I had a great chat with an experienced IT software development leader in IT this afternoon.  He was telling me of a business customer that he had once worked with.  His customer had the habit of coming to IT with not only the problem to be solved, but the entire solution already mapped out.  They didn’t want IT as a partner.  They didn’t want them as a vendor or even a contractor.  They wanted to use IT as a hired lackey.

He began sharing an expression with his business partners to get them to face the consequences of this kind of behavior.

If you come to me with a problem, you’ll get a solution.
If you come to me with a solution, you’ll get a problem.

I love that.  It’s true in so many ways. 

But it speaks volumes about a lack of trust between business and IT.  If our business customers believe that we are experts at what we do, they would want to ask our opinion.  So why do some folks still insist on solving the problem first, without IT in the room?

Perhaps they don’t believe we are experts? 

And if they don’t believe it, just how expert are we?  Doesn’t the core competency of “expertise” include the ability to communicate competence and reassure partners that problems will be solved, value delivered, and integrity maintained? 

So, the next time you find that a business partner comes to you with a solution… thank them.  They have shown you two things: that they have creative ideas, and that they don’t trust you.  Listen to their ideas.  Earn their trust.  (I’m not sure you can successfully do one without the other). 

Then, do what is right for the customer and the enterprise. 

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

3 thoughts on “If you don't trust your experts, how expert are they?”
  1. I’ve been a developer, analyst, project manager, and "owner" for software development projects.  I now work for a University grappling with their human workflow issues.

    When IT was presented with the problem of workflow, they came up with a group of systems that can discuss things like authentication, role, and organizational hierarchy through web services.  While that’s all well and good–and from a developer’s perspective pretty cool–it doesn’t come close to solving the problem.

    In reality, we (the non-IT groups) are moving forward with a project to implement SharePoint Server 2007–and getting no input from IT.  Hopefully, this will allow minor workflow issues to be solved by the business analysts and information workers themselves without involving the self-proclaimed "experts of all things technology".

    Just because someone has the title "IT uber-geek" doesn’t qualify them to solve anything and it doesnt’ mean that there aren’t co-workers outside of the IT inner circle that have technical skills (my SQL skills put most devs to shame).  

    Workflow is the specific domain of the business analyst.  While the BA isn’t going to code a new BPEL WF designer interface in JAVA, he’s also not going to be able to use a "developer’s solution" to common problems–which is what we got when we asked.

    I disagree with the premise of your article because it shows a myopic view of the relationship between project sponsors and IT.  But IT has made that bed in so many cases.  IT frequently makes statements like "I don’t care what the business case is, what are the specs?"

    When professional developers act like that, they deserve to be treated like a "hired lacky".

  2. I guess my premise could have been better stated.  My article is a criticism of IT, and aligns with your reply.  

    We can hardly earn the title of Expert if we don’t investigate solutions well.

    On the other hand, if IT really isn’t an expert in one area, that doesn’t mean that they are not experts in other areas.  

    For IT to be successful, we need to listen.  Good ideas come from everywhere.  Our business customers are not fools, and increasingly, as you point out, a great deal of technical ability exists in the business teams.

    I worked three years ago to create a workflow system that would enable the end customers to completely ignore IT and write up the workflows, much as you describe.  It was a quick win, and has since been replaced with Sharepoint 2007 which gives many of these capabilities out of the box.  

    The hardest thing to get through peoples heads, on that project, is that we are doing the right thing if we are out of the way.  If Business can solve the problem without us, they should be allowed and expected to.  That is better.  

    It’s a hard message for some folks in IT to learn.

    I encourage you to stay engaged with your IT team.  You can teach them what can and should be done with respect to workflow, but more importantly, consider it an error that IT didn’t come to YOU with Sharepoint, rather than the other way around.  Ask IT why they didn’t do that, and what they will CHANGE about their process so that the next time the business comes to IT with a request that is outside their core competence, they don’t make the same mistake, alienate a customer, and reduce their own effectiveness.

    Your partnership is the only way to improve IT.  They cannot do it without your insistence and help.

  3. In my company, business people shy away from us, the IT, not because we are incompetent, but because it takes our management forever to make a decision (it took them 2 years to choose between Java and .NET and for the last 4 months I’ve been trying to get them to buy a modern PM and SCM tools).  On their last quest to bypass the IT, our business folks decided to buy SalesForce, thinking that it will make them completely independent.  Now, we are paying a high toll, because all of a sudden they realized, that we still need a way to connect SalesForce to the core business data.  

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