I’ve been comparing the IT/Business relationship to a marriage for a while now. In Chapter 12 of my book, I said:
Secret 28: The Information Technology organization is your partner in creating and managing systems and data, with shared responsibilities.
That partnership can be like a marriage, with both marriage partners working together to make a better life. But like all marriages, there are times when problems cause disharmony between the marriage partners, and if you’re not careful, that disharmony can lead to name-calling and blame.
Primary Causes of Business/IT Marriage Problems
I believe that problems in the Business/IT relationship stem from the same sorts of things that cause many of the problems in a marriage:
- Disagreement on objectives and/or methods to accomplish those objectives
- Loss of trust
- Emotional issues like egos, territory disputes, and who gets credit
- Not living up to expectations, or expecting too much
- Trying to cope with stressful limitations like finances and time
- Fighting over what’s best for the “children,” where Business/IT children refers to the systems and processes that have been created through collaboration between the Business and IT
Signs of an Impending Need for Marriage Counseling
Here are some of the things you’ll see when a Business/IT relationship is beginning to fail:
- Communication breaks down. One side or the other (or both) won’t listen. Or what they seem to hear isn’t what is being said.
- There is a lot of blame and finger-pointing
- The phrase “IT is failing” keeps coming up in conversations
- You’ll hear a lot of “You don’t tell me what you need” or “You keep changing your mind”
- IT projects are out of control. Or at least they’re perceived that way
- The business won’t sign off on project deliverables
What to Do
Here are some of the steps I take when I’m asked to do IT Marriage Counseling:
- Interview both sides, capture each side’s perspective on what’s going on
- If communication is an issue (and it usually is), then facilitate communication between the two sides. Help each side begin to understand the other side’s point of view
- If one or more individuals are at fault (whatever side they’re on), then work with those individuals to help them solve their problems. Or — if all else fails — help them understand that this isn’t the right job for them.
- Be an impartial third-party to arbitrate disputes
- Try to find some basis to rebuild trust between the opposing parties, based on the things that are working well
- Present a summary of the situation to both parties, pointing out the things that are working well and the things that need improvement
- Make specific recommendations for changes in processes, communication styles and methods, organizational structures, and — in some cases — people
No matter what side of the marriage you’re on — or even if you’re just an interested bystander — if you see signs of “marital difficulties” between IT and the Business then you need to diplomatically bring it to someone’s attention. Sometimes the two parties can work out the disagreements between themselves, but occasionally a third-party is needed to facilitate communication and help the disputing organizations resolve the problem. There’s no shame in needing the help of a third-party, and using a third-party will often help you reach a resolution quicker.
If you know of someone who may need the help of an IT Marriage Counselor, send them a copy of this post (You can use the “Email this” link below). There’s a lot of material on this web site to help you with various aspects of a Business/IT dispute, and my book is a good tool to help business and IT people understand each other. And if you need my personal help, please let me know — I will be happy to help you in any way that I can.
Sidebar: 10 Things to Look for in an IT Marriage Counselor
Whether you use a third party or someone inside your company, an IT Marriage Counselor should have these characteristics:
- Ability to listen, and to hear both explicit and implicit messages in what’s being said
- Impartiality — no axe to grind
- Capable of communicating with both business and technical people (this is often the most difficult requirement)
- Experienced in dealing with common IT and business problems
- Able to put things in the proper perspective
- Experienced in arbitration and negotiation
- Technically knowledgeable enough to see through people issues disguised as technology necessities (e.g., “we can’t outsource because our technology won’t allow it”)
- Business knowledgeable enough to see through people issues disguised as business necessities (e.g., “we can’t roll out this system in phases because our users can’t handle the disruption”)