. Given that this is the norm today, this post will assume that situation.

There are cases when business provides exactly what an IT organization needs to deliver value. Yet, despite that clear direction from the business, the technology group still fails to deliver. What resides at the core of this issue? Why do we still see technology groups with silo mindsets, separate agendas, different motivations, and  little, if any, insight into what makes the other groups tick?  I believe it all starts with a lack of understanding of how to unite these technology groups and individuals into a single, cohesive and effective functioning organization.

Separate, non-transparent, or seemingly conflicting agendas and motivations can kill any alignment within a team.  Like functional groups looking to gain a competitive advantage or reduce operational costs, the technology groups are trying to manage technology costs in real-time, reduce risks, deliver value and leverage centralized technologies to support and keep pace with functional changes. Notice any real similarities in what drives groups described here? Neither do I.

I’ve never met a technology group that didn’t have the desire or best intentions of providing superior value to the business and the company.  Unfortunately, passion alone will not cut it in today’s market. In fact, this passion can actually be the catalyst that exposes the IT team’s potential to implode. And that’s a good thing. It allows us to see the signs before the damage actually happens.

Is This IT Team Ready to Implode?

Have you ever been in a situation where the business summoned IT to deliver some seemingly ambiguous value on some seemingly arbitrary date? Or perhaps the business drivers weren’t communicated to everyone. You might have even wondered why an initiative was chosen and given to IT in the first place.

An IT organization may hear something like this: “The business has a strategic initiative to enable our partners to integrate into certain aspects of our operations. This will allow us to reduce costs by 3%. We need to provide them with access and limited control over certain portions of our systems and we need it no later than March 15th.  IT, please deliver this objective and start development next week.”

In this scenario, commitments were made without the technology buy-in. Technology teams often ultimately say, “We will start next week and figure it out as we go. It sounds aggressive but it should be ‘do-able’”.  The functional group interprets this as a commitment from the technology group. However, without more clarity around a vision of success for this project, the business will probably not get the value they need to satisfy their agenda. And, IT will most likely be held accountable when they don’t deliver. Everyone loses.

Although the IT team had a desire and passion to help, they also set themselves up for implosion on the project. They accepted the cards they were dealt without saying “In addition to what you have provided, we need X to be successful”.  In other words, they set themselves up for failure rather than move forward informed and empowered to deliver on expectations.

Next week, I will dig deeper into some of the specific pressures that can cause a team to implode and how to meet the challenges.

Has your team ever come close to implosion? What cause did you identify?

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Category: Business-IT Alignment