Business & IT Alignment Masterclass (UK)

Published on Friday 14 February 2014 by in News with no comments


Business & IT alignment consistently scores as a top CIO issue. Business managers are becoming increasingly frustrated at this lack of  ‘alignment‘. IT managers are struggling to bridge the gap.  Many experts talk about Business & IT integration or Fusion. Whatever you want to call it we have been underperforming for years with this topic. Why do we fail consistently? What are some critrical success factors for realizing a more aligned Business & IT capability?

Openlimits organized a one day Masterclass to explore these issues and to try and identify some pragmatic take-aways. 15 experienced IT leaders got together and took part in a highly topical GamingWorks business simulation called Grab@Pizza.  They took the roles of ‘The Business’ and IT, completed a 6 month programme of intense business and Technological change in one day, then analysed the experience.  Here are the 15 ‘take-away’ ideas that were generated!

Critical Success Factors for successful Business/IT Alignment?

1.     VERY robust lines of communication – not just lip service and ASSUMPTIONS.  Know EXACTLY what ALL your lines of communication are, monitor constantly for weak links or breaks in the chain, and take the necessary time to continually reinforce those links.

2.     Make sure the Business Strategy and Service Level Agreements aren’t just bits of paper emailed around FYI, but are actually shared with everyone and everyone understands the part they play, however small.  Then everyone feels they are making a useful contribution, feel listened to and take more pride in their own work.  If they think of themselves as just a small unimportant cog in the machine, in the corner, motivation and performance suffers.

3.     This level of understanding of Strategy and SLAs also enables everyone in the WHOLE end-to-end process, including Service Support to understand the customers’ strategic priorities.  Service Support are usually left out of the loop yet they are the people with the hard evidence of the impact of all IT’s initiatives.

4.    Problem Management is the most undervalued and underutilised Service Management role. It is the role best placed to manage and mitigate Risks for example; the organisation’s early warning system. Spot trends and underlying problems proactively, before the business does!    This role needs to be included in Change Advisory Board meetings and share information/impact about decisions on ‘quick and dirty’ or ‘thorough’ fixes.

5.    All the Service Delivery team needs to be primed to spot the useful information in amongst all the activity on the front line. They need to fully appreciate the value of accurately captured, timely data: attitudes and behaviour and culture in IT relating to documentation need to be influenced through knowledge sharing and reward.  Show how the business uses the data to forecast and manage the change calendar, focusing on priorities to manage the workload. That will speak volumes! Ensure that IT metrics are related to business impact in terms of Value, Outcomes, Costs, Risks.

6.    The Business/IT interface is at every level of the business, not just at senior management level.  Everyone needs to be able to speak the language of VOCR, Value Outcomes, Costs and Risks.  (This is the ITIL definition of Service Management).  Try asking your people whether they know this definition!) Rather than just ‘it’s a server gone down’, exactly how will it affect the different people/roles and the work they do, and the impact of them not being able to do that work on the business (and on IT’s reputation).

7.    Change Management:  make sure all the right people from the business and from all IT functions can answer these questions:

  • Does the Change Calendar line up with the business priorities? Have we taken on the right changes?
  • How do we know?
  • Did we just take on the change that we understood the best?
  • Or the change from the person who shouted the loudest?
  • Are we evaluating each change for Importance/Urgency/Impact/VOCR?
  • And make a good business case?
  • Does everyone understand how to do this?  

8.    How can we help the business engage with IT?  Like marriage guidance, both parties need to be willing to talk, see possible benefits from talking, and both need to try to see things from each other’s perspective.  Someone needs to start that process. IT might as well have a go at opening up the conversation.

Complicated graphs, flow charts, overloaded slides, technical details and dull, long presentations won’t cut it.   Communicate only what they actually need to know to make the decisions they are required to make, and keep it short, punchy and relevant. (VOCR). This isn’t achieved in one hit but over time.  Try small pilots, inviting IT to visit the business and vice versa. Start demonstrating the impact of improvements in business terms.

9.   The Service Level Management role needs to face two ways: understanding the business impact (VOCR) of the changes proposed AND have a dialogue (not just 1-way communication) with operations to understand the impacts, processes, pressures.  An ambassador and key link in the IT/Business alignment communication loop.

10.  Change Advisory Board (CAB) meetings.  Were most successful when:

  • You had the decision makers and the subject matter experts that you needed in the room
  • Your presentations were well prepared and well delivered
  • You had good visuals – a clear SPM (Service Portfolio Management) chart to talk through
  • Everyone understood why they were there, listened and spoke the same language (VOCR)
  • Everyone kept calm, in spite of the pressure, and focused on making informed decisions
  • You saw each idea through, debating it properly, not piling one idea on top of another
  • You paid attention to the ‘hard’ processes and the ‘soft’ processes (around leadership, communication, cross team collaboration…)

11.    Financial management – the role works best when the financial specialists

  •  seek to understand what is behind the numbers
  • get to know the teams and their activities
  • act as a supportive specialist advisor
  • share knowledge of how to gather the financial data and how to use it for real benefits

12.    If local teams can learn to think about their own activities in financial terms (VOCR), this contributes better quality information to the central decision making functions.

13.    Aim for REAL reporting and real analysis of trends, to combat information-for-the-sake-of-it overload.  Actionable data only!  Metrics that are aligned to real world business value, not just reporting for no purpose.  Try switching off some of your reports and see who peeps!

14.    Risk management.  Don’t assume that just because you’ve done a good risk assessment and have risk management in place, risks won’t happen!  The more complex systems become, the more fragile they can be and there are always unknown unknowns.  Think about creating risk owners but make sure everyone also appreciates their role in risk spotting, mitigation and management.

15.     Replacing do-do-do-do with plan-do-check-act is a cultural challenge.  How to do it?  Managers have to take the lead and bring in a ‘soft process’ that changes people’s attitudes and behaviour.  Sell the benefits, and highlight the results you get – the proof that it works.

How did the delegates experience the value of the workshop?

Global service improvement manager, Multinational concern

The day and game simulation have provided me with practical and tangible outcomes such as the ones highlighted above; it gave me the opportunity to learn from everyone’s good decisions and mistakes; it has clarified some of the consequences of poor service management against excellent service management practices. Also it helped me to have more empathy to the service desk ways of working with the importance of Service Level Management and Problem Management within the IT best practices framework“.


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