Get Customer Focused!

The majority of my work experience (~30+ years) has been on the IS/IT side of the fence. As of recent, my current role is in technology but on the business side of the fence. I am seeing for the first time what it is like to “really live” day-in and day-out on the business side and understand beyond a doubt the importance of IS/IT aligning with the business. It is a two-way street; though, from the perspective of each side, it often feels like it’s only one-way.

Contrary to what you may understand about the Business side of the fence, in many instances, the Business side is hand-cuffed from accomplishing what they need because they are waiting for some action (tools, permissions, functionality, application updates, etc.) on the IS/IT side to be accomplished. And know that any amount of time feels like an eternity during the waiting game.

With this article, I seek to highlight and stress with every cell in my body the imperative importance of IS/IT as well as the Business to perform the following short list. I will seek to update this article as I am prompted.

  • Seek First to Understand
    Put the Business Analyst hat on in each meeting. Ask the open-ended questions to gather information. Ask the closed-ended questions to confirm specifics. God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason … listen twice as much as you talk.
  • Focus on the WHAT
    This is similar to the first/prior bullet but worth calling out. Eliciting requirements is really an art in many ways. There are a variety of tools and techniques available that make this endeavor more fun than challenging. To understand the current state of whatever you are dealing with is a critical first step in any journey. I always think of the Shopping Mall Map as an example … it usually shows a RED X and states “You Are Here”. We must know where we are, where we are starting from, our surrounds, our conditions, our environment and use all of our senses as well.
  • System Requirement Specification (SRS) Template
    Let’s not only talk about the requirements, let’s document the $&^#$%^ requirements so we can reference them later. So, we can have something in black and white that can continue to be updated, added to, talked over, questioned, clarified and God forbid referenced in the future when yourself or others need a refresher on the System, Integration, Application, Procedure, etc.If you don’t have a SRS Template, email me at kerdirks@yahoo.com and I will be glad to send you a sample template. Yes, I worked hard years ago with a co-worker of mine at a prior business … we put our heads together, consolidated some great basics into a template and then perfected it as we worked through each project. Know this … that the SRS is the final document that brings all of the project details together and that there are other tools and techniques in the BA/PM toolbox that are needed ahead of building out the SRS document of any project.
  • Ask The Questions
    The Business side of the fence is tired of all the excuses and delays from the IS/IT side of the fence. If you don’t understand something, ASK. If you need more information, ASK. If you find yourself twiddling your fingers most of the day at your desk, that’s a clue to get up and talk with someone who knows. Anyone. Just do something!
  • Do What You Say You Will Do By When
    Complacency is the killer of many businesses. And, it is also the killer lurking under the Culture of every business. There is nothing more frustrating than IS/IT broken promises, delays and excuses upon excuses of why something is not done yet. The IS/IT side of the fence needs to understand that the Business side can see through your excuses; let’s just stop the nonsense, commit and put in the hours to get whatever it is DONE.
  • Empathize
    Unless you emotionally engaged, you are really not intellectually or academically in the game. Think about those in the profession of acting, performing, sports, speaking, music … you and I are not at our best, we are not at our peak, we are not in our zone, we are not at our best focus until we are actually living in the shoes of the one across the table, across the room, across the street, across the desk, etc.
  • 100% Present
    You can’t be thinking about other things when I am talking. Put down the phone and hit the silence button. Show me that you are listening by repeating back to me what I just said. We all need to be better with this one. Practice. Practice. Practice.
  • Failure is OK
    The Business wants the truth. If you don’t know something, say it. If we can’t move ahead because the players/stakeholders/team are too apprehensive about breaking something, then let’s find a safe place to play, to try out features, to test the limits, to do crazy things … but staying still in the same old place is insanity and a plain waste of all of our time.
  • Collaboration
    If we are going to be working together on this task, project, team, initiative, then let’s be clear about one thing … both sides need to be ok with transparency. Invite me to informational as well as the actionable meetings and discussions. Let’s not hold back. And if things weren’t always this open, then let’s bury the hatchet or pound a stake in the ground to indicate that we are big kids willing to let by-gones be by-gones and let’s move forward and onward. I’m tired of sitting in the ditch of life, how about you?
  • Write It Down
    This is worth stating again in a little different form. Writing down the meeting notes or notes from a phone call or a co-worker drive by can come in handy later. It is most likely that some of those notes may find their way into broader meeting conversations and ultimately end up in the SRS document in another way, shape or form.
  • Project Plan
    Provide a visual that resonates with your team, project or event discussion. That provides clarity of WHAT, WHO and WHEN at a minimum. A visual of and by itself communicates a ton of accountability and responsibility especially when referred to on an ongoing daily basis where everyone can see it and everyone must speak to their piece of the pie.
  • 9 to 5
    When I look back at my IS/IT career, some of best projects I have been on required me to work above and beyond my regular 8 hour day. It’s those times when we sweat shoulder to shoulder, sweat hour by hour and stress day by day that are the most rewarding when we finally make it to the finish line. I can count only a handful of projects across the landscape of my career where I really felt that I was part of close-knit team. The best memories are those where we as a team dug in, went over and above and got the job done. Remember that anything worth doing is worth doing well.
  • Cut The Fat
    There is a saying and studies that confirm that we will fill whatever time we are allotted with something. When push comes to shove and a project deadline looms, this is the time when the special stakeholders dig in and make things happen. Usually this means that some of the things that were originally part of the project will not be done. It may also mean that the traditional ways of making things happen need to be re-thought and re-architected. In our daily lives at some point, we will be forced to improvise and adapt. What we have in front of us will not work; and we need to think outside of the box. To brush aside the “business as usual” ways of thinking and doing and innovate beyond the norm to get things done more efficiently and by the deadline. And not that quality will be sacrificed as that’s not what I mean. Attaining the same level of quality, we instead found a way to accomplish the same things with less time, less code, less people and with the same or better level of quality in our deliverables. Remember this … that the walls in our life were not constructed to stop us but to separate those of us who would stop from those of us who will prevail in spite of the obstacles in our face.Instead of telling your customer “no”, find a way to cut the fat to get it done!
  • Innovate
    There is a time to follow policy and a time to think outside of the box when the deadline looms and progress wanes. The business lobbing tasks over the IT wall and vice versa does not a successful project make. Though humorous at times, it is great to be able to lob the alleged largest task over the wall to the other side. If we are truly working as a team, this attitude must not prevail.
  • Accept Responsibility
    Talk is cheap. It is so un-team-like to bring up ideas and assign to others when we should assume the assignment. Another one is where a task has been on the table or “in progress” for weeks and there is always another excuse why it can not be completed.

Summary

Customer Focus is a two-way street. It requires constant care and feeding from both the Business and the IS/IT sides of the fence. For a business to be successful, both sides must learn to work, play and have fun together. Notice the hard work comes first. The celebration commences when the work is complete. The work takes time, effort and people and often hours over and above the typical 9-5 daily schedule.

Hope you enjoyed … not go thrill your customers, neighbors, friends, co-workers, etc.

Kerry

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