Want IT-Business Alignment? Walk In Their Shoes

Discussions between IT and business units can go a long way to improve alignment between these departments. But there’s nothing better than walking in another person’s shoes to make the point hit home.

I’ll never forget one of the big projects I worked on where we were helping a public agency implement a new enterprise level asset management system. The project was huge. We started with an organizational assessment to determine their current state, then proceeded through requirements, and ultimately the end game was brand new technology that would make everyone’s work life a bit easier.

The project was being managed by IT, so there was an IT person present in every single meeting we had. Most of the time those people were pretty bored with the content and they did a lot of wandering in and out of the meetings. They rarely participated in the meeting content. They missed a huge opportunity to build good relationships with business unit team members who were participating in the process, and lots of chances to learn the business “lingo” so they could speak the language.

But here’s the biggest discovery we made. None of the IT staff had ever been to the field to actually see how things worked. That’s why so many disconnects happen between business units and IT. It’s amazing how many aha moments can happen when you can actually see work taking place. So that’s exactly what we did before it was too late. Every single IT person on the project spent a day touring and learning about the business units the software would be helping. It made a big difference in the dynamics of the project moving forward.

That’s one of the easiest things you can do in your company to get IT – Business alignment. Make it mandatory to do an onboarding process before a project begins. Your best case scenario is to embed an IT person in the business unit so they can spend time learning how things function and build relationships with the people who do the work. But if that’s not feasible for your business, your next best choice should be a day of onboarding where they can learn about the people and issues that need to be addressed.

Another great way to build those relationships and help both IT and the business units see things from another perspective is to hold regular meetings where IT role plays as the business user and business users role play IT.

Before you scrunch up your nose at the idea of doing this, consider the benefits. You’ll get to interact with each other from a totally different angle and learn some of the drivers behind why people react the way they do, plus you’ll have some fun. And that’s never a bad thing.

It will take some planning on your part, but be well worth it in the long run. Here’s what to do.

  • Decide what scenarios you’ll be role playing. This could be a discussion about missed revenue targets, customer service issues, staff inefficiencies or other issues that have been created by outdated or malfunctioning technology.
  • Capture key points that will be made on both the IT and business side about the topic. You can create these from scratch or base them on actual past discussions that have occurred. Put each key point on a sticky note or make a list of points – one list each from the IT and business perspectives.
  • Gather the business and IT staff in the room and explain that together you’ll be discussing the scenario, but IT will be in the role of the business unit and vice versa. Share the prepared key points and start the discussion.
  • At the end, debrief the session with the participants. Ask about reactions and feelings they had about playing the reverse role. Capture a list of things that could be done moving forward to help align the departments and keep the momentum going.

It’s easy to forget that people are what make technology a success or failure. You can have the best technology in the world, but if people don’t use it properly it’s a waste of time. One of the best things you can do is to solidify the relationship link between business units and IT to ensure success.

You May Also Like:

CIO Perspectives: How to Make IT the Fabric of Your Business 

How to Play Well with IT When You Just Don’t Understand IT

From Shadow IT to Citizen Development, A Force IT Can No Longer Ignore 



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