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July 8, 2021

7 Ways to Connect with Your IT Department for Improved Customer Value

by: Jason Paraiso

In my roles as a project manager for software implementation projects and as a power user of my organization’s project management and procurement applications, I’ve experienced ups and downs in application delivery and maintenance. One determining factor is the relationship between IT and each Business Unit (BU) in the organization.

When there is a healthy relationship and strong connection among stakeholders, things tend to go well. IT can deliver what is needed by the BU for successful business outcomes and increased customer value.

Most of us know our IT department through the support desk. We may need to submit a ticket for a software license request, install a new application, or report an incident when a system is down. These are bare necessities to maintain operations, but this does little to address the dynamic needs of an organization. So much more can be done!

 

Best Practices to Strengthen the Connection Between IT and BU Teams

Let’s consider seven practices to build a stronger connection between your IT and BU teams to build trust and deliver more value.

  1. Start at the top. As with any organizational initiative, it becomes a priority for everybody involved if it's the boss's priority. BU and IT leadership must set the tone. Ideally, all parties can identify the need and envision the benefits.

  2. Commit resources. Designate individuals that will regularly engage with the other party and clearly identify the application owner or business process owner. IT should commit a team lead to a specific application or set of applications. These key stakeholders from the BU and IT should strengthen this relationship and make diligent efforts to connect with their counterparts. The other finite resource is time. Make sure these designated individuals aren’t already overburdened and can commit time to work on efforts together.
  1. Schedule frequently recurring meetings. Adopt an agile mindset and try to meet weekly to review incidents in progress, outages, initiatives, agile retrospectives, and other discussions about critical applications. Frequent meetings among designated committed stakeholders will help build trust and enable open discussion about capabilities, constraints, concerns, priorities, budget, and timelines. As a result, a deeper understanding will provide opportunities to identify risks and issues earlier for proactive mitigation strategies.

  2. Establish Expectations. Initial meeting agendas should include time to discuss and agree upon expectations. Clearly define roles to address individual responsibilities and minimize wasteful duplication. Don’t let it be purely aspirational. Document a plan of action to outline how to meet those expectations. Stakeholders could review the suggestions in this post and decide which practices and to what degree the collective team is willing and able to commit to practicing. It’s also essential to get into the details required to identify key service level indicators and set service level objectives.
  1. Use project management for large initiatives. While sometimes debated, your IT department should take the lead in implementing, configuring, and maintaining the IT solution. Application users should identify business use cases, key requirements, priorities, conducting user testing, and coordinating key project milestones. Two key milestones that absolutely demand IT and BU coordination are the Go/No-Go decision meeting and Production Go-Live. During an application delivery project, these milestones (especially Go-Live) are where everything gets real. The BU will have its first opportunity to use an application under real-world business conditions, and IT will need to support whatever issues may occur.
  1. Leverage team-based applications to track progress and work collaboratively. Since the Interweb is filled with numerous posts on collaborative meeting apps, like Teams, WebEx and Zoom, I’ll leave that to you to determine what will work in your organization. For delivery projects, I strongly recommend using team-based applications, like industry-leading project and portfolio management solution Clarity PPM and industry-leading agile management tool, Rally, to help organize and track work. In addition, virtual whiteboarding, like Google’s Jamboard, can enhance meetings and help visualize the introduction and clarification of ideas. Finally, use shared folders to consolidate one set of files where stakeholders can review and update assigned and performed actions.
  1. Share feedback and make it better. There are numerous options for requesting and providing feedback. Less formally, this can be done through one-to-one communication in direct dialogue over the phone, email, or in-person if your circumstances permit. Another communication channel is documentation. It is important to document essential information in key documents, such as status reports, requirements specification, technical design, etc. These documents clarify what IT can (and cannot) deliver and the BU’s priorities. Teams can also use surveys to gain feedback on what went well or what needs to be improved. While gathering feedback is essential, ultimately, it is how the teams act upon feedback to continually improve the delivery and maintenance of applications and enable better business outcomes. Whenever desired outcomes are achieved or even exceeded, celebrate success to exhibit how meaningful the BU and IT connection can be to the organization.

 

The Benefits of a Strong Connection Between IT and BU Teams

With diligent effort to build a strong connection between your IT and BU comes some upside. Here are four benefits that you will hopefully gain.

  1. Tighter alignment of IT portfolio and business needs and outcomes – BUs will gain confidence that their use cases and requirements will be addressed by IT. BU practitioners can then focus on their core responsibilities and avoid spending time working around an application’s shortcomings. IT will maintain a software portfolio and infrastructure inventory more closely aligned to each business units’ value stream and maintain an efficient delivery pipeline.

  2. Improved adoption – The BU and IT can build upon efforts and use successful application delivery and maintenance as a template for new capabilities and additional applications and expand delivery to other BUs in the organization to increase the return on investment.

  3. Increased project efficiency – By ensuring a common understanding of business requirements and continued feedback throughout application delivery, stakeholders can have clear and open communications about scope, time, and cost. An honest discussion about tradeoffs between the classic project triple constraint and quality can help focus on critical priorities and timeline aligning efforts to yield better outcomes.

  4. Greater transparency and connection within your organization – As each team shares clear insights and establishes expectations, friction will be reduced. When IT shares information on their larger set of commitments and activities – like planned maintenance outages – BUs can plan to minimize disruptive impacts and loss of productivity.

Ideally, with top-to-bottom organizational support and iterative application of the above practices, you can optimize your IT and BU connection and benefit the whole organization.

 

For more on Business and IT alignment, see ValueOps on Broadcom’s Enterprise Software Academy.