How to Address Five Internal Forces against Tech Development
More than ever, technology leaders are feeling the pressure from their business counterparts to deliver value quickly and inexpensively. With major disruption affecting every industry, by either market forces, nimbler risk-taking competitors or acquisitions that infuse capital to competitors that were never a threat before, these disruptions are becoming increasingly common and forcing business and technology leaders to take an introspective approach to align strategies to battle and react to these disruptions.
As business leaders on either side of the technology paradigm, the common issues faced by most organizations stem from misalignment, lack of visibility and difficulty in defining and meeting expectations.
For the reasons listed above, leaders within the business and technology must take a proactive approach to understand the negative internal forces that are interfering with their ability to react to the disruptions. To help leaders understand the negative internal forces, this blog identifies five common issues that organizations are facing and provides guidance to help business and technology leaders navigate and tackle these issues.
Internal Force #1: Technology is Disconnected from Business Vision
A common feeling from the business and technology alike is that technology treats the business as a customer and not a partner. This relationship fosters a feeling of taking orders or just delivering what was asked instead of being a trusted advisor and working through the value proposition together. “The customer is always right” never works in the context of building business value.
Typically, in the project (scope) style of delivery, the business gathers a large list of requirements for technology to execute on. This list of scope is accompanied by a budget that was formulated through an estimate by the delivery teams. This paradigm of delivery often leaves technology disconnected from the true purpose of the business vision and often leaves technology wondering why they are working on specific requirements and looking for ways to deliver the requirements on budget instead of focusing on delivering the value.
Recommendation: Business and technology leaders need to enter into a partnership to add value together. If requirements are ever “handed-off,” the resulting product will fail to deliver the expected value. Requirements should always be shared, debated, and owned together to ensure the most value and least amount of risk.
Internal Force #2: Business Feels that Technology is Just Solving Problems, Not Adding Real Value
Not unlike the previous internal force, this negative force is the business leaders’ perception that technology is just there to solve problems, not deliver value to the business. This force is a clear definition of technology being perceived as a cost center as opposed to a profit center. If the business sees the work being delivered by IT-related directly to the bottom line and added value to the customer, not just a cost, technology will start to become a trusted partner, not just the technology problem solver.
Recommendation: Technology must take a proactive position in showing the value being added. One simple approach is affectionately called “Strategy in the Review Mirror.” This means that technologists should not get caught up in trying to show the potential value added. Instead, show the value they did add. Convince your business partners that they need to give you more money because of the value you added with the money they already gave you. Trying to convince them of the value of some technology “doohickey” rarely works.
Internal Force #3: Technology Leadership is Tracking Activities Not the Results
Due to the historically negative results from project-based delivery, technology departments have continued to look for processes and reporting to track project activities to ensure that costs are kept in check and that executives are never surprised by conflicts and risks. These activities of project delivery do not often create a clear representation of the outcome of those activities. By tracking the outcome or results of the project (not the activities), the outcome becomes a representation of the entire value stream, not just a representation of technology deliverables. This concept is key to the migration from the project mindset to successful product delivery principles. Product-based teams build and measure outcomes, they don’t myopically focus on the activities of the delivery process and those outcomes drive refinement and iteration of processes to increase the value of future deliverable outcomes.
Recommendation: Focus analysis and reporting on the entire business value stream, not just the costs and timing of the technology implementation. Understand the business value of the deliverables and track the outcomes from its inception but continue including ongoing value creation of past deliverables to show the holistic value proposition.
Internal Force #4: Project Funding is Fundamentally Broken
The recurring theme of each of these negative internal factors is that project-based delivery is inherently broken, and at the core of project-based delivery is the funding model. Because funding projects (scope) takes all the requirements the business is asking for and then estimates by delivery organizations, the value of those requirements is lost within the concern over delivery of those requirements. The mantra “on time, on scope, on budget” resonates throughout every traditional project management office, so breaking away from the traditional project model means changing our financial focus to value outcome over being on budget.
Recommendation: Build a model where the business has a budget for product development and/or enhancements. Create a process where feature requests are entered into a backlog and prioritized by the product owner based on business value. This model ensures that the business is determining the next most valuable features and when they will be delivered. The funding model might be the most daunting internal force to change so start small and dedicate a well-defined team that can partner with a business partner capable of championing this model.
Internal Force #5: Technology Feels Like a Black Box to the Business
Nearly every organization struggles with the communication of technology delivery processes to their business counterparts. This communication typically takes the shape of status reports or status meetings to help the business understand the complications of a project’s current state. The formulation of these reports and statuses is technology’s attempt to pull the business closer to their work and build the inherently missing partnership. The business leaders, on the other hand, often struggle with this style of communication because the issues technology delivery teams face are typically issues around the team’s struggles to deliver due to scope, time, or budget, and rarely contain a message about the impact to the business outcomes.
As hard as organizations try to create alignment with the business in the project-based approach to delivery, the difficulty is creating the right level of visibility and then presenting the visibility in a consumable manner that both the business and technology can relate to. Data-backed visibility and transparency will help to instill the trust needed for a true partnership between technology and the business.
Recommendation: Focus reporting on the business outcomes that will be affected by technology’s efforts, not on how technology will be affected, and create a regular cadence of reviewing the value of these outcomes with business partners.
All these negative forces are feelings and realities that have been persistent hurdles to achieving a nimble, proactive organization capable of not only combatting disruption but also being the disruptor in a given industry. There is no quick fix for any of these issues and most of the recommendations are continuous improvements, not fix-it-and-forget-it events. The underlying theme is that business and technology must work together to create the best outcomes for their customers, investors, and themselves.