Editor: Negest, you have been working with a client to address a large customer relationship initiative designed to improve customer ease and satisfaction to access the services of your client. Recently, you experienced a challenge that I believe many organizations face as they deal with solutions to fix problems. Specifically, you faced the challenge to elicit and document business requirements that met the needs of both the business and IT portions of the client organization. What are two key ‘lessons learned’ from this recent experience?

Negest: The first lesson is to understand the role of language and how people often use the same terminology to mean different things. This is especially true of information technology departments and their line of business colleagues; technical jargon conveys one thing to IT leaders, but something entirely different to business managers. It’s important to recognize these differences early on in the process. Establishing a project taxonomy for these terms can be of critical importance.

The second lesson is recognizing the viewpoints of stakeholder groups. The challenge many of us have is helping those outside of the IT realm understand what is meant by requirements and identifying the direct link between requirements and project success. I have found that aligning the mission of the organization – which will ultimately benefit from the project you are leading – can help stakeholders become more engaged in requirements gathering.

Editor: It is critical for the business and IT portions of an organization to effectively collaborate, if they are going to deliver the complex solutions in today’s marketplace. What has been your experience with how well this collaboration is working?

Negest: Unfortunately, in my experience some tension remains between business and IT. However, leaders are beginning to recognize that collaboration between the two is imperative whether the goal is to conform to Congressional mandates or increase industry market share. Organizations are using varied pathways to bridge this gap. Some are creating unique PMO structures comprised of business and IT units that work collaboratively to deliver new capabilities via IT products. I am increasingly optimistic about these developments, and believe that more corporate leaders will view business units and IT as companion providers of internal and external services.

Editor: So, there is still room for improvement in many organizations in terms of this relationship. What ‘lessons learned’ can you share with our readers on how to facilitate an effective collaborative relationship?

Negest: Collaboration does not automatically occur simply because a ‘managerial edict’ has been decreed. It takes time and effort to reach a point where separate segments of an organization can behave in a seamless manner. It is important to set policies and procedures that clearly outline roles and responsibilities. The purpose of contributors must be well communicated throughout the organization before the real work can begin. Communicating goals and performance can also boost morale and further unify project teams.

Editor: Negest, thank you for your insights. Do you have any additional comments regarding working with the business and IT functions to drive new solutions?

Negest: Documented business processes help IT devise solutions and determine the best fit. This can eliminate situations where IT development is driven by the lure of sophisticated tools as opposed to IT development being driven by business need, market share, and business process support. However, I have found that many organizations either don’t have their processes documented or their documentation is incomplete. Our Company’s experience shows that including business process documentation as a part of the requirements elicitation phase is an ideal opportunity to ensure this documentation is current and relevant.

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Negest Rucker was a Manager with Advanta Healthcare Partners from December 2011 until May 2014.  She holds a B.A. in Economics and Finance, a M.A. in Public Administration, and an M.S. in Information Technology and Software Engineering.