How do we get Enterprise IT to align with our customer? The questions we ask our customer are indicative of our assumptions. Those assumptions are correlated to our relationship with our customer, and our understanding of that customer’s pain points or frustrations with IT. But how do we get past assumptions, and how do we break out of our [current] relationship with our customer, to invent a better relationship?
Ask different questions, and ask them differently. More green field, and less about particular systems and particular business problems. We always seem to want customer to explain their vision, but we can’t seem to help them get their hands around it.
It comes down to collaborating on strategy. Asking questions that allow the customer to expose how we can participate in their strategy, then moving the mountains that will actually allow us to effectively do just that.
Which products (services) does the customer envision growing and by how much?
This defines the scope of the business vision that the customer is expressing. When we know what is going to grow, then we also know everything else will be either up for reduction or maintenance.
What changes to the products are going to generate or enable this envisioned growth?
This is descriptive, allowing us to analyze the alignment of our current capabilities with the envisioned change.
What changes in staff or work alignment are necessary to support changes required by this growth?
This starts to move towards how the business will adapt to accommodate the growth? We can talk about hurdles or obstacles to change from an alignment perspective. If staff alignment isn’t changing, or if work isn’t moving from one unit to another, things are stable. Changes to work alignment also indicate where there will be need to reduce cost to support other products that are declining or merely maintaining importance.
What changes in process or work flow are being contemplated to support the required growth?
This will give us clues as to how systems will need to change and how new integration can enable growth and change. As we go through these questions, we move from the business strategy, into the plans for realizing the benefits of the strategy.
What risks or concerns does the customer already express that have to be solved to support the growth?
This gives us some understanding about the customers own thinking on feasibility and challenges. These are areas where systems can address concerns by making them part of their solutions strategy. It also allows us to help the customer through analysis and the revelation of additional risk or concerns.
What are the real constraints around this strategy?
Often, the customer will have an ROI or a time line or some other objective in mind, but it is internal. But in this case, we want to understand the constraints. Funding is limited by some external factor (not ROI or a payback period). Some external event (federal reg, market leadership opportunity window, etc) that places a hard schedule in place – such that beyond that, there is a cost or reduced ROI or some other condition that should be avoided.
By asking questions like this, we better understand our customer (internal or external) and their strategy. So often, it feels like IT doesn’t have clear insight into what the customer is trying to do, or how the customer is evolving to accomplish. Perhaps it is because most of our conversations start around frustrations in current state, so we don’t engage on future state. Perhaps it is because we aren’t perceived as helping our customer elaborate their strategy – that we are simply waiting on them to do so, and then tell us what they will need.
Our dialog with our customers needs to shift from being “fulfillment” oriented – to being more “collaborative” – as we talk about their plans, and we propose opportunities for IT solutions to help, rather than simply waiting for them to define “what they want”.