Making it Work Between Business and IT: Why and How to Reach Across Boundaries to Dissipate Potential Attitude Issues

As long as customers have been seeking solutions from the computing industry, there has existed a barrier between those who need a technological solution and those who provide one. That barrier has morphed from basic miscommunication into a more complex problem that prevents success.

Today, teams of resources attempt to work together in high-pressure environments, and project teams must find ways around obstacles that deal with political agendas, communication, collaboration and attitudes toward one another caused by issues in these areas. Failure to do so can produce poor attitudes, incorrect results, frustration, decreases in productivity and increases in wasted time, money and human resources. Experienced IT or business analysts, by thinking and acting across boundaries, can help enhance team cohesion and results.

There are several reasons why attitude becomes an issue that needs resolution. As a business partner that interacts with IT and funds projects, that person is trying to conduct business operations and is reliant on support from IT. Immediately, the psychology of that relationship has the potential to place the business partner into defensive mode, due to a simple inferred trust relationship.

The first encounter between the two teams is where defensiveness can first form. Business comes to IT with a need or problem, and IT is supposed to take it and form a solution. Often, there is a lack of thorough understanding between the two teams, even if the need has been stated. The explanation of the core business need is not understandable for IT to take action on, even though it’s clear as day for business. Why is that?

Let’s look at the opposing perspectives. Business states, “The system must accept online payments.”  That statement, in the eyes of business SMEs is plain and simple. To IT, more information is needed to resolve questions about payment format, payment options, banking options, language options, security configurations, etc… If an analyst has only documented the need and delivered that to IT, questions abound and attitude forms. Taking into account that the analyst should have done a better job, IT perceives the business to be short-sighted and business is put out by having to answer the same question again.

Communication failures breed frustration and frustration forms bad attitudes toward one another. Without a BA skilled in facilitation and elicitation, the level of anxiety for both teams can increase. Whether an IT or Business analyst, that person has an obligation to step out of his or her comfort zone to hand-hold the partner and the communication process until the message is clearly stated and understood. Sure, analysts have techniques to elicit requirements and communication, but the point is that technique may not be enough. Sometimes, the situation requires that analysts step into the shoes of their counterpart and do whatever it takes to build a trusting relationship in order to succeed together.

On a recent project as an IT analyst, I found myself receiving multiple, conflicting change requests from members of a business team regarding data, some filled with mistakes. I soon realized that the business team members were not communicating with one another and not cross-checking the quality of the data requests before they were sent to me. The resultant errors were causing huge problems for IT due to integrated systems all trying to use the faulty data. With permission from the senior business stakeholder, I was able to assemble the business team and explain the issue and the problems. Together, we crafted a better way to ensure the quality of the requests and data.

This was not an IT issue at its root cause, but by working directly with customers and avoiding finger-pointing, IT was able to build a trusting relationship, support our partners (not our enemies) and immediately improve productivity while reducing costs. Additionally, we taught our business peers not only why the issue was so important, but how to do things going forward, thus reducing the potential for future problems. More importantly, the poor attitude from IT toward business was quickly dissipated before it grew roots, because we helped the business help ourselves.

A secondary factor that contributes to attitude is the lack of visibility of what the other side has to do to function. IT has no clear line of sight into the workings of business process and management; and business doesn’t generally understand what makes the technology implementation so complex. The analyst is in a unique position to offer up some simple clarifying communication to enlighten all participants. Here are some very simple things that an analyst can do to enhance communication and collaboration:

As an IT analyst:

  • Don’t just define the superficial problem; explain why it’s important that things are done a certain way.
  • Introduce the technical team members to the business partners and explain what each role is responsible for.
  • Include technical team members in working sessions with business and facilitate that dialog. Doing so will allow for free exchange of ideas and concerns and will allow business partners to understand why certain questions are asked.
  • Actively offer customer service support to business team members and all stakeholders to let them know you want them to succeed.
  • Pick up the phone and call the business team members and stakeholders to check in with them for no reason. This takes customer service to another level and let’s them know that you are sincere in assisting them.
  • Contact the senior stakeholders and inquire about progress, comprehension, team collaboration and anything else that will bring the IT and Business teams together.
  • Always approach every communication with a “What can I do for you?” customer service approach and attitude.
  • Always remember that you may work for IT, but you are probably the ONLY person in IT to protect the interests of your CUSTOMER.
  • Always remember that business dollars make your job possible.

As a Business-side Analyst:

  • Insert yourself as much as possible into IT conversations about your project.
  • Reach out to IT management to let them know that you desire to deliver what is needed and to call on you for help.
  • Proactively inform IT of business-side problems and ask them for ideas on resolution for the benefit of both teams.
  • Remember that IT is your CUSTOMER. You are delivering something that they need in order to help you, so by providing quality you are making it easy for them to do so.
  • Actively seek feedback from your IT contact to ensure that he/she knows you are committed to doing a good job.
  • Always remember that in today’s electronic environment of doing business, IT has the capability to make core business operations successful.

While these suggestions seem trite and corny, they can significantly change attitudes. They go a long way to building a better working relationship with peers on the other side of the fence. That relationship is what will glue both teams together and form bonds that will collectively break down communication barriers, avoid frustrations, and produce success.

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