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Introduction

Every year in the United States more than US$60 billion are lost due to unsuccessful IT projects. According to studies from the Standish Group [1], 66% of all IT projects in the US either fail completely, are late and/or over budget. Only 34% of IT projects succeed. And this only means that from an IT point of view the software was finished, tested and handed over to the business users.

There are many reasons for failed software projects, but one of the most important seems to be the communication gap between IT and business. Technology professionals («geeks» [2]) on the one side and business professionals («suits» [2]) on the other side do not only have a different vocabulary, but also different attitudes, view points, goals and even dress differently. What they do have in common is that they do not communicate well with the other group and they do not respect and trust each other.

This blog-series tries to work out the differences between those groups, explains the common misunderstandings and demonstrates how the Business Process Expert fits in and can help to make IT projects more successful in your company.

Roles

The strengths that any successful organization needs can be reduced to two factors:

  1. Resolving problems
  2. Influencing people

When there is a problem, like designing a more fuel efficient car, a real-time online investment service, or the goal to send the first man or woman to Mars, we need people with the skills to resolve problems.
When it comes to convincing people to change driving attitudes, tell them the advantages of real-time investment, or why we need to send a person to Mars, we need people who can influence others.
As can be easily seen from this example, both types of people need to work together. The one is nothing without the other.

Alas, in many organizations those two groups do not work together as supposed to, do not communicate well and in the worst case even sabotage each other. And all this, while both have the best for their organization in mind.

In order to understand how it comes to this situation, we will take a closer look at technology and business professionals, what drives them, what they expect and what they common misperceptions are.

Disclaimer: the following collection of course is subjective and shall not make one of the groups look worse or better than the other. Both groups are equally important for the success of an organization and the next chapters shall serve as introduction to the reasons of why we need BPX, and what their tasks are and what skills they need to have.

Technology professional

Technology professionals – also referred to as «geeks» [2] or «engineers» – are people who administrate, maintain and build the IT infrastructure of an organization. In order to understand geeks, we need to understand how they think, how they see themselves, and what they fear or dislike. Only this way we can learn of what drives and motivates them.

How they see themselves

The following list is a try to summarize the most common factors of the view on themselves:

  1. Substance over style (buzz word bingo)
  2. Drive innovation (geeks=technology=evolution)
  3. Play with technologies in order to stay at the top
  4. High loyalty to other geeks
  5. See themselves as artists (programming is a creative process)
  6. Technology is fun

Let’s dive into more details of what those bullet points mean.

Ad 1) The language and style used by technology professionals is, like with scientists or lawyers, often very precise and frank. Engineers in most cases try to communicate openly among themselves and with non-technical people. They do not see a problem of discussing issues with technical and non-technical people outside their organization (that means for example even with a customer).

However, their open and frank style and the very technical and for non-experts tiring and intimidating language is often rejected and not understand by business professionals.

On the other hand technology professionals dislike a lot of what they refer to as “buzzword bingo” from business people. The use of – in their opinion – hollow words, phrases and motivational language makes technology professionals frown, as they do not see added value or substance in it. For them it’s a “buzz” that comes and goes.

Ad 2) In order to keep their expertise updated, technology professionals closely follow newest technologies. They know that they permanently have to train themselves, as their skills (like e.g. programming languages and standards) quickly outdate or expand. To stay competitive in the job market they must learn and experiment with new technologies.

This also means that technology experts often try to introduce and use the newest technologies. Therefore they see themselves as the driving force behind changes and innovation. This point brings us straight to the next item.

Ad 3) “Playing” with technologies, that means using it without having a specific task or project in mind, is an inherent part of being a geek. While a business professional would use a new technology only, if he or she is certain to simplify their “real” tasks and improve their work, geeks must experiment and play without knowing, if they or their organization will profit from this time.
Only this way engineers can get a feeling of what a technology is capable of doing and where its limitations are, in order to make the proper technology decisions in future projects.
In addition the last decade showed that companies viewed IT as an outsource-able commodity with devastating effects to the moral, loyalty and perceived job security of their technology professionals. That made it even more important for geeks to stay up to date with the latest technologies, to stay competitive on the job market.

Ad 4) Technology professionals demonstrate a high camaraderie and loyalty to other geeks inside and outside their organization. They extremely highly value the knowledge and expertise of people in their areas. To show their loyalty they are ready to do more than the average professional would be willing to do. Peer recognition is probably the most important aspect of all this, not so much the financial remuneration. The whole concept of open source and its obvious success is based on those facts.

That’s why a dismissal or (perceived) repudiation of one member of this “club” can cause negative effects in the relation with all members involved.

Ad 5) Programming is not just about writing code, it’s a creative process with many ups and downs. Like a painter often working over and over again on the same place, a writer rewriting whole chapters and nagging on single words, an engineer trying to solve a problem has to do many steps backwards in order to make one forward. Though there might be many solutions for one problem, some solutions are perceived as more “beautiful” or “elegant” than others.

Programmers regularly aspire to do the elegant (some say “most bloated” [4]) solution (remember: they are artists), while budget and time constraints force them to go with what they see as «hack», a potential source for a future troublemaker. Which brings us to the question of who set the budget and time and what can be done about that?

The quintessence of this point is: the less a technology professional is enabled to go for the elegant solution, the lower the employee satisfaction.

Ad 6) Last but not least, many technology professionals – and now the word geek would much better describe that – regard playing with technology as fun. They love using technologies, playing around and enjoy the little successes in between. Many extremely successful organizations like Google or IDEO, even encourage such behavior.

How they are seen by non-geeks

Now that we explored of how technology professionals see themselves, we take a look at them from outside. How do others see them? Here is a list of the most common opinions about them:

  1. Technology professionals don’t want to understand anything about the business they work in
  2. Love technology for its own sake
  3. Demand suits to understand technology
  4. Need to meet he deadline and stay within budget
  5. Think that rules should not apply to them
  6. Bad with people
  7. Wear shorts, T-shirts and ugly Birkenstock
  8. Loose interest as soon as development is finished
  9. Reject changes when they come from business

These all are interesting points, as they either clash with or confirm the self-reflection of the technology professionals.

Ad 1) Especially business professionals regularly think that geeks don’t want to understand the business that their organization is operating in. They are just in their technologies and their own world. Financial numbers, strategy, market and all that is what they see being none of their business. In other words: they don’t care about the company.

Fact is: they do care about their company, but in different ways. Their goal is to build the best solutions, have the servers running without any interruption, make their «baby» – the living organism of servers and applications – operate smoothly and with the highest reliability. The reason why they apparently don’t care about numbers or strategy is that the business lingo is as much a foreign language, as the tech lingo is for business professionals. Another reason is the perceived exchangeability of geeks. Geeks are loyal, as we’ve learned, but loyal to people, not to the company, especially as the recent (and in many cases disastrously failed) outsourcing hype made their jobs insecure.

Ad 2) Geeks don’t worry about the business and the related needs; they just want to use technology for its own sake. Once they played around with some technology they want to force it on the business users, even if this new technology doesn’t make their daily work more efficient.

Fact is technology professionals like and need to explore new technologies (we mentioned the outsourcing trend of the last years). New technologies do not necessarily mean a more effective tool for the business people, but reduced expenses in maintaining the infrastructure or developing new software. Although this is understandable for a business person, it clashes with their ethics that as long as a tool doesn’t help them to make their work more effective, they don’t want to spend time on it (we will learn about this when we talk about the business professional).

Ad 3) Geeks seem to be permanently upset and show arrogant behavior that business people do not understand technology. Geeks ignore advice from business people and do what they want.

Fact is: this is true. Geeks don’t like it when business people give them advice or make decisions on technology without them. That’s like the management of an air plane maker deciding that the engineers should put wooden wagon wheels on the futuristic plane, because they got a good deal with the local wood furniture store while remodeling their offices.
Everybody can predict that this is not going to work, but why is the assumption that business professionals can make a decision on IT technology? Both sides must try to understand the implications and come to a joint decision that keeps both sides allied for the common goal.

Ad 4) The way business works is drawn around timelines and money. It’s clear that an organization can only survive if it wisely manages its resources and takes care that resources are added to the organization. In other words: make sure that the company earns more money than it spends.

Budgets and schedules are the very means to control that. That clashes with multiple bullet points from the former chapter. Engineers need to spend seemingly non-productive time with new technologies and do work that is perceived by them as a creative and hence unpredictable process.

Ad 5) The perception of technology professionals is that they do not follow rules. Whatever dress code, working hours, wording, communication channels etc. is defined in the code of business conduct or other sets of rules, geeks break or circumvent them. They come late and stay long in the night, prefer to dress in “non-presentable” clothing, mess up and decorate their working spaces with the weirdest gimmicks, toys and “trash”, and communicate with other communities and customers in tech-lingo and so on.

Fact is, and we mentioned that in the earlier chapter, that many of those rules – most often made by business professionals, clash with the self-conception of geeks.

Ad 6) Business people think that geeks cannot communicate. Whenever they talk to them the answers they get seem weird and not understandable. Their body language indicates that they are annoyed with the business people and their questions.

Fact is: as much as technology professionals seem to be unable to communicate with business professionals, business professionals are unable to communicate with technology professionals. Geeks in fact communicate very well with each other; it’s just a different language: Tech-lingo versus buzzword-bingo.

Ad 7) They dress in T-shirts, shorts or jeans and do not pay attention to shaving, haircuts and other elements of civilized people.

As mentioned before, geeks value substance over style. Appearance is of no value. For them it doesn’t matter, if somebody is dressed well or not. What matters is, if somebody is knowledgeable.

Ad 8) Once the project is finished, the handover to the business people seems to be an annoyance factor for technology professionals. Training the business people, showing patience with questions etc. seems to be something that geeks do not like. They apparently loose interest.

Fact is: it is true. For many geeks the interest ends when the challenge is over, the project is finished, the problems are solved. They move on to the next technical challenges, and this in exactly the moment, when business people get interested in the new tool.

Ad 9) Business people often complain that their suggestions or requirements are blocked by IT. Whatever they suggest, there are thousand reasons why IT thinks this cannot be done or is not a good idea.

Fact is: it is true. One reason for this is that technology professionals do not welcome suggestions when the business professional does not fulfill a minimum understanding of technology. That does not mean that a business professional has to be fluent in «geek-lingo», but show a basic knowledge and interest of the language and technology. Another reason is that seemingly small requirements can effect huge changes in the IT infrastructure. If the perceived additional business value is smaller than the required effort for adapting the solution, then the technology professional will try to block.

How to alienate them

What’s the best way for a business professional to alienate a technology professional? Make sure to do the following:

  • Tell business professionals how they should do their work
  • Make technology decision without asking them
  • Let them know that you can outsource their jobs easily
  • Make them follow the code of business conduct closely

Some of these points are reminiscent of a scene from the movie Amadeus, where the Emperor comments on one of Mozart’s compositions: “Your work is ingenious. It is quality work. But there are simply too many notes. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.”
And Mozart responds: “Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?”

How to win them

And what’s the best way to win them over?

  • Show honest interest in their work
  • Learn the basics of the technology (your business runs on it)

Show interest in their work and the technology. Even if you do not understand and need to understand every little detail, showing interest is a sign of respecting technology professionals.
And don’t forget: this is the technology on which your business runs. That should make it your professional duty to understand the fundamentals.

Business professional

Business professionals – or also known as «suits» [2] or business people – are people who do the business, that means interact with customers and employees, sell services and products, organize the projects and timelines, manage employees, administrate the organization, etc. Depending on their exact roles they either keep the money coming in the organization, and/or create an environment that the employees actually manufacturing the services and goods can fulfill their job.

How they see themselves

This description is the basis for what skills and talents they see as important for their job.

  1. Communicate well with people
  2. Work professional
  3. Give a trusting impression
  4. Use tools only if they help them with their work
  5. Drive innovation

Ad 1) One of the most important tasks in this profession is communication and interaction with people. Building up relationship with customers, partners and employees is necessary in this role to achieve business success. If the service or product the company is offering is very similar to competitors’ products or services, then the personal relationship is especially critical, as this might be the only differentiator of importance.
That’s why impression is very important. The customer has to see and feel that this company is trustworthy. Therefore the emphasis on style, colors, branding, dressing appropriately, on using words and phrases that are motivational and trust-inducing is important.
That’s also why often words are used that make bad things look good, as the feelings and insecurities of people are involved. Even if there where blunt failures, the right wording can motivate again and encourage moving on and learning from them.

Ad 2) Closely related with the former item is the aim to work professional. Be in time, be fast, be reliable. Make the impossible possible. Be professional, courteous, helping under all circumstances, never show negative emotions, follow the rules but be flexible.

Ad 3) Trust is a flexible term. In the business world trust means that the contract partners can rely on the fulfillment of contracts and a reasonable support (so much about the theory).
If you conclude from the outer appearance of somebody to the “appearance” and quality of the product or service, you will probably choose the one who gives you the trust worthiest picture.
A geek might prefer a geek as they understand each other, but compare it with choosing a babysitter. If you have the choice between two babysitters that you don’t know, would you choose the one that comes in clean clothes, washed hair and decent look, or the one who comes with dirty pants, torn t-shirt and bad breath? Customers see their company as their baby, and if the only differentiator they can see is the outer appearance, the style, they will choose on that criterion.

That’s why this item is very important, and that’s why they mostly wear suits or are more “dressed up”.

Ad 4) As suits try to work as professional as they can, they don’t want to spend time on playing with tools. A tool that does not make their work more efficient is not worth playing with. There are more important things to do. While technology professionals aim for the “elegance: of their solution, “elegance” for a business professional means to have a customer served well or have an employee well managed. Any tool that does not support them with that is of no interest and no value to them.

Ad 5) Some business professionals actually see them as the innovation driving force in the organization. New business models change the competitive balances in the market and help to gain an advantage to competitors. Business models are invented by suits, and new business models need new and advanced technologies.
The biggest challenge that business professionals see often come from inside the organization, as technology professionals – in the suits’ opinions – often resist their technical requirements to make the new business models effective.

How they are seen by non-suits

  1. Refuse to learn anything about technology
  2. Don’t understand technology but nevertheless insist on making technology pronouncements
  3. Don’t value technology
  4. Care only about money
  5. Resist innovations (suits=policy=status quo)
  6. Value image over substance
  7. Wear suits

Ad 1) The probably most overheard reproach towards business professionals is that they don’t know anything about the technology their technological counterparts are providing them and that they show not interest in learning more about them. As soon as a geek tries to explain a technology, you can see on the face of suits how they go into an idle mode, hoping that it’s soon over.

Fact is: business professionals want to learn about technology, but only if they see that they can use it for doing their tasks more efficiently. If they get the impression that they are getting a basic lecture about things they do not really need to know and do not help them in their work, they will not pay attention.

Ad 2) here is a comparison to sports: when the German soccer team plays, 80 million team trainers are out there watching on TV, who know everything better than the actual team trainer.
In many cases business professionals try to influence technology decisions, or even make technology decisions based on non-technical reasons. A partnership with a company that offers an apparently similar product and the wish to leverage that partnership, or the latest hype in a questionable magazine without checking and respecting the opinion of the very own technological professionals might not only lead to failed investments, but also it lost respect, trust and loyalty of the very own specialists that the organizations pays for.

Ad 3) Business professionals (in most cases) do not care about the technology itself, but they care about how efficient they can do their job with it. With other words: they value efficient technology.

Ad 4) Technology professionals accuse business professionals to value money more then everything else. In fact money is an indicator for suits how efficiently they are able to build up and maintain relationships. That’s for them a key performance indicator.
Another fact is that technology professionals also should care about money. Only this keeps their organization going and ensures their jobs, and their rent payments.

Ad 5) That’s an interesting point. Technology AND Business professionals see themselves as innovative. At the same time both accuse each other of preventing it. What we have here is a classical Catch 22. While technology professionals drive innovation by introducing new technological models – not necessarily with the need of a business case, business professionals drive innovation with new business models – without caring about the technology. Both are innovative, but with looking at different sides of the coin.

Ad 6) we heard that before and learned about the reason. Trustworthiness, impression are seen as important for relationships with customers.

Ad 7) and yes, that’s a way to reflect trustworthiness through visual means.

How to alienate them

If you do not want to have a working relationship with them, then do the following.

  • Consider them as stupid and illogical

The only smart guys are geeks, but don’t ask from where the money comes from that covers your paycheck.

How to win them

  • Show honest interest in their work
  • Learn the basics of the business (your technology helps to run it)

Next blog

In the next blog we will discuss what the BPX community can do to serve as a marriage counselor (Copyright Denis Browne) between those groups and help make IT projects successful.

Bibliography

[1] Standish Group: The Chaos Report
[2] Pfleging, Bill; Zetlin, Minda: The Geek Gap – why Business and Technology Professionals Don’t Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive; Prometheus Books, 2006
[3] Saffer, Dan: : Everything you wanted to know about designers; 2006
[4] Brooks, Fred: The Mythical Man Month;

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3 Comments

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  1. Arun Varadarajan
    Mario,
    A very enlightening post … many a time the business user gives his/her requirement and also adds to the same by stating – ‘ I do not understand technology ‘ here the problem comes when tere are deficiencies between what can be delivered and what is asked for – many a time assuming that latest technology is best for business and not looking into whether it can be done using the ‘latest technology’ and then comes in a thrid person into the fray who tends to pick ate the development being done leading to an uneasy standoff. Resolving such issues and acieving the level of comfort with the client in terms of any changes etc much earlier than 1 day before go-live is what is the need of the day. My 0.02
    Arun
    (0) 
  2. Bala Aluru
    This one’s very good. Very lively and gives the feeling we are on the floor actually seeing it. Show’s how change & people management is as important as business operations themselves.

    But eagerly waiting for the next blog to see the BPX  arrive.

    (0) 

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