Who tells who what to do? Project Mangement Work Puzzle.

April 19, 2010
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“We have to set the standard, and they have to live by that.”

This was the terse email response I received from the project lead. I had asked a few questions about how we were going to design a new system which would increase the efficiency of internal work, as well as affect how, when, and how much people got paid for selling the product.  The “We” was the IT department.  “They” were collectively both the people who would execute the processes we were designing and the customer they served, the sales department.  In 14 years, I had never heard these words connected in this way.

It explained a lot. When I had been conducting interviews to gather requirements, from the desperate, overworked workforce so eager to give them, I had determined I needed to have a conversation with the sales people. When I approached the IT manager to ask about facilitating this conversation, he said “they’ll tear you apart.” Images of Hellraiser. I couldn’t communicate with the major stakeholder. And why? Who knows exactly, but evidently a “departmentally” damaged relationship, likely due to a perception, a paradigm, wherein IT people take a dictatorial approach to designing software

“We have to set the standard, and they have to live by that.”

This was the terse email response I received from the project lead. I had asked a few questions about how we were going to design a new system which would increase the efficiency of internal work, as well as affect how, when, and how much people got paid for selling the product.  The “We” was the IT department.  “They” were collectively both the people who would execute the processes we were designing and the customer they served, the sales department.  In 14 years, I had never heard these words connected in this way.

It explained a lot. When I had been conducting interviews to gather requirements, from the desperate, overworked workforce so eager to give them, I had determined I needed to have a conversation with the sales people. When I approached the IT manager to ask about facilitating this conversation, he said “they’ll tear you apart.” Images of Hellraiser. I couldn’t communicate with the major stakeholder. And why? Who knows exactly, but evidently a “departmentally” damaged relationship, likely due to a perception, a paradigm, wherein IT people take a dictatorial approach to designing software. “We’ll tell you how you need to do something.”

So here’s the news. Salespeople, who deal with the customer directly, will always know best when it comes to how a process needs to work. From point-of-sale to product delivery, it has to come as close as possible to the square peg sliding smoothly into a square hole custom design for that peg. Like puzzle pieces, when something fits, it is undeniable, even though we may have questioned the fit before comparing the content of the pieces themselves.  But unlike a puzzle, the sales piece comes first.  The IT piece that best fits with it does more than align its grooves and slots.  The content of that IT piece not only begins to complete a picture, but enhances it and affects it’s impact upon the eventual customer who looks upon and consumes the completed picture.

Sadly, the friction in this instance represents an attitude, a perception or paradigm.  These are tough obstacles, especially if those who hold these views are particularly high on themselves (a.k.a., insecure).  These are people who believe that IT pushback on management and sales requests is a requirement.  The relationship, they think, is just not right or healthy if we don’t say “no” a few times.  Guess what?  They don’t even have the right to hold this belief.  They don’t even know what “heuristic problem solving” is.

Here’s how the conversation should sound, in a nutshell:

  1. Sales person calls IT manager guy: “We need to be able to turn peanut butter into jelly. Can you do this?” asks sales person guy.
  2. “Yes,” responds IT manager guy Notice the answer is “yes” and it’s immediate, without qualification, whining or long sighs.
  3. “How much will it cost?” asks sales person guy. A perfectly natural question.

Here’s the step where the nature of the puzzle pieces fitting together is visible.

“We can do it WAY X, which will require 300 man hours and new hardware. We can do it WAY Y which will take less time, but there’s a higher cost. Then there’s WAY Z….”

The responsibility to choose how much the endeavor will cost, and how something will be done, is entirely on the originator of the request, and the person closest to the customer. The responsibility on IT is to be aware and provide an array of options, perhaps with a dash of organizationally-minded awareness (how the provided options play into what has already been established within the organization). Notice, however, this is a cooperative, collaborative interaction.  Nobody’s telling someone how to do something, or rules they have to live by, and most importantly, nobody is saying “no.”  Of course, upon making a choice, there are ‘then’ rules to live by in order to effectuate the choice.  But the chooser has the information to make that decision.

If your organization doesn’t operate like this, the pieces aren’t fitting together, and you or your IT people are saying “No” a lot, you had best get out of your backward thinking.  Otherwise, the people hearing the “No” might just respond the same way when you ask them if they need you to come into the office tomorrow.  They’ll find the piece that fits.  Will you be part of it?

If you like backwards things, read this.