As the leader of the IT department, we lead a team with lots of connections with the rest of the business. We lead a team that supports the technology and process needs of the entire business. We will make priority decisions and resource allocation decisions that impact the rest of the business. How can we do these things if we don’t understand the business?
We can only lead IT well if we have a strong understanding of the business. This understanding will help us see what may come at IT in the next month, next quarter, or next year.
As IT leaders, we should make valuable contributions to the business decision and leadership. We need to know a lot more than just IT to do that. There needs to be a fundamental understanding of business. Learn business concepts or get an MBA. Know how to read financials. Know how to read market information. Know what aspects of the world at large impact our Customers and why they want to buy our products. Understand our revenue stream and what it depends on.
Let’s look at some other ways to build this deep knowledge of the business:
- Regular conversations with other leaders in the company are an important source of knowledge and awareness. What changes are they trying to implement in their departments? What changes are being forced on them from outside? How are they trying to get faster or better? How well is IT meeting their needs?
- The business makes requests that our applications team implements. Pay attention to the reasons behind these changes. The members of our applications teams will know an incredible amount about the business processes of the company. Tap into that knowledge to understand the bigger picture.
- People like explaining what they do and what challenges they face in their job. Use this. If we ask questions of enough people, and listen carefully to their answers, we can understand the organization better. Much like a pointillist painter, we can create a large picture from the individual dots. Can we see commonalities? Is one group unknowingly making another group’s job harder? Is there functionality that multiple groups can use to solve a set of problems?
- Our Help Desk people hear about problems regularly. If we teach them to be curious about the business, we can tap into that. One example might be to, after solving a problem, ask the user a brief question about their job. “I want to learn more about our company. Tell me about your job.” This will build up company knowledge in the Help Desk and earn respect from the business.
- Is there usage data for our applications? Does that tell us about the kinds of things that are changing? For example, people are using a particular data set more in the last six months. Another example might be the number of operations incidents rising quickly. Usage information tells us about how the organization is using the solutions our teams have put in place. This might be a signal of changes in the business that we might not otherwise see.
- Some organizations have daily cadence meetings for front-line workers. IT attendance at these meetings, even if not every day, helps IT members stay current on issues. For example, some manufacturing companies have “tier” meetings. Ten to fifteen minute meetings for everyone, followed by hierarchical meetings with supervisors and managers. These meetings allow issues to escalate in minutes instead of days. These meetings can teach us about common problems and situations. They can also give us a heads up on upcoming requests.
- People need information to do their job. If it isn’t available in the way they want, they will create it themselves. Find out who creates manual reports. Why are they sending it out? Who do they send it to? What do the recipients use it for? This can tell us where our reporting systems are not meeting the needs of the organization. It also helps us understand the decisions and actions driven by the report.
The more we know about our organization, the better we can do our job. We need to take all the information, stories, and complaints and turn it into the strategies and tactics for driving the IT department.