People ask about the differences between ‘the business’ and ‘IT’ and what people can do to eliminate them. It is a great question and unfortunately a persistent one. Usually when you have an issue that people recognize and work to resolve but cannot, there are deeper issues involved. I think that this is a big part of the situation here.
When I was asked this question at an IT leadership team meeting, I found myself talking about the difference between being playing for food and playing for fun. This is a description I learned in college to explain the different level of intensity you see in college sports versus professional sports. I was a pretty good football (grid iron) player in college and there was some discussion of an opportunity to turn pro, very slight I might add. One of the reasons was a conversation I had with someone in the NFL, which went something like this:
“You like to play football?” he asked.
“Yes I do, I love the sport.” I replied (yes it sounds like a bad movie)
“That’s your problem, you’re playing for fun. You play because you like it, but you know that if it does not work out you have something else to do, there is something else.”
“Yeah so” I said, remember this was college and diction was not my strong point.
“Well as a professional you play for food. Playing for food is a whole lot different, there is nothing else, but football. You literally eat or starve based on what you can do on the field. There is nothing to go back to so failure – real failure is not just an option it’s a reality.”
The point was that things are different when your livelihood is on the line (playing for food) rather than just your assignment or product (fun). So the stakes are different, the level of competition is different, the intensity is different.
That conversation I had more than 20 years ago ran through my head as I was being asked the question about business and IT relationships.
IT largely plays for fun. Fun in terms of the project is challenging, but the stakes of any one project do not equal the stakes of your job.
The business is playing for food.
Now yes I know its our jobs on the line and that we are professionals too, but consider what happens if a project does not work out, misses its deadlines, delivers a little less than its business case. IT professionals get a black mark, but by in large they get to keep their job.
The business, well if they miss it is likely that they will lose their job, just look at the turnover in the ‘food’ end of your company – sales, marketing, product development – and you can see that there is a real cost for failure.
So ask yourself this question when working with the business and they seem more earnest, urgent, or at the other extreme skeptical and non-committal. The reason they may be behaving that way has nothing to do with you or their attitude toward IT.
These attitudes could be an insulation mechanism, a way to isolate the project in the hopes that it can be managed and not come into the ‘food’ equation. For the simple reason that if it fails, they fail and lose their eating privileges, whereas IT chalks it up to experience and moves onto the next project.
The difference in what you play for may make all the difference in the relationship between the ‘business’ and ‘IT.”
Are you hungry, or just wanting to have some fun.