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Don MacVittie

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The Key to IT Success Is Simple. Listen More

Ever try to explain something to a three year old that they don’t want to hear? It’s a chore

Ever try to explain something to a three year old that they don’t want to hear? It’s a chore. They change the subject, try to ignore you, turn away, and as a last defense, start asking “why?” a lot.

It is amusing that IT often suffers the same issues. Really. We’re adults, but at the root of the problem, they’re basically the same. When a customer says “We need fluff!” IT often responds with “We don’t support fluff, try some cotton balls instead”.

The other situation that I find massive parallels in is the guy that simply knows everything. When you try to talk to him, he’s so excited to get his point across that he’ll talk over you, rambling on about the topic – or more often a tangent of the topic – and never hear you.

image IT does that too. A lot.

Funny thing is that we’ve made several attempts to resolve these issues but have largely – even today  - failed. The rest of the world figures this stuff out. The aerodynamics specialist talks about the plusses and minuses of changing the engine design, but then works with whatever the decision is. Much of IT does the same. I’ve been on projects where the answer was “we must have product X because no one else does this one thing we need”, so we worked it out. But all to often that’s not how it works. We’ve created “Business Analyst” positions to put IT mindset closer to business users, we’ve implemented “UI Design” groups, “cross functional teams”, and still persist with “dotted line relationships” (though we mask that by calling them ‘virtual teams’), and yet, far too often we are still doing the same thing.

Now granted, IT is in a tough situation. There is a belief amongst business users that it’s easy. It is part of our job to make it look easy, but to educate when it isn’t. And that’s the key. Users don’t want to know the gory bits-n-bytes details, but they do want to have a vague idea of what takes so long, or why their choice for a streaming media server is not optimal in your existing environment.

All too often, understanding the why of user demands will give IT more tools to deal with the request. Talking about why the organization has standardized on Gil’s Gut Ripper for copying DVDs is not useful to the person for whom Gil’s Gut Ripper won’t work for some reason. But understanding their issues might illuminate why it doesn’t work, or spur ideas for how to get their information copied without supporting everything under the sun.

And it’s Christmas time in The Age Of The Tablet. I got my Android tablet from Lori a month or so ago, many more employees will be getting them. And they’re going to want to try them out at work. Some of them are at least. You need a plan for that, and to understand why. What do they hope to gain from the tablet that your thousands or millions of dollars of network and computer gear isn’t giving them? That’s the key to understanding how to serve them. If mobility is the issue, then the question might just be “what is VDI”. If non-work activity at work is the desire, then “It’s still our network, and you’re still on the clock” might be the answer, depending upon your org.

But, as I and many others have said over the years, the business doesn’t generally want an application, they want to be able to do something. That something pushes them at an application or hardware. Figuring out what they’re trying to do, and why the existing environment doesn’t do it is key to being successful.

Yes, some customers will act like the three year old or the know-it-all, but that doesn’t invalidate the needs of the rest of the company, and it’s certainly no excuse for IT staff to act that way.

Roll into the New Year with a commitment to listen. Indeed, a commitment to obey the proverb “Listen twice as much as you speak.” and solve business problems without acrimony. Or at least with as little as your organization can manage, some are far better at that than others.

And of course, invest in infrastructure that enables adaptability. That’s key too – the more you can do with your existing environment, the less often you’ll have to say no. It won’t solve every problem because you can’t have infinite adaptability and still do real work, but it will ease the pain a lot if your systems, apps, and network can adapt to the needs of the business readily.

This blog brought to you by the letter C and the number 12. :-)

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Don MacVittie is founder of Ingrained Technology, A technical advocacy and software development consultancy. He has experience in application development, architecture, infrastructure, technical writing,DevOps, and IT management. MacVittie holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Northern Michigan University, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.