Effective Communications Between Business and Technology

Recently, I served on a panel at an IT conference. The topic of the panel discussion was Bridging the Communication Gap Between Business and Technology in the Workplace”. The panelists represented three distinct areas of the market. One panelist was VP of IT for a company in the construction industry. His IT staff is relatively small. The other panelist was SVP of Enterprise Data Services for a very large financial institution. She manages a large staff of 70+ people. Then there was me – the President of a “Boutique” Business Management Consulting firm, who works with clients of all sizes and in various industries. So as you see – the panel was very diverse, which allowed us to examine the issue from many points of view.

Of course, we covered the basics like business to technology collaboration in strategy & roadmap development, ensuring alignment and inclusion, and creating a comprehensive communication strategy. All of which the panel agreed are essential to “bridging the communication gap”.

Additionally, however, a lot of key points were made around the area of “seeking to understand”.  What does that entail? Seeking to understand is simply asking questions, actively listening and clarifying answers to ensure a mutual understanding. These basic actions are referred to as “Elicitation” or “Soft” skills, which are traditionally associated with Analysts, but when it comes to successful communication, we’re all Analysts!

Let’s break this down further using a simple non-IT example, like building a new single-family housing community. Building the single-family housing community is the high-level strategic objective. Applicable parties [inclusion], collaborate to round out the strategic vision. Then the plans are communicated to participants of the project.

Let’s say you’re the architect on the project, and you’re working with a potential buyer of one of the homes to be built. Your objective is to “seek to understand” the potential buyers needs and desires for their new home. Through “elicitation”, you’ll ask the buyer a series of questions to help determine the type of house you’re architecting.

The first set of questions might include:

  • What style of home – Craftsman, Ranch, Bungalow, etc.?
  • Single- or multi-level?
  • How many bedrooms? Bathrooms?
  • Open floor plan?
  • Desired square footage?
  • Basement, crawl-space or slab?
  • Etc.

After a few interviews, you, the architect should have elicited enough information to draw-up an initial plan, which is presented back to the potential buyer to ensure mutual understanding of the buyers needs and desires for their new home.  “Elicitation” is an iterative process that takes place at each phase of the project to continuously maintain a mutual understanding.

The concept is the same regardless of industry, and there are many “elicitation” techniques. We “seek to understand” to define the project scope, understand the genesis of a new request, or peel back the layers to determine the root cause of an issue. We then review our findings, our understanding, with the requestor (client/stakeholder/business partner) to ensure we’re aligned and in agreement on the success criteria.

For some, “elicitation” skills come naturally, and others find it outside their comfort zone. For those of us that fall in the latter category, you’ll be thrilled to know that these skills can be learned! This whole notion of “seeking to understand” using “elicitation” or “soft” skills is such a critical component in bridging the communication gap between business and IT, that companies like Bridging the Gap have developed an entire curriculum designed to teach us to find ways around obstacles that deal with political agendas, communication, collaboration and attitudes.

Whether you’re in IT or the Business, and regardless of your role, an Analyst, Architect, Product Owner or Developer, you too are responsible for building a relationship of trust with your colleagues, on both sides of the isle, and ensuring the message being communicated is mutually understood.

Seeking to Understand. iSeek is adept at using “Elicitation”, “Soft” skills and various other approaches to facilitate customer-focused solutions and bridging the communication gap between business and technology. To find out more about our tools and techniques, subscribe to our blog and stay tuned for future insights, or call or e-mail us today!