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Aligning Business and IT

Have you ever heard that IT needs to be better aligned with the business? There's many ways to interpret that statement. If IT is misaligned, someone might say that "We should not be implementing technology for the sake of implementing it." Meaning that the IT department is misaligned because they just want to turn on systems that they think are cool. Martin Davis, VP of IT for J D Irving Ltd talks about this in his blog post here. Though I agree that we should have IT projects because someone in IT thinks the technology is cool, I also do not think we should have projects because someone in the business thinks the technology is cool. If someone from the business is wowed by a new IT product that does not really solve any problems, should IT just implement it because the business said so? Does that result in an aligned business and IT? No.

On the topic of alignment of the business and IT, the leadership at GE appliances gets it. They recently had a large ERP implementation project that involved completely redesigning the relationship with IT. In the Tech Republic article "GE's $200 million bet to resurrect IT"  GE Appliances CIO Alan Kocsi said  “I sat down with the CEO and the CFO and they told me that the thing that they loved about the IT department here is that it did everything that they asked. The thing that they hated was the IT department did everything they were asked. They were looking to us to provide guidance as opposed to just following orders; to take a swing and do something different.” Talking about IT alignment is great and ideally every company would have a mature leadership that can have a conversation like the one that Alan Kocsi had. However, it is not always so easy and changing the corporate attitude toward IT can take a long time. So what can we do on the project level to change our culture and processes so that project teams can align and find innovative ways to solve business problems?

How Improv Comedy Can Help

Improv comedy has become a major tool used by to help drive innovation in a company that has decided to rethink it's business. Lisa Kavanaugh, chief product and technology officer, says that through improv comedy employees learn both courage and creativity through onstage antics, which translate into new product development and growth. They were looking for new ways to solve problems and decided to experiment with improv to encourage innovation.You can watch an interview with Lisa here. In order to align IT and the business at a project level, we need a project team that collaborates together to come up with innovative solutions to solve business problems. The earlier in the project that this occurs the better. The idea is to come up with solutions and change the focus to how to implement that solution instead of focusing on what could stop it.

IT projects are about solving real problems using technology. Even off the shelf solutions require innovative thinking when redesigning business processes to work with the new product. In order to get the best results IT and Business project team members need to work together and collaborate to find the best solution. In improv, there are no bad ideas and you build on ideas instead of trying to find out why a certain idea would not work. The goal is to break down the walls between team members and create an environment where it is safe to bring up new ideas. This can be a tool to focus teams on solving the business problem instead of being too focused on the technology or too focused on not changing existing processes and as a result IT and the business will be aligned in the project and eventually all projects and decisions will be aligned.

Please, leave a comment if you have any good or bad experiences around IT and business alignment or using Improv to align project teams.

Photo by EightK @ Flickr