I’ve been thinking about Business Value recently.
We can all go through our IT lives (in big non-IT
companies) and get lost in the sea of people, levels of management and bureaucracy that leads to our
contribution feeling a little insignificant. A characteristic of this is that as long as we do
‘enough’, we’re consistently insulated from the people with the money and the ‘actual’ business drivers
for the projects we work on. This ultimately leads to a lot of people thinking they’re great
programmers and great providers of business value (as projects come in roughly on time – sometimes,
and we all move on).
Unfortunately, the case is often that great programmers don’t have ‘great’ support in terms of
interpreting the original business need. The levels of management and people can easily blur the
picture and lead to incorrect requirements.
We’ve all had the frustrations of companies that persist in ‘throwing money out of the window’, and we
all think we should be taken more seriously. Are we kidding ourselves a little however, in that we
think we can handle anything, but when faced with a senior manager who needs a rapid result for a focused business idea – we’re completely lost?
I think there are two main groups of people to look at here (I don’t normally like to use the us and
them thing but…)
Them (The guys with the money)
Apart from being the single most adaptable role in IT (which is a generally underrated thing) we’re
normally more focused on the technical solution rather than the business requirement. We have to be
coaxed into thinking the other way, and then we consider it an obstacle to compromise our perfect
solution! We usually forecast that our solution will also positively affect the bottom line in a big
way as we have to ‘quantify the benefits’ in order to get the project approved! If we really
understood the business goal in the first place we might ‘actually’ be able to do that.
The guys with the money often don’t want bells and whistles. If they end up with great software that
everyone loves it’s a complete bonus. What they actually want is something to ‘do the job’, whatever
that may be. We’re turned on by IT, because it’s more than just a job to us. Not everyone is however! If it’s not fantastic but it’s not costing the company money then it’s usually OK.
Expect to be supporting it until it breaks in a big way!
If you actually have these people around then they’re potentially the
most important people to ensure that the business and technical needs of a project are balanced
correctly. In my experience however, this is a role that few people succeed in, as they naturally lean
more one way than the other, and the programmer ends up doing the job (badly) anyway.
So where does that leave us?
We (as programmers) then take up the challenge to run with requirements
gathering etc and focus entirely too much on the technical (because that’s what we do!). We can then
easily lose sight of the business value.
This raises another 2 questions :
Is it up to ‘us’ to raise our game and be more considerate of business value? OR
Is it up to ‘them’ to learn a little more about how IT works and meet us half-way?
I think IT’s been around long enough now for everyone involved to be considerate of their role and how
it either affects or requires their organisation’s technology. I know this isn’t the universal reality but one has to be optimistic!
In order to be a truly ‘useful’ programmer (in a business environment), I think you’ve got take it on the
chin and make a concerted effort to understand the high level business goals before jumping into the
technical detail – or go and get another job where you can get lost in a sea of people and red tape and not have to worry about it