How well do you communicate? I don’t mean just how well can you talk to one of your other programming buddies about the latest new trick you just came across or you latest achievement in Worlds of Warcraft. I’m talking about how well you can talk with other people who are not technical. Are you shy? Do you feel awkward? Don’t worry. It seems to be a common thing among many programmers. While I’m not about to go into possible reasons why that may be so, (mainly because I don’t have a clue) I will talk here about some reasons why you need to work harder at communication and provide a few ways to help you do that.
In the book, “Does IT Matter” written by Nicholas Carr a few years ago, Nicholas makes the observations (somewhat paraphrased):
“As IT becomes more integrated into an organization, mitigating risk takes priority over innovation.”
“In mature IT organizations, reducing costs takes priority over making investments.”
Does that sound like your organization? Especially over the last few years, has your IT department been cut, staff reduced, and projects cut back or totally eliminated? Is spending time and money investigating new abilities and maybe even prototyping some of them a thing of the past? Is that the right direction? Does your organization management look at IT as just another cost center? Or have these changes just been a short-term fix that may risk longer term benefits that your competitors may take advantage of?
IT is no longer in the basement of your company. Rather it should be an equal partner with other business groups in leading your organization to take advantage of even bad times such as the past few years. Some might even venture the opinion that during bad times it is just as important for companies to consolidate around their core practices as it is for them to push their R&D groups and even their IT departments to gear up for the next ‘big’ thing which is sure to be just around the corner when the current recession ends.
How can IT help the organization prepare for that turn-around if they are just task focused and not people focused or business issue focused? How can IT help other departments take advantage of new technology that may give the organization an edge over their competitors when business picks up? Is IT just committed to their existing ideas or are they talking with other departments to discover new ways to help those departments save money with more effective use of existing or new technology. Can your IT staff even talk to managers in other departments to ‘sell’ new ways of doing things that may be more efficient without drowning the non-technical business managers in a sea of information technology technobabble?
In order for IT to show the value of its work, its software, and its solutions to other departments, it must develop leaders who can effectively communicate with other departments. One of the things I learned years ago from a fellow Visual FoxPro consultant was the key to being successful in any consulting engagement. That key was to listen carefully to the customer to uncover what their pain points were. Then develop a solution to remove or at least reduce those pain points. Never over sell the solution, but always perform above the user’s expectations. Keep the process simple. In fact, it must appear to be simpler than their current process or you will have a harder time to sell the benefits no matter how great they are.
So how do you do this? Get your people out from behind their desks and away from their cubes. Take them to meetings. Encourage them to talk with the customers about your services to find out what works and what does not work. Check back with prior clients to see how things are going and whether there is anything else you can do to help them. If your department has a periodic newsletter, encourage co-workers to write about their recent work for other customers and how it saved time, money or both. If you get a chance to make a presentation about a project to the rest of the company, take the opportunity to show how your department has helped another department’s bottom line. If you can write a article for a trade journal or speak at a conference (some topics may require prior company approval), do so. But no matter what communication channel you use, be aware of the level of technical details you use so you do not put your listeners to sleep or come across as an arrogant know-it-all. Use every user problem as an opportunity to ‘train’ that user a little more about your product or system.
The bottom line is that it is up to you to determine whether IT matters to the rest of the organization.