How Project Management Can Help Fight the “IT and the Business” Paradox

Have you ever heard the term “IT and the Business?” Have you ever said “IT and the Business?” Did you know every time you say “IT and the Business” a baby kitten dies?

OK, that last part isn’t true and probably a little harsh, but that’s the way I feel when I hear it. This phrase insinuates separation and difference. Us and them. Think Sharks and Jets, but without all the singing and dancing (West Side Story for those of you who don’t get the reference). Opposing groups who may be forced to get along, but don’t like it.

High Quality Sharks/Jets Blank Meme Template

We don’t say “Sales/Marketing/HR/Finance/Accounting and the Business.” Doesn’t sound right. Clearly IT has a stigma. Technology and those professionals that manage it are involved with almost every aspect of business operations. However, they’re often considered outsiders. CIO’s and their teams, though having made progress, have a long road ahead of them to remove this paradox.

Even though the IT Department has a continual uphill battle with “IT and the Business”, project management is perfectly positioned to help wage the war against this mindset. Whether you’re in an IT PMO, EPMO, or just a project leader sitting in a functional area tasked with leading a more technologically focused project, you can help!

But, you may say, how can I help change this mindset? Here are some tips to lessen the “IT and the Business” impact:

There are no “IT” specific projects, only enterprise impacting initiatives. First, when someone says “That’s an IT project!”, remind them even though there is a heavy technology focus, it will impact more than just the IT department (often it’s multiple areas of the organization).

Let me give you an example. I worked for a SaaS provider that helps companies move from on-premise to cloud based solutions. One of the bigger, and tougher, functions of these moves is data migration. The operational owner of the project told me “Data migration is an IT function.” As I explained, the IT function is pretty straight forward. The defining and cleaning up of data is a whole lot harder.

Fast forward about a month after that meeting. The operations and IT staff were working hand-in-hand defining what Alt Address Field 3 meant and cleaning up 15,000 duplicate records. The operations owner and team admitted later that yes, it was a lot more work than they ever imagined.

Governance; the 4-Letter 10-Letter Word. What do I mean by that? When someone requests an IT project and you say “Great idea! Let me run it past governance to see if they approve and get it prioritized”, you’ll probably get a 4-letter colorful metaphor in response.

AntiSwear | Skript | | SpigotMC - High Performance Minecraft

Governance can get some bad press! But in reality, it’s a repeatable decision-making framework designed to govern a company’s capital investments, which IT is usually a pretty big portion of. It ensures the right projects are being done at the right time, and the right people are available to do them.

I’ve seen governance used as a bureaucratic hammer to demolish project requests. Not good. Instead, if someone goes out of their way to make an IT suggestion, THANK THEM! A simple “Thank you” goes a long way. Let them know their request will need to go through governance, but it’s there to ensure people and resources are working on the highest organizational priorities, those that align with strategic goals. Post-governance, follow-up with the person on the decision. If the request doesn’t move forward, let them know. Also, assure them it’s been noted and if a future project comes up similar to their request, you’ll be reaching out.

Watch Your Language!! I don’t know how many times I’ve seen technology leaders say they’ll embed IT staff with operational groups. That way, they can learn operational language and processes. Even if technology staff do get imbedded, there are some IT folks that dream in 1’s and 0’s. Understanding operational language doesn’t compute with them. We don’t ask operational users to understand tech speak. This is not always the best idea and can be a waste of people’s time.

If your project management team/group can swing it, hire a solid Business Analyst. A BA is a PM’s BFF on IT projects. My preference is to have BA’s specialize in just 2-3 operational areas of the company. For example, one BA in a PMO I managed was embedded with HR and Accounting. She understood their language, processes, and pain points. She gathered technology requirements and helped answer questions from both the operational side and technical side throughout the project. She also got insight into what they were planning in the future.

Can’t get a BA? There may be someone within technology that can grasp operational language. Consider giving them a technology liaison role for this specific project. Yeah, it’s kind of an unofficial role in companies I’ve worked with, but one that adds a lot of project value. In this partnership, the PM gathers the requirements with the technical liaison asking clarifying questions to ensure they’re thorough and accurate. They do tech work 50% of the time, answering questions of the tech team the other 50%. If a technical issue comes up, they can ask the operational users the right questions to resolve quickly.

Bring Your Team Out From Behind the Curtain! Remember in the Wizard of Oz, when everyone was in front of the wizard and Toto pulls back the curtain? The wizard yells “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” I started consulting at a company where in a kick-off meeting, the sponsor, who was from Document Management, shook hands with the lead application developer. They’d worked at this company for 5 years, sat on the same floor, been on a couple different projects where they traded emails, but had never met face to face. I spent extra time on intros that day!

Embracing the Man Behind the Curtain

Projects bring people together from a variety of functional areas. Project managers can help tear down silos by bringing people together for different project meetings, and allowing for informal discussions to take place. Relationships can be built and greater trust between groups established.

Now, I’ve had an app dev manager tell me to never, Ever, EVER have his staff in the same room as “the business people.” His reason was those business people will ask them to do stuff. So instead, when someone had a question, I’d march them over to someone else’s desk. There’d be a quick introduction, then Q&A. It didn’t matter if it was the tech or operational person, a walk was in order. You could do this with video calls, also.

Dumb-Down Your Reports. I’ve seen status report decks as long as 22 pages and riddled with industry-specific jargon and internal acronyms not all people and departments understood. They were also “Watermelon Status Reports”, where on the outside it was reported as green, but once you looked on the inside, it was red.

Whether you’re a decision maker on what reports are provided or not, if status goes to someone in management, dummy it down! What KPI’s do they care about? Report those in a single page dashboard vs. a small novel. Keep the language simple and concise. Avoid jargon and IT-specific speak. If there are questions or feedback, take those into consideration and adjust if necessary.

Consider These Partnerships. I’ve been asked, “If I can’t call them the business, what should I call them?” I prefer to call them “Partnerships.” Operational Partners. Technology Partners.

7 Tips for Making a Business Partnership Work

So what does one little word do? A partnership is an alliance. It says we’re cooperating for the common good of the company. We’re in this together. We want what’s best and to be successful. It’s a powerful word and in removing the “IT and the Business” paradox, partnerships go a long way to forming unity.

“IT and the Business.” Will this paradoxical term ever go away? Probably not. Company leadership, especially those in technology, have a long hill to climb. But, project management is poised to help reduce its use. For the betterment of the company, I hope they do!!

Success! You're on the list.

Project242: Build Strength in Multiple Areas, Not Just a Few

Project242 (P242) is my journey to bike 242 miles in 24 hours, across the state of Minnesota on gravel roads, in August, 2021 (the Day Across MN, or the DAMN). I’ve found many lessons experienced riding a bike can be applied to our careers. In these posts, I will share the correlations.

I checked my Garmin. It was a fast 10.3 miles done in 27 minutes and 47 seconds. At a 22+ mph average pace, it was quicker than the 16 mph average I did over the weekend when I rode 117 miles.

I parked my bike, quickly changed, and stared at the workout mat with the dreaded kettlebell and resistance bands waiting for me. With speed work done, it was time to throw in some strength, too. Legs. Back. Core. Arms. Everything was being worked. Thirty minutes later, I was done with those devices of torture. Now for the finale; a one mile fast run.

150 CrossFit ideas in 2021 | crossfit, double unders, muscle up

It felt good to be finished with the morning workout. After work would be another; a 30 minute spin class on our Stryde stationary bike. These workouts include heavy tension and faster cadence at lower resistance. Sweat will be drippin’!!

When I talk about biking, most people think it’s all about the legs. Though legs do the brunt of the work, it is a whole body sport. Your back, core, arms, neck, hips…everything gets in on the action! That’s why I change up routines to include long-distance endurance work, speed, hills HIIT (high intensity interval training), and strength training. I’ve also found being strong in only a few areas can make you weak in others. This can lead to injury (trust me, I’ve had it happen!). So for that reason, I spend time working on multiple areas of my body.

If I think about my career, I love project management. I never thought it was going to be a career for me 20+ years ago. But since that March day in 1999 when someone threw a project plan at me and said to do it better, I’ve enjoyed the challenges, opportunities, people, successes, and failures that go along with it. I’ve learned about different frameworks and increased my tool chest of methods for helping clients be successful.

As much as I love project management, I wanted to learn more. Leading projects is a slice of the pie. I wanted to know about the whole pie. So, I started asking questions. Asked to attend meetings. Can I go to this conference? I’d be happy to go on that business trip! Could I listen in on the pre-sales call? I was always curious. Here are some of the key things I’ve learned in addition to project management, building those other “professional muscles”:

Like physical prowess, mental fortitude is a trait that can be developed.  Author Debbie Hampton shares a few helpful dos… | Mental fortitude, Healthy  advice, Muscle

Strategy: This was a HUGE eye opener. I was someone who was just assigned to manage a project. I wanted to know WHY these projects were important. Then one day, my CIO at the time brought me into a room with the executive team. I listened to them talk about the future of the company. Sometimes the conversation turned into a heated debate. Other times it was 100% agreement. But in the end, they aligned the company’s mission to long-term goals, to what the top strategies were. Those strategies turned into projects. Learning that process helped me see the bigger picture and how the pieces of the strategic puzzle fit together.

Finance and Accounting: This is the language of business. I worked with a young and eager accountant who must’ve dreamt about numbers. One day, I had to ask him a question about our project. I then sat down and said “Tell me something about accounting I probably don’t know.” I learned a LOT about revenue recognition. Another day, debt equity ratios. Then, more finance related topics about assets and calculations that go into capital investments. I learned a lot from him that helped with project budgeting discussions later.

Sales and Marketing: Let’s be honest, those in delivery usually don’t play well with those who over-promise to get a sale done. Instead of complain, I asked a sales person if I could join him. He thought having someone from delivery was a great idea. We visited three potential clients that day, one of which came back later to further talks, which I also got to sit in on. I learned about their selling techniques, and how marketing materials supported their work. I understood them better after tagging along (though, still get frustrated when there’s an over-promise).

The Competencies and Values You Need to Lead Your Sales Team

Various Operational Groups: When starting with a new company or client, I want to spend time with the those performing the daily operational tasks to understand end to end processes, and how those fit into the overall value chain. Groups like project management/PMO, fulfillment, billing, manufacturing, shipping, supply chain, and even pilots have all been on my list. It’s amazing what nuggets you pick up!

Each group I spend time with builds some knowledge muscle, which helps me be a more well rounded professional. Even if you have an area of interest and a career in a specific field, spend time learning other areas. On my projects, this knowledge has definitely come in handy!

Success! You're on the list.

Project242: Embrace the Climbs

Project242 (P242) is my journey to bike 242 miles in 24 hours, across the state of Minnesota on gravel roads, in August, 2021 (the Day Across MN, or the DAMN). I’ve found many lessons experienced riding a bike can be applied to our careers. In these posts, I will share the correlations.

My Garmin said I was about to start a climb of 6%. Then, it went to 10%. Then 16%. Then, a short ramp up to 23%!! A quick check of the map confirmed there was no going around it. It was up this damn hill!!

Where I live is pretty flat, so when I got the chance to bike with others at a hilly state park, jumped at the opportunity. It was a half gravel and half single-track dirt trail route. It was starting out as a beautiful ride through the woods, with cool temps and light breezes. Then after a couple miles, the map looked like a roller coaster ride!

The climbs were BRUTAL! Steep grade and loose rock had me jumping off the bike a couple times to push it the rest of the way up the hill. I was gasping for air and after a while, my legs were burning. Because the person I was riding with is an experienced mountain biker, I watched some of his tactics and how to be more efficient during a long climb.

Standing at the base of a particularly hard climb readying myself for a 2nd attempt. The first try I only made it about 50 feet before hitting a rock and stopping

You know, for as bad as the climbs were, I embraced them! The stress of the climb helps make me stronger. And, I learned some climbing techniques from someone better at it than I am.

We’ve probably all heard and talked about “Climbing the Corporate Ladder.” Like pedaling up a steep grade, it can be a grind. Here are some tips I’ve learned when “climbing” higher:

Capitalize on opportunities to get stronger. Just as strengthening muscles helps you conquer hills on a bike, being self-aware can help you achieve and be successful when it comes to personal growth. When an opportunity presents itself to build your acumen, take it! Even if it’s uncomfortable in the short term, it can have long term benefits.

Learn from the wisdom of others. I’ve been biking for years, but I’d never seen anyone climb a hill the way my fellow rider did. When we got to the top, I asked about his technique, which he shared. Be humble enough to know you’re not an expert in everything. Put ego aside and ask for advice and help. The benefits of other’s wisdom will benefit you.

Find and exploit opportunities. During a particularly grueling climb, I looked ahead and saw a slightly smaller trail that would take a rider around a patch of big and loose rocks. I jumped on the path and switched back and forth a few times, coming back onto the main trail well above rough patch. As you continue to climb in your career, look for opportunities, wherever they may be. It may not be the fastest route to the top, but you’ll be in better condition when you get there!

Nourish your network. When our ride was done and got back to our vehicles, I pulled out a 6 pack of beer. My fellow riders appreciated the drink and we ended up talking for awhile. We also made plans to bike together again, and even invite a few more people which I’ll get to network with. As you grow professionally, you’ll meet more and more people. Create fruitful relationships within your network. Never know when you may need their help!

Recover from inevitable setbacks. Even after being shown some tips to make climbing easier, I had to jump off my bike a couple times and fell once. It happens. Setbacks will also happen in your career. Take time to appreciate it happened, then get after it again. Sometimes these setbacks occur due to external factors (i.e. reorg, company downsizing, back economy, etc). Other times, it’s your fault. In either case, you own your reaction.

Know when to change course. It didn’t happen when I was biking this day, but I’ve had to change course due to a trail closure, a tree down in my path, and one time a huge snarling dog. Careers don’t seem to progress as fast as we like, so if you feel stagnated at your company, it may be time to seek another with great opportunity to learn, grow and climb.

Climbs are hard. Whether you’re climbing a rocky trail on a mountain bike or the promotional trail at your company or in your career, count on it to be a lot of work. But, with taking advantage of opportunities, getting help from others, and knowing when to make pivots, you too can be successful. Keep climbing!!

Success! You're on the list.
1,477 Mountain Biking Cartoon Stock Photos and Images - 123RF

Project242: Don’t Get Too Wound That You Snap

Project242 (P242) is my journey to bike 242 miles in 24 hours, across the state of Minnesota on gravel roads, in August, 2021 (the Day Across MN, or the DAMN). I’ve found many lessons experienced riding a bike can be applied to our careers. In these posts, I will share the correlations.

Three days ago I biked 62 miles. Two days ago, 30. Yesterday, another 50. Add in a couple short runs and one 45 minute circuit workout, it was no wonder I was having a hell of a time getting out of bed.

The other reason I wasn’t moving too well is at the end of any of those workouts, I didn’t stretch! At 40+ years old, that’s one of the most important post-workout routines I should be doing. But since I workout early in the morning, when I get home I have to get the dog out, check emails from last night or early that morning, help a kiddo, and who knows what else.

Stretching keeps the muscles flexible and healthy, which is needed to maintain a good range of motion. Otherwise, the muscles become shortened and tight. When they’re needed again for a workout, they could be weak and unable to extend. That also puts you at risk for injury.

Having learned the hard way in a previous race training regimen, if you don’t make time to stretch, make time for injury. I trained and trained, with little time for recuperation. I got wound up so tight, eventually a calf muscle went and kept me off my feet for weeks.

How to prevent the dreaded calf strain when running - Leading Edge Physical  Therapy

I could feel my body getting wound tight again from all the biking. That’s not good! And for that reason, out came the foam rollers and hand-held massagers to help work their muscular magic.

In my career, I’ve had something similar happen. Because I want clients to be successful, will work hard to deliver results. In one instance, that meant working 12+ hours a day six days a week, on calls late and in the middle of the night with offshore teams, scrolling through 400+ emails a day, frequent travel, and generally not taking good care of myself. I was wound tight, and eventually I broke. I was SO sick, I couldn’t get out of bed for 3 days and it took another week before I felt like I was getting back to myself.

Burnout - Action Medicine DPC, P.C.

I wore myself out to the point of failure. My client was thankfully understanding. Those on my team told me they saw it coming. Many of them were experiencing burn out from being wound up tight too.

I freely talk about that experience and am determined to not let it happen to myself again. Because life is hectic, we take little time for ourselves to decompress and stretch out. Instead, we keep going and going, getting wound tighter and tighter until SNAP! Your health is important, both physical and mental, so you need to take care of yourself.

Take time to “stretch out”, whether literally (after a workout) or figuratively (take a break from your hectic schedule). Don’t get wound up too tight where you eventually snap. You, and those who rely on you, will appreciate it!

hamstring-stretch-supine | Bjj Eastern Europe

Success! You're on the list.

Project242: Don’t Lose Sight of What’s Important

Project242 (P242) is my journey to bike 242 miles in 24 hours, across the state of Minnesota on gravel roads, in August, 2021 (the Day Across MN, or the DAMN). I’ve found many lessons experienced riding a bike can be applied to our careers. In these posts, I will share the correlations.

I could tell by the look in her eyes I was about to get some level of ass chewing. “The Look” was one that could strike fear into even the toughest of men. I knew better than to speak. My lovely wife of 17 years had something to say, and I sure the hell needed to listen!

“You get up at 4:45 every morning to ride your bike or workout. You ride at lunch. You ride after work. You’re always doing something. Now, sit down and watch a movie with us. Please.”

Please was a nice, though unneeded, touch. But, she was right. Over the past couple of weeks I’d put in 27 hours of training (yes, I keep track). I’d ridden 280 miles, run another 10, and 8 hours of circuit training. Throw on top of that a 40+ hour a week job and prepping for two presentations, I’m booked sun up to sun down with a little sleep in between. Any family time usually involved a laptop in front of my face or phone in my hand, half focusing on them and half focusing on something else. No wonder my wife was pissed.

I’d lost sight of what is most important to me; my family.

How easy is it for us to set a goal and go after it full steam? When you love and are passionate about something, it’s pretty easy! You’ll be working, or working out, and before you know it, hours have passed and it only felt like a few minutes.

I have friends and peers who run into similar problems with their careers. One entrepreneur does website content and technical writing services to agricultural companies. He’s niche and made a name for himself. However, he doesn’t say NO to new projects or tight deadlines. Because he loves what he’s doing, he wants to do more and more. Now he’s having some health concerns due to his sedentary lifestyle. Another educational professional works 11-13 hours a day. Her kids used to get upset she was gone many evenings, but now have gotten used to it. They don’t talk much when she gets home because she’s tired, so no “How was your day?” conversations.

Take a minute right now and write down 1-3 things that are very important to you that’s NOT your job. Mine is my wife, kids, and personal health (physical and mental wellbeing). These should take priority. Some days, something may come up (i.e. work issues) that require more attention, but those should be the exception, not the rule.

When you take off on a new venture, there is excitement and you’ll want to go “all in.” However, understand what else is important to you and don’t lose sight of it. Whether family, health, or something else, beware of neglecting those important aspects of your life.

Success! You're on the list.