Over the last 20 years, technology has improved at an exponential rate. The speed and scale provided by tech have transformed technology from a “nice to have” to a “must-have.” A company that doesn’t effectively create IT solutions for business is one that’s waiting to get swallowed by its competition.
Unfortunately, there is a large gap between desire and execution. Modern organizations frequently find themselves with IT projects that don’t satisfy business needs, answer the wrong questions, and end up unused. Business users then choose to create their solutions using a combination of Excel, email, and intuition.
With software engineers and data scientists being some of the most expensive roles in the job market, unused IT projects are a massive money-sink for any business.
The secret to poor technology execution is that it rarely grows from poor engineering or poor business acumen. It comes from poor communication and a lack of teamwork. Thus, the key to creating IT projects that drive real business value is clear communication between business and technology teams. Here are three steps you can take to facilitate better communication and start creating successful IT projects.
The conversations between business and IT need to be detailed. Organizations should aim to engage in a thorough fact-finding session involving both the company and a representative from the IT team before any work is started. The goal of the IT representative is to figure out as many details as possible about the request at hand. Business requests often begin at a 10,000-foot view, and without digging into the details, failure is ensured.
For example, a business request might start with the simple ask: “I want a dashboard that shows sales performance.” Now the IT rep must drill down further by asking questions such as:
- “What decisions are this dashboard helping you make?”
- “Who is/are the user(s) of this dashboard?”
- “How do the users currently make decisions?”
- “Will all users use the dashboard in the same way?”
The more questions that the IT rep asks, the clearer a picture is attained of the exact business need. For more information on how to ask useful questions, check out step two.
We’ve established that a thorough fact-finding process is necessary. What we haven’t talked about is what kinds of questions the IT representative should be asking. It’s important to remember that business users often don’t have a technical background. This means that they don’t know how to program, don’t see how data is stored/retrieved, and don’t understand software engineering architectural frameworks (monolithic, microservices, etc.).
Therefore the line of questioning put forth by the IT representative should meet the business where they are. In other words, ask business questions, not technical questions.
For example, rather than asking, “What KPIs should we track on the sales dashboard?” ask, “How does the sales cycle work? What are the goals of the sales cycle?”. As the IT rep understands more about the goals and processes of the business, they will naturally be able to come up with metrics and different views of the data that will be the most useful.
As you can see, the “IT representative” plays an essential role in this process. Who should this person be? Let’s introduce the designer.
The designer, or the individual asking the questions in the “thorough fact-finding” is the most crucial individual in this process. Thus, it is vitally important to choose the right individual for the job.
The designer’s job is to meet with business stakeholders, gain a highly detailed understanding of the project at hand, mock-up a UI of a solution, and then review the project with the engineering team.
Due to this individual needing to interface with multiple teams, they must have a cross-functional skillset. This means that they have both technical and non-technical skills. They’re often the ex programmer in an IT solutions company who has spent significant time writing code but is also comfortable communicating with clients and senior leadership. In other words, they’re the ultimate generalist.
IT projects don’t fail to drive value because engineers don’t know how to code or business users don’t understand their own business. They fail to drive value because communication breaks down between users (the company) and builders (the engineers). By enhancing the interaction between the two teams with the all-important designer asking the right questions, you can increase the ROI on your technology investment.
Emily Lamp is a professional writer, working closely with many aspiring thinkers and entrepreneurs from various companies. She is also interested in technology, business growth, and self-improvement. Connect with her on Twitter @EmilyLamp2.