How to Get IT and Product Teams to Truly Collaborate
Whether you are in the midst of a digital transformation, or an organization that has been operating using Agile principles for years, there is a fine line between healthy tension and potentially crippling dysfunction when it comes to different functional groups. While IT is often more internally focused, there are situations where their work directly supports the products and services that the business provides; so, a focus on a common goal for customers is paramount. In these cases, it is vital that IT and Product be on the same page and that they are collaborating to achieve a common goal. However, it is often the case that IT and Product have difficulty seeing eye-to-eye and working relationships can be strained. The lack of common vision can manifest in several different forms, including a lack of communication between members of both departments, unclear prioritization, no unified vision of future goals, and unclear expectations about what each of the groups can depend upon.
While this may be hard to identify, there are symptoms that you can be on the lookout for and solutions to accompany them.
Symptoms of the Problem
When asked, it can be easy for IT and Product leadership to assume that their teams must be working together fine because there isn’t any obvious disharmony between them. However, symptoms of problems might be hiding just out of plain view. These symptoms can include:
- Product team and IT team communication is only done at the leadership level. While this may not initially seem like a problem, when communication only happens on a between leadership, it will inevitably become slowed down. When only leadership is talking, the product owners and project managers have no connection to the cross-functional team members who are actually doing the work, miscommunications are more likely to occur and may not be caught until it has already been acted on. Ultimately, having all communication be done through leadership is a recipe for sub-par coordination, rather than true collaboration.
- IT is merely, “Taking Orders.” Not every IT request is equal, some produce more value and should be given higher priority than others. While this may initially seem obvious, it can be easy to simply pile request after request onto IT without any indication of which ones are more vital to the organization than others. When this happens, IT is put in a situation where they are unable to problem solve or bring additional value, considerations or solutions to improve the output for the business.
- There is no vision for where IT products are going. In order for IT to support Product teams, they need to be given a clear picture of the desired end-goal of those teams and how their requests specifically drive towards that goal. Often times, Product teams can assume that IT has this knowledge already, which leads to frustration when IT’s delivers solutions that are out of step with that grand plan.
- Your organization does not know what is coming with the latest release. IT implementing new features and regular updates to an organization’s systems helps maintain productivity and generate value. However, if it’s not clear what features and updates IT is planning to push, Product will not be able to plan for these updates and make the most of the increased functionality.
Thankfully, there are several practical ways to ensure IT and Product Teams and sharing and working towards common goals, including:
- Putting Product Owners on IT teams. The role of a Product Owner is to ensure that a team’s work is directly supporting the goals of a product’s stakeholders and directly generates tangible value. Placing Product Owners on IT teams ensures that the department is aligned with Product and are making progress towards their goals. Crucial to this is free and open communication between the Product Owner and all members their assigned IT teams, which ensures a better understanding of each team member’s responsibilities, as well as eliminating potential miscommunications before they occur.
- Creating a visible backlog. A backlog is a prioritized list of tasks, features, or “stories” to be implemented by a team. It is meant to be easily visible by everyone in an organization and can be modified or changed to better reflect which tasks need to be given priority. By replacing a system where IT simply, “takes orders,” with a backlog system managed by a Product Owner, IT will be better equipped to tackle requests that actually benefit Product, while Product will have a means to easily prioritize new and existing requests for IT’s benefit.
- Making sure IT architects and product managers plan for the future together. When Product teams plan to implement new features, knowing the needs and capabilities of IT is vital to their success. This can be done by including IT in all future planning sessions. This allows IT to explain what they are capable of doing and how long it will take. Such an approach fosters understanding of the role, capabilities, and needs of each department, and helps to set realistic expectations for the project, leading to less blame and more collaboration.
- Shift IT’s focus from requirements to acceptance criteria. While many in IT are used to operating based on ridged requirements to determine whether or not a request has been fulfilled, shifting to using less strictly defined acceptance criteria may be a more effective in achieving desired results. Requirements often over-prescribe the particulars of a solution and leave little freedom for individuals to innovate and create a higher-quality end product. By Acceptance criteria, by contrast, describe a few specific functions that the final result has to incorporate, granting a certain amount of liberty in how that functionality is achieved. If Product-related IT requests are framed with acceptance criteria in mind, IT will be empowered to use their expertise to craft the best solution possible, fostering trust between the two departments.
When IT and Product are disunified, both do a disservice to their company and can fall victim to blaming each other for a lack of understanding and cooperation. By contrast, when the two departments are unified, they are able to collaborate to achieve business goals and deliver tangible value to the customer. This sort of unity can be achieved in a number of ways, including, putting product owners on IT teams, creating a backlog for IT to reference when prioritizing requests, including both IT and Product while planning for the future, and empowering IT to develop the best possible solutions by assigning acceptance criteria rather than requirements.
To learn how EIT can help you develop this kind of interdepartmental communication, click here.