Evolving Process Excellence (Part 6): IT, Process, Business...are we all on the same team, or what?

The IT and business divide has been a perennial thorn in the side of companies since the birth of desktop computing. So can process excellence save the day?

When an IT project goes wrong there’s usually a lot of finger pointing that takes place afterwards. Members of the IT team point their fingers at the business users and complain that the business wasn’t clear about its requirements or kept changing its mind. Meanwhile, the business will point their fingers right back at the IT department and complain that IT doesn’t really "get it" or that they got too carried away with the technology and forgot about what was really important.

How can you get the two sides together?

In the grand scheme of things, though, it doesn’t really matter which side of this IT-business divide is at fault. Instead, the important question is how can you prevent problems from happening again?

It could be tempting for process professionals to see their role as helping to bridge that divide. Process professionals have the ability to clearly define business processes and understand what needs to happen in order to achieve a result – a skill that can help translate what the business really needs into blueprints that the IT department can interpret.

But is it really so easy?

In the sixth of a 7 part series looking at next generation process excellence, senior quality and business transformation professionals offer their suggestions on bridging the IT and business divide and what role process professionals should play in it.

The following transcript has been excerpted from a roundtable discussion recorded last year. For a full transcript of the debate, download this whitepaper: Quality and Continuous Improvement in an Age of Transformation.

The following transcript has been edited for readability.

Question: What are your thoughts on bridging the IT/business divide? Does Process Excellence sit in the middle?

Vince Pierce, Senior Vice President Global Business Transformation, Office Depot: Putting process excellence between IT and the business routes their relationship through an unnecessary stop so I’d prefer to think of it a working relationship between multiple parties. It’s not just one area of the business - it’s probably cross-functionally several areas of the business working with IT and working with the process excellence folks.

The thoughtful contemplation and design of how we work together – defining ways of working, ground rules, rules of engagement, etc. – cannot be underestimated. Ensuring proper governance cannot be underestimated.

Anyone that’s led a large-scale change, whether it’s transformational with a big T or a little t, knows the importance of governance. Without governance, it often leads to chaos. So, it’s important to think about the guiding principles that govern the relationship. How do we best work together? How do we make decisions? Who makes what decisions? If these questions are not answered, it sometimes gets tricky.

We use, for example, a rapid matrix, which is a form of RACI. It clearly defines the decision-maker. Who provides the counsel? The advice? The insight? Asks the questions? Ultimately, who makes the decision? This needs to be clearly understood before we get into the throes of decision-making. Then it’s about asking question like this: How do we get to a win/win? How do we make decisions? Who gets involved? When do people not get involved? If you think those questions through, the actual doing gets lubricated and it just, kind of, works.

I’ve found that when I haven’t invested the time to do that or I couldn’t influence people to see the value in it, we’ve struggled. So it’s a pay me now or pay me later proposition, in my opinion.

Estelle Clark, Business Assurance Director at Lloyd’s RegisterI do think that there’s a role for process folks to do some translation. As Vince said, obviously, you don’t want to slow things down and sit between anyone. I know that in the organization I’m part of, myself and my colleagues are quite often used as almost, if you like, as a sounding board; a sanity check about whether the IT guys gone too "gung ho" in terms of some of their thoughts.

I do expect though to be able to be adequately skilled, in terms of our understanding in IS, to be able to perform that role. The people I find that I employ tend to like to do that too.

Gregory North, Vice President Lean Six Sigma, Xerox: Companies often bring in consultants to help do this work of bridging the IT/business divide and there are corporations that are really good at that. I think one of the things that we have to do in the process excellence community is to learn from that and understand that there is a role to play to facilitate this conversation.

One of the things that we can do is understand that an expectation, to some extent, of IT and the business is that there will be a process framework, in which, we’re operating on a global basis or on a regional basis depending on how you might be set up as a corporation. One of the things we have to do as a community is make sure we fully understand our role in helping to create and continue to improve the process framework.