There's no such thing as "IT" and "The Business"
Updated: Jul 29, 2021
How often have you heard people talk about “IT” and “The Business” as if they’re completely different things? It's wrong on so many levels. Loads of businesses talk about "we're all one team" and "we all want the same thing", but then people talk about IT and the Business as if they're in a supplier / customer relationship.
It make no sense. Apart from anything else, it is a meaningless differentiation. What exactly is meant by "the Business"?
People talk about IT and the Business as if they're in a supplier / customer relationship
Is it Sales? Operations? Finance? HR? Is it some of those, or all of them? It just doesn't make sense to single out an IT "department" as a separate entity.
I've often felt that the differentiation comes about for one of two reasons. The first is just plain old-fashioned thinking, a throwback to the days when IT was very different and the level of integration and collaboration with stakeholders in other parts of the organisation was less than it is today. There was still plenty of that around when I started work back in the early 90s, and longer-served readers will perhaps recognise that from even earlier. A throwback to the days when massively waterfall projects had a thin integration between requirements stakeholders and delivery teams through a Business Analyst.
Don't worry - this post isn't about to become a debate on the relative merits and drawbacks of waterfall versus agile, because I'm firmly of the view that both have their merits in the right environment or for the right project.
This post isn't about to become a debate on the relative merits and drawbacks of waterfall versus agile
The second reason I've seen is that the separation of IT and the Business creeps in when things are not going well. People who work "in the Business" talk about "IT failing to deliver", and people "in IT" get disgruntled because people in "the Business" aren't clear about the requirements and keep moving the goal posts.
It infuriates me, because creating that divide doesn't help anyone. All it serves to do is to alienate human beings from each other and create resentment. It promotes the wrong behaviours, where people who feel attacked waste energy defending their position. It breeds a finger-pointing culture where there is no ownership or accountability for failures (but plenty of people willing to grab kudos for the successes).
When things aren't going well, we need the exact opposite of those things.
We’re all part of the same business. We share the same successes. We feel the pain of the same failures.
The reality (or my reality, at least) is that the best decisions get taken by businesses at all levels when there is a level playing field on which all functions play. Technologists don’t necessarily have all the right answers, nor do they fully understand the pain that commercial stakeholders feel when trying to sell to a hostile potential customer. Equally, commercial stakeholders are frequently oblivious to the difficulties associated with maintaining a high level of service in technology. Often, things that look simple in technology are difficult, and vice versa.
The most effective teams are multidisciplinary, across all disciplines in the organisation and retain their team identities through thick and thin"
Then I hear people try to address it by saying that "IT" and “The Business” being a partnership. It's better, but I don't really like that either. All functions are part of the business.
The most effective teams are multidisciplinary, across all disciplines in the organisation, and they retain their team identifies through thick and thin, success and failure.
If you hear anyone talk about "IT and the Business" as if they're separate entities, call them out on it, and consider why it's happening. Is it just an old fashioned mindset that could be encouraged to think more collectively, or is it a symptom of something else going wrong - find out and fix it.