"I just signed the sales contract yesterday. This needs to be up and running by the end of this week!"

"I just signed the sales contract yesterday. This needs to be up and running by the end of this week!"

In talking to others recently, we’ve discovered an unfortunate pattern across multiple companies where the partnership between the business units and IT isn’t particularly strong. When I say “partnership” I mean the level of collaboration on business activities that involve IT in some manner. Prior to contracts being signed, has IT been directly involved in the new business opportunity? Does IT have a voice in the major initiative delivery date setting process? Is IT’s resource capacity considered at the same time the business’s resource capacity is being evaluated in moving forward with a major effort? Does IT have access to the business’s multi-year plan? Are IT initiatives peppered throughout that multi-year plan?

There are a seemingly endless list of articles available on the Internet that talk of the need for a strong partnership between IT and the business units IT supports thus I won’t extol those benefits here. Rather, what can an IT manager do in a company that is taking strides towards but is still working on forming a strong business and IT partnership? Or …

What to do when the Business wants “Instant IT Gratification”?

By “Instant IT Gratification” I mean the corporate culture where IT is expected to delivery what the business is asking for, how they are asking for it and when they want it done all without collaborative dialog. Contracts are signed without IT. Due dates are determined in advance and IT is expected to meet these deadlines without being consulted. The results of such interactions between IT and business requesters varies, but the thematic results are the most frustrating:

  • Sub-optimal technology implemented: Instead of matching the need with the optimal technology, the quickest/fastest must be chosen to hit the date.
  • Many post-deployment follow-up activities needed: Instead of having a healthy collaborative discussion about all the “requirements”, only what the business shares is implemented requiring many “oops, we forgot we also need X”
  • Inability to upgrade/enhance existing technical capabilities: always focusing on the urgent needs of the business without allocating a percentage of time to invest in more current technology assets.
  • Work never done: Constantly jumping to the next hot request leaving only phase one of Y implemented from the previous hot, now cooling request.

What can an IT manager do in this kind of culture?

Anyone who skimmed the above bullets and identified with even one point knows these are cultural problems that a single IT manager won’t be able to solve over night. So how does one not pull their proverbial hair out of their head trying to get anything proactive accomplished in such a re-active business model? Consider some of the options below; just know that none is a silver bullet of success.

  • Leverage the formal charge back model.

If your organization has a formal IT work charge back model, become intimately familiar with how the process formally and informally works. Employ the charge back model in every possible situation to ensure there is fully accountability and record-ability for all business requested IT work.

  • No formal charge back model, then use time as the “IT currency”.

If no formal charge back model exists to leverage, then the only real charge back model or IT “currency” is time. Make sure you have full data based reporting on all the work your team is performing. When a new “hot” request comes in, update your single view of the work and present the new “hot” request alongside all the previous “hot” requests and ask the business to prioritize.

  • Like it or not, get some formal work estimation model in place

If all the business requests “just get handled” then the business has no governor for making requests. Without a charge back model to where the business has to make the conscious decision to spend on one thing compared to something else, there is no barrier for the business to make every conceivable request to IT. One approach is to “just handle it” and try to service every request as quickly as possible so to not have to engage in any prioritization or work break down discussions. But as I have written prior, having some formal work estimation process allows for an intelligent, data and date based discussion with the business. When presented with duration and possible delivery dates, business users can more easily take low priority work off the request list. Low priority work can easily be removed once it is known by all what is consuming time and delaying the delivery of what the business truly needs in a hurry.

  • Don’t blindly start working on requests, ask probing questions

From a previous article on my learning in attending a formal Agile training class, asking why multiple times (per the instructor, ask “why?” five times to get to the bottom of the need for a request) in order to dig into the real reason for making a request for work to IT. You will be amazed how many times the request hasn’t been fully vetted by the business. Asking why to get to the real business case to support a request will help to reveal what is truly a priority that IT is in the best position to deliver on compared to a frivolous request that if not executed, actually reduces technical debt without harm to the requester. Invest 40 IT hours in order to avoid a situation that happens maybe once a year and consumes 4 hours of the business’s time? Assuming all costs being equal between the business and IT (usually IT costs more per hour) , a ten year return on investment? It would seem those 40 IT hours should be invested elsewhere.

As I said, these clearly aren’t silver bullets that eliminate the challenges of a less than strong partnership between IT and the business units. Yet, by consistently improving ones capability to work with business requesters through careful implementation of the bullet points above, one can establish a level of credibility for your team’s services back to the business to better align the limited IT resources with the highest priority work for the company as a whole.

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