Looking back at every project in which I’ve been involved, I’ve seen successes and failures. There are many reasons for each outcome. But I believe the reason with the most correlation is business alignment.
To align IT with the business is one of the most critical aspects of a project, and perhaps the most difficult thing to do. So how do you align it with the business in the face of such difficulty?
Do your homework
IT people tend to know IT. I know, it’s strange. But we all have our comfort zones and that’s what we focus on. Many business people are the same with business. When it comes to IT, they don’t know it. That’s somebody else’s job.
The fact is, knowing both IT and the business is your job. An IT project manager can understand all of the workings of servers, java script, load balancing, and virtual networks. But she has to dig deep to understand the business as well.
For more information see Stakeholder Management for Project Managers
When a homebuilder builds a house, he has to understand all of the tools involved. It is assumed that he will know how to use the tools to build the house efficiently. But his real job is to build a home for the homeowner. He has to understand how that family will live and solve problems of space, storage, utility and many others.
An IT project manager needs to understand the business intimately enough to know the problems that need to be solved. She will then apply the IT tools that she knows to solve them. It’s about solving the business problems, not the tools.
Learn their expectations
As an extension of learning the business, the IT project manager must know what the business expects from them. Many business people think IT is a magical solution that should be able to cure cancer and make pigs fly (both of which I think would be cool).
Some business people have become so jaded with IT’s historical inability to deliver, that their expectations are very low. They go through the project meetings with the hope that this time it will be different, but deep down, they don’t expect much.
Knowing where the business stands will help the IT project manager know how to deal with them and bridge any gaps that exist.
Once the PM has learned what the business expects, she can begin setting expectations for the future. For the business person that expects pigs to fly, expectations need to be brought down to a reasonable level. Allowing that expectation to persist will only cause disappointment down the road.
For business people with low expectations, some PMs do nothing to change it. Their thinking is that they have nothing to lose and they will always exceed the business’s expectations.
Unfortunately, low expectations often become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Those low expectations lead to leaving IT out of the loop. An uninformed IT team has trouble aligning with the business.
The project manager needs to let the business know what they should expect from IT. She should also let the business know what IT expects from them. IT can help the business be more successful. But only if they include IT in their decisions. The business must keep IT informed of business activities for either of them to be successful.
Many project managers will spend time learning the business. They meet with the business representatives, document the business processes, and go on their merry way solving the problem.
Along the way, the business makes decisions that contradict what was documented. Companies merge, strategies change, people change their minds. When IT gets frustrated with those changes, it shows that they don’t understand business in general.
The only thing that will stay constant is change. If IT anticipates those changes and sets processes in place to deal with them, they will create better business alignment.
Create an alliance
In many instances, when the business works with IT, it becomes a confrontational relationship. When things go wrong, finger-pointing ensues. The next time they get together for a project, there are hard feelings. The relationship between the two groups can continue on a downward spiral with each project failure.
IT needs to establish a partnership with the business. If IT treats the business like a valued customer and works to solve their problems, they can earn the business’s trust. The business eventually learns that IT is a group they can turn to to help solve their problems rather than increase them.
When a trusting relationship is built, two teams can accomplish much more.
The relationship between IT and business has traditionally been combative. Neither side understands the other and blames the other for not understanding.
An effective project manager needs to learn as much as possible about the business and the challenges they face. Then, to be effective, the PM must solve those problems to business’s satisfaction. Doing so will turn the combative relationship into a successful partnership.
How do you align your IT group with the business effectively?
If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.
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