Smooth alignment between business and IT is the holy grail for many companies. Often it is mentioned as a qualifier: ‘(S)he is great at aligning business and IT interests’, and there are even fully- fledged methodologies (such as SAFe) designed to have business and IT work better together. As these times ask for flexibility to adapt to a quickly changing competitive environment, it's essential to have an IT department that knows how to respond to business requests in a suitable but agile way and still secures business continuity.
In this article we discuss what are the root challenges with the One Team experience for business and IT, and we look at how an organisation can fix these.
There can often be a fight between teams to get their features on the (usually packed and tight in resource) IT agenda. IT manages it's backlog so that they only start with a planned feature when the previous one is done, leading to a very rigid, and sometimes full year of planning, leaving little to no flexibility. There are numerous cases where we have witnessed issues within the business because their desired features could not be developed, leaving them with one less lever they can use to reach their forecasted targets. Everyone can imagine the frustrating situation which arises and the business IT relationship being challenged.
We often find that the misalignment between the business and IT teams is a major bottleneck in delivering the right IT results.
Business and IT are often working together in a limited manner. The business requests features, which IT will develop. IT has a limited role in shaping the features, even though IT often has meaningful input to provide to the business on what features should be developed, because they are the technical experts.
We notice that often the goals of business and the goals of IT are not aligned. The business side has their own strategic/tactical/operational KPIs, whilst IT only has KPIs on their own team performance. The lack of harmony in the goals often does not foster the right collaboration between the teams.
Business and IT teams often do not have the right structure to have the collaborative goals, (e.g., at a utility client you have the department “Maintenance”), while the IT teams often have platform-based structures, e.g., SalesForce. One IT team is not responsible for a single function, like maintenance. This makes it complicated to link the performance of the IT teams to the performance of the business. Changing the structures of the IT teams to match their internal clients helps to align the goals of IT and business.
IT is often not involved in writing the features, even though they often understand the business quite well and have the technical expertise to understand what can and should be developed first to improve the business operations.
IT then ends up with both too many features as well as features that can be improved if IT was involved in writing them. This leads to a packed agenda for the IT teams, an ever-increasing backlog of epics and features, and developed features that could have been better.
New times demand new ways of working, and more companies require flexibility from an IT department to develop the features that bring the most value. In the agile method, the IT function should be co-responsible for business success and develop those features that score best on the ‘business value vs effort’ index.
Business knows best how to increase their operational efficiency, but often lacks the IT knowledge to understand which digital solutions are possible and could help them the best. IT teams often have great insights and ideas in how digital can support the business in obtaining its goals.
Matching the structures of the business and the IT teams enables shared goals and KPIs, fostering innovation as both teams are responsible for the business performance.
The key to success in every business transformation is the human factor. It is the catalyst that ignites the change. One can design the perfect process, functional specifications, or technical requirements, but if the people that must work with it in the end do not adopt the designed processes and tools, they still are worthless. We wrote in detail about how to transform in this article.
Aligning the business and IT teams goes beyond mirroring the structure and goal setting of the IT teams to the business teams. Both teams should feel equally responsible for the results. Creating a culture and way of working of shared responsibility throughout the IT development process will utilize the innovativeness of both to drive for better results.
This switches the mindset from a supplier-customer relationship to a shared team who are together responsible for achieving the same goal.
Business and IT should work more closely on IT solutions. IT often have great ideas and insights on what to digitally improve, as IT knows what is technically possible. Involving them earlier in the process of brainstorming new epics and features by connecting them with key users in the business, improves both the quality (it goes up) and lowers most likely the (quantity) of new epics and features, as prioritization based on IT capacity and technical viability is done earlier in the process.