How many times have we observed IT being oblivious to the business? Sometimes IT may not know what its like to get spanked in a demo, outplayed during a sale, or to provide a contract without true costs of doing business so that margins are bad and the gig is a sunk cost from the beginning. Ever see an IT group that fails to work together as an IT group, let alone as a component of a larger business machine? My least favorite IT failure is a group of technologists who simply take orders from business team members without questioning, guiding, facilitating or crafting solutions that address both business value and technical risk&complexity appropriately. If an IT team takes direction without questioning anything requested or stated other than for clarity, its not a team -- its a catering service.
A friend of mine, Tim Ottinger, stated it best recently in a parallel conversation when saying, "In the software world, the difference between a contractor and a consultant is whether you are paying for obedience or advice". Similarly, the difference between an IT shop that is a team-based solutioning component of the business versus a group of co-located automatons pursuing the latest directives is the difference between the Defensive and Offensive line coaches versus the water-boy. Everybody needs a water-boy to address their thirst of the moment. Games will be won or lost with the Defensive and Offensive coaches working together to structure the team, the plays, and the timing.
The business has a clear dependence on IT to show up and actively co-solve problems. Understand the problem to be solved, not just the words being uttered. Understand the current and future positional dependencies the business is in contextual to the request, not just the rank, serial number and long-windedness of the speaker. Understand the current and future positional dependencies, risks and complexities of the technology, not just the IDE, CI poll times, and next iteration demo date. Understand the business mission, vision and objectives, not just the quarterly meeting updates. The business needs IT to show up with options and options exist due to understanding the system level game board, not the local component. Without IT, there is no game.
Conversely, IT has a clear dependence on the business to show up and actively co-solve problems. Understand and articulate what business problems need to be solved, in what order, and how they are important in context of the larger business direction, mission and vision.
Sometimes the business may not know what its like to add new software to a system that really needs re-factored before it needs a new widget. Or what its like to support an international 7x24x365 shop while the locals go to bed at night. Perhaps better yet, recognizing that in order to race the Iditarod, one first needs to get the equipment, the dogs, the training, the route, the funding and the approval. IT should be invisible. Knowledge of it should not.
When the business shows up filled with perception versus fact, emotion versus reason, or self-declared impunity over accountability for things uttered, or my favorite business stakeholder failure -- indignity when questioned, success opportunity is minimized. Just like IT is expected to have a clue regarding larger business context, business is conversely responsible for IT context. For example, going SAAS as a business? Understand load balanced farming, traffic patterns and customer behavior possibilities. Going PAAS? Understand exposed APIs, SDKs, customer integration possibilities and whether the customer IT staff, if any, have the skills to make use of the functionality and make it happen. And so on. The time for guessing at answers and stabbing in the dark with the hope that fairies and pixie dust are real ended with college entrance exams. Business stakeholders need to know the acute business problems to be solved and have answers to associative questions.
Without the business and business stakeholders, there is no game. Without IT and IT deliverables, there is no game. Without both taking the alternating roles of defensive and offensive coordinators, there is no game. Without preparation, accountability, complete transparency, and communication through real human relationships there is no game.
If each member of the team is as good as they believe and state they are when prodded, then the proof will be evidenced through purposeful, transparent, organic relationships, constructive problem statements, solutioning through options, and context for all predicated by the business plan. If one side slacks on this dependence upon each other, then we're relegated to just being a co-located group of water boys believing in fairy dust.