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Finding Ways to Improve Business – IT Collaboration

by Ben Linders on Jun 06, 2013 |

Collaboration between business and IT can be a problem in enterprises, and people are finding ways to improve it. For instance by forming a single entity using business IT fusion, to increase the business value of IT. Or with DevOps, which can help to improve the collaboration between development and operations to jointly support business needs. And by using sociocracy to make the lines of communication in your organization visible to connect agile teams with the business stakeholders.

David Ramel writes on Application Development Trends about Forrester study reveals disconnect between business and software development:

A major impediment to more successful software development projects is a corporate culture that results in a lack of collaboration because business executives view the IT departments as "order takers," a view disputed by IT leaders.

There is a gap between the business and IT views on how much they actually collaborate:

43 percent [of the business decision-makers] said the two departments work together to decide which business services or products are delivered.

59 percent of IT/engineering leaders said they collaborate with their business peers and 57 percent said IT acts as partners and makes joint decisions with business stakeholders.

Earlier this year, InfoQ covered the above Forrester study in continuous delivery speeds up innovation. The full report of the Forrester study about continuous delivery is available for download after registration. One of the key recommendations in the Forrester report is that “Business leaders and IT leaders need to improve their collaboration”

(…) traditional businesses need to shift their organization models to view software development providers less as order takers and more as partners in delivering BT. IT shops need to redesign their organizations to focus on end-to-end service delivery instead of organizing around functional centers of excellence.

In his blog post business IT fusion requires true collaboration, Michael Maurer explores business – IT collaboration:

Fusion is the result of joining two or more things together to form a single entity. Have you ever seen business and IT joined together in to form a single entity?

IT is often organized in a separate department and not “fused with the business”, a setup that makes it difficult to collaborate:

But since IT is often considered supportive to the business, it is treated as a supplier. Not as a business partner or even as an integral part of the business. Business managers will act as clients and IT is treated as a supplier. And IT fulfills this role without hesitating or resistance.

Michael suggest that organizations should improve collaboration and work towards fusion between business and IT:

The start is to acknowledge that IT is a part of the business instead of a separate functional specialty. Every business manager is also an IT manager. And IT needs to focus on deep-user-understanding. This requires real understanding of the business drivers and how IT can contribute to affect positively affect these. The responsibility of having good IT needs to be shared between business and IT.

Kevin Parker shares his views on agile and collaboration in the blog post how can you use agile to put a stake in the ground. He explains the problem he sees with agile implementations that only cover a small part of the process: 

Agile is designed to get value back to the organisation faster. However, each agile project does not exist in isolation. If the rest of IT can’t keep up with what is being developed, or if the business does not understand how it has to be involved, then optimal result are never achieved.

Kevin gives an example where delivering software using agile development teams can challenge IT production if they are not able yet to deal with frequent releases, and the service desk if they do not understand the new functionality in time. DevOps, which support the collaboration between development and operations can help to serve the business needs:

Solving challenges like release management can be the difference between agile being a nice approach for the dev team to use and it being a business changing, competitive differentiator. The DevOps movement is taking on the issues that exist for agile and looking at how culture and understanding lead to greater business value.

“Organizations with larger, more complex projects struggle to adopt Agile”, says Derwyn Harris in her blog post use sociocracy to scale agile organizationally. When organization implement agile teams that work in isolation, a disconnect results between the business and IT. The concept of sociocracy can help to find solutions for this problem:

Sociocracy provides organizations the ability to streamline channels of communication by creating overlapping “circles” and “double-linking.” Circles are groups solely responsibility for a goal, such as a sprint. Double-linking ensures that representatives in each overlapping circle are present. This is not simply having a manager present in one circle to listen in. Double-linking ensures that communications and decisions are relayed quickly, without losing information or causing confusion.

Derwyn explains how you can use sociocracy to give visibility to the lines of communication in your organization:

A good exercise is to write down each perceived circle within your organization. (…) Next, connect how they communicate and determine who represents the double-linking. Chances are you will find either a single person who is acting as a single-link in many circles, or no direct overlap at all. This is where the communication breakdown begins and is the primary reason why Agile fails.

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