I’ve worked in many organizations where the IT and business sides of the house just can’t seem to get along — a phenomena I refer to as the “IT/business divide.” If you’re unsure whether there’s a divide in your organization, ask yourself when IT is brought into the decision-making process.
Most businesses bring IT in during the negotiation phase, when solutions have already been short-listed and IT is being asked implementation questions. Even worse (but all too common), IT isn’t brought in until the deployment phase — when a solution has already been purchased, and IT is being told to implement it.
If your organization brings IT in this late in the process, you’re probably one of the many organizations suffering from an IT/business divide. This divide creates a devastating, hostile “us vs. them” relationship between IT and the business.
The Cost of the IT/Business Divide
The IT/business divide can be costly, both financially and in terms of organizational health. When IT doesn’t have a say in decisions regarding the technologies they’re being asked to implement, it deepens the communication gap between two parts of the business that rely on each other to succeed.
Picture an architect designing a custom house. He cuts out spaces for windows, but does not install the windows. Then, the architect asks the builder to make the house safe from burglars — but not to install any windows. The builder throws his hands in the air and says, “It can’t be done!”.
The frustration the builder feels in this analogy is what IT experiences when they are left out of the decision-making process: A solution is purchased that doesn’t match up to any of the core technology IT operations uses, or a solution is purchased that couldn’t possibly fit into the IT security architecture. Fortunately, these types of issues can be avoided by forming a partnership between IT and the business to narrow the divide.
Narrowing the Divide
Narrowing the divide is something that most organizations want to do, but often don’t know how. A key issue organizations need to overcome is the bad reputation IT departments have with business people. These common assumptions deepen the IT/business divide:
- IT is only focused on technology and not solving business issues
- IT speaks a different language than the business
- IT is too overburdened to be bothered by business issues
- IT can’t match the speed of the business
Interestingly, the last two assumptions are exacerbated when IT isn’t involved early in the decision-making process. Most organizations have a core technology stack around which they have built a set of tools, skills and processes. When new technology is introduced into that environment, there’s an inherent increase in support and monitoring.
If the new technology is outside the core stack, this increase is significant. Often, the overhead of support and maintenance grows to the point where the organization can’t effectively add new technology, because the team is too overburdened.
When IT is involved early in the decision-making process, new solutions can be evaluated to ensure they fall inside the core technology stack. If they don’t, IT can evaluate the cost of support and maintenance to ensure that it can handle the increased workload.
Systems Thinking at LeanKit
At LeanKit, we firmly believe that IT has to be involved early in the process of implementing new technology to ensure that the solution fits within the existing technology stack. This doesn’t mean we don’t try new technologies — we just introduce them thoughtfully, with the whole system in mind.
We are constantly evaluating and implementing new technologies. Our IT Operations team, for example, is embedded with the Product Development teams so that decisions that affect IT Operations are discussed as early in the product lifecycle as possible.
We also arrange our LeanKit board so that we can track firefighting activities and unplanned work. This enables us to have more insightful conversations with the business side of the house. We are able to communicate how unplanned work, like when a server needs to be rebooted, and firefighting, like when a server goes down, impacts our ability to implement and support new technologies.
We use this data to help the business understand why “IT can’t match the speed of the business”, and work through the other common misunderstandings I listed above. Instead of fighting against each other across the divide, we work together to find solutions to our mutual problems.
Narrowing the Divide: A Win-Win
In order to have a healthy IT organization, it’s critical for organizations to eliminate the divisive “us vs. them” mentality between IT and the business. When the organization functions as a system, everyone wins: Not only does this allow the IT organization to provide the best possible service back to the business, but it reduces the excessive costs of uninformed decision making.
There are many practical ways to narrow the divide, but they all start with the same thing: Communication. Give IT a seat at the table, and you’ll see the divide begin to narrow.