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How IT Can Communicate with the Business 09/25/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in Success.
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I always find it fascinating when people don’t understand tech-speak. Like any specialization, they have their own Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs), terms, and new names for their products. It is impossible to keep up with all of them, even if you are in IT yourself.

The key to communication is explaining those TLAs to business people, or asking for clarification from IT. If either side is deficient in these tasks, then poor understanding will result. This happens all the time and there are many reasons for this problem. Understanding the causes may help both sides to become better communicators.

On the IT side, people probably have had little training or experience in good communication. Their education and beginning job responsibilities have been to solve problems. If you are good at solving the problems, then you have met or exceeded your expectations, and nothing further is needed. At my first job, supporting the West Coast with their software, we had a person who’s full time job was to be the communicator between my solutions and their problems. [Thanks Betsy] She always knew what was going on at the company, talked to the higher ups, and let the rest of us in on the secrets.

On the Business side, communication is probably the number 1 priority for their first jobs. Consultants prove their value with status reports and deliverables; project managers have meetings to keep up with what is going on, and team-leads or first-time managers report to their managers on the status of their people. They have learned the art of communication from the bottom up. However, they still may not be able to effectively communicate with many in IT.

The problem could simply be one of attention. IT people tend to be detail oriented. When they get task focused, they see the details and need to handle them. When asked for status, they will talk about what they are working on, which could be the details. Looking at the details of any project can be confusing if you don’t have the intimate details. It’s probably not what a project manager really wants anyway. They most likely want a quick summary of all the tasks, not just the current trouble.

Another problem could be one of personality. Many IT people are introverted. That could mean that talking to others, especially new people, is draining on them emotionally and physically. Even if an introverted person is good at getting his/her point across, it may be tiring to do so. That person probably won’t seek out the opportunity to talk to people who will need excessive explanations. An extroverted person, however, may just expect people to come to him when needed. If that doesn’t happen then tasks can be lost, and a crisis could occur.

Some IT people focus on the infrastructure. They like to talk about the servers, the network, the bandwidth, etc. Some IT people focus on the software. They like to talk about the programs, the operating system, the customizations, etc. If the person on the receiving end of this conversation is not fluent in the IT-speak of the moment, then this will not be a fun discussion. It is so important to be speaking the same language.

A problem that can occur between beginner IT staff and executives is one of priorities. Many IT staffers are reactive. They will fix things as they break, and then move on to the next problem. Executives, especially higher up executives such as the ones at the C-level, want longer term solutions. They want to talk about pro-active solutions. They want to know what the new system will cost, once they see that the old system has problems. It’s difficult for people with such differing priorities to settle down on one topic.

Finally, there’s the idea of independence. Many IT people are such good problem solvers that they want to work alone. They feel that if they are qualified to reach their goals by themselves, then why do they need interference? Some highly experienced IT people may have gotten where they are by being the hero and getting past any dilemma. They may not want to work with other people. It may even be worse if the other people don’t understand what he/she is doing.

We’ve all seen, or been involved in, bad communication issues between people of differing backgrounds. At work, it can be even worse. People working in different functional departments don’t always understand the other people at the company. We all need to work on our communication skills, take a look at the world from someone else’s viewpoint, and be patient.

I’m not trying to imply that this is the whole of reality, and that all IT people, and business types, fit into these categories. I am simply making observations of my world and trying to write something that might help. Knowing how someone else is thinking just may help you get your point across.

So go out there and communicate!

Almost There 03/11/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in PMO.
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The PMO is still not out yet, but at least now I know the issues (I think. (I hope.)).

The IT director has talked to the CFO to find out that it is still a power struggle. The PMO (Project Management Office) cannot be given too much power because decisions will still be made at the highest levels. His concerns are that people will think that all decisions, not just the ERP project, are being made by the new PMO.

OK, we can easily word the announcement (read previous posts) so that it is obvious that this group is responsible for 1 project. Yes one project only. They are not taking over the company. They won’t decide who to layoff, or who to promote. They won’t change the manufacturing schedules. They are being created as a cross-functional team to oversee the very large and complicated implementation of the ERP system.

It turns out that the CFO has been working pretty hard lately. He actually, really, hasn’t had much time to think about our needs (really). This is a pretty good thing for him to realize because when the project starts going he knows that he won’t be, nor does he want to be, the guy making all of the decisions. The PMO will be making plenty of process decisions to successfully implement the ERP. They need to be empowered to do that and only that. Our newest announcement will grab power for that singular purpose.

The other issue is the board of directors meetings. He is going to talk to the leaders of the company separately about the new PMO. That is good news. That means that the higher ups will already be aware of what is about to happen and can support us when needed. He wants his ‘official’ announcement to go out after he has had a chance to talk to the board. OK – good issue, didn’t know that.

We are also going to include text in the announcement that specifically states that the PMO has been setup for this one ERP project. If this one project goes well, if the structure of the PMO enhances the value of the implementation, then they may continue it. The future of the PMO will rely on their own success.

The PMO announcement still hasn’t gone out. The CFO will be meeting with the board some time next week, so we are still in a waiting mode. At least now I don’t have to be thinking about strategies for overcoming our very first obstacle. I’ll give it one more week before I get frustrated again.

That is fine with me because I know that it’s a global world out there and Technology makes it happen.

PMO Announcement Still Not Sent 03/04/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in PMO.
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My background is mostly tech. I have a tendency to solve problems quickly and efficiently. I get frustrated when I have to wait on people. This is particularly annoying since I know that the executives say they are behind this project and need it to succeed.

A Little Background: I have setup a Project Management Office (PMO) at a company that is about to implement a new ERP system. The C-Level executives wanted the PMO to guide the project. Once I got the group together and went over our mission, vision, goals, charter, etc. we decided to encourage an announcement on the formation of the PMO from the executives (who are not formally on the committee, but are the project sponsors).

As a group we wrote up a short announcement that was 4 paragraphs taking up about 3/4 of a page. The CFO said that it was too long and implied too much power to the PMO. The IT director and I re-wrote the announcement to make it short, about 5 sentences, and watered down the decision making powers. We wrote that the committee would work with the executives to get this important project done.

The problem: It has been a couple of weeks, but the announcement still hasn’t been sent out. How do I remind a CFO, that the number one reason that ERP projects fail is a lack of executive support?

I gave the new announcement text to him on Monday of last week. It took a week to find out that he didn’t like it. I stopped by his office every hour, to talk to him about it, until he promised to meet with me the next day. That would have been Tuesday, but his door was shut all day.

Our PMO meetings are held on Tuesdays so I found out that he talked to the IT Director, to have him handle this announcement. Unfortunately for the CFO, the IT Director has the same questions as I do: What is wrong with the first 2 versions, and how can we fix it?

Another week is going by and we have no chance for this announcement until next week. My frustration is starting to display itself, and I have to work to keep it in check. I don’t want to treat people like children and tell them to do what they know needs to be done.

In the meantime, I’ve tried to Google information on announcing a PMO. There isn’t much there. You can “Socialize” the idea, you can find actual announcements, even a few books talk briefly about the importance of announcing the PMO. But, there are no good “Here’s how to do it” articles. If you found this Blog looking for How To Do It, then I have this to say: “Good Luck!”.

While I’m waiting, I can comfort myself with the thought that It’s a global world out there and Technology makes it happen.