Clear, timely communication, collaboration and planning between your IT department and non-IT management are critical not just to the ongoing success of your business but day-to-day company operations. Miscommunication can lead to disruptions of the day-to-day workflow or, worse, disaster for large-scale projects.
Sometimes employees and IT staff don't know how to properly articulate to each other their needs, the scope of the issues, etc. Jargon may go over management's heads who just want a technical issue to be solved.
"The biggest challenge in business and IT communications is that the two … are fundamentally different and do not have a common language between them," said Alan Zucker, founding principal of Project Management Essentials. "When you look at behavior profiles, IT people tend to be more detailed and process-focused than their business counterparts. They also tend to be more introverted. Consequently, they prefer communicating through email, status reports, ticketing systems, etc. Business people tend to be more extroverted and outcome-focused."
Miscommunications can stem from a lack of understanding of what the IT department's duties are, which is more than just answering help tickets. It can irk employees asking for help when IT is too busy on their own projects, said Nancy Van Elsacker Louisnord, president of service management company TOPdesk. Another common problem – and source of frustration – is that non-IT employees don't know what services are offered by IT.
IT may lack the information they need to understand an issue, and rather than ask for more information, they may offer a short-term, Band-Aid solution, Louisnord said. Yet another stumbling block is when big projects get stalled by technical issues due to a lack of IT's involvement in the beginning phases of the project.
How to improve communication?
The first step to improved communication and relations is more face-to-face meetings. It's not uncommon that many employees haven't met their IT experts in person and only know them by their instant messaging avatar.
"Over 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. So much context and information is lost when we communicate by electronic means. Well-structured meetings mean that we have agendas that we actually follow," Zucker said. "Too many times IT and business develop adversarial relationships and all encounters become a contest about who is responsible for any shortcoming. Both [sides] need to remember that they are there to support the enterprise's mission. Through cooperation and collaboration, they can be successful."
Including IT in planning meetings also prevents technical issues down the road, as IT can provide new insights from their perspective that others would not be able to offer. Excluding IT from essential planning meetings can further drive a wedge between teams. Distrust due to miscommunication will only lead to more workplace turmoil.
To change the perception that IT is only around to respond to support tickets, Louisnord suggests publishing regular status reports or newsletters from the IT department, detailing what's on their plate and what their workload is like. A service catalog could also be helpful in letting management and employees know exactly what problems they can come to IT with.
"IT does not always understand the reasons behind the questions that come in via the help desk, and that can give [rise to] cluttered communication," Louisnord said. "The key is to provide enough information but also for IT to ask for enough information to understand the reasons behind a request. In many organizations, I see that big projects get started, then after a few months they get IT involved and there are suddenly many hurdles."
Speak the lingo
"It's important to educate [non-IT] managers about the way IT folks communicate. Be sure your managers know that you swim in an alphabet soup of acronyms every day," stated William Horne, owner of William Warren Consulting.
A few examples of different phrases used by coder-heavy IT departments include the following:
- Regression testing, sometimes called REGR, is the testing of new code to make sure it doesn't negatively affect old functionality.
- Due date is what coders often work by, rather than a release date, which is their deadline for when their code is due for testing. The due date isn't the final deadline date of the project.
- Functions are what programmers often call their blocks of code, which aren't necessarily their entire project. When the IT department says a function is done, it doesn't mean the whole project is done.
These terms may be confusing to noncoders and non-IT folk, but often the simplest solution is the most obvious: Ask what they mean. Similarly, IT departments can improve communication by endorsing or even conducting some basic IT education for the entire office. Learning from each other goes a long way toward reaching the business's goals.
The more IT and management understand each other's roles, the better they can adopt a common language and platform for education – not to mention that your organization can improve efficiency and better achieve its goals because both departments are unified. Keeping the two worlds separate, though, only leads to more confusion and a breakdown of workflow.