Business and IT - A Marriage Made in Heaven?

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Summary:

To most non-technical people, the mere mention of "IT" can be a real turn off, or result in a roll of the eyes. Although traditionally associated with geeks developing code in a back room, IT - in its very broadest sense - forms the backbone of organizations today, which begs the question: why is there still such a huge communication gap between the IT discipline and the business it powers? This article provides anecdotes and advice for businesses to help them resolve the issues between business and IT, and describes how using Agile methods might just save their relationship.

The Newlyweds
While IT and business have had a close relationship, it is only fairly recently that a more integral partnership - where both parties share business goals and objectives - has been critical in driving the business forward. Historically, technology projects have been owned and driven by the IT department and, more often than not, have failed to create the connection between the technology implementation and business value.
Like any new marriage, there are conflicts of interest, differences in opinion and approach that can inhibit an effective collaboration. This typically results in the business thinking it's not being served by the IT department, and opportunities are being missed because of IT's inability to respond quickly. In contrast, the techies say they are doing all they can, but the business is constantly{sidebar id=1} changing its requirements and doesn't understand the complexity of what's being asked for. Even though IT will drive a project, the business often views it as a mere back office function, not supporting its role in creating business value or meeting requirements. All the business sees are budgets spiralling out of control and what it needs never really being delivered.
It is also common for businesses to fail to measure the true value of IT; however this is a mistake. Only by assigning business value, in hard currency, to each IT deliverable and even every feature of a deliverable, can business truly manage the relationship with IT effectively. When embarking on any IT project, it must therefore be developed in line with business need and provide a measurable output of how the project will help drive business forward.
End of the Honeymoon Period
The development of a new software application can prompt a classic case of communication breakdown. Using a traditional waterfall approach, the business starts off by communicating its objectives reasonably well - scoping out the project in a huge amount of detail upfront. However, when the business hands over the project to the IT department, it leaves it well alone for months ... and then wonders why the end result doesn't meet its expectations.
The reason is this: a waterfall approach encourages IT and business to work in parallel with one another rather than in an integrated, collaborative process, which Agile development methods advocate. This method of defining requirements without reviewing them on an ongoing basis leaves no room for change, so when change inevitably occurs, it means that deadlines and costs can snowball out of control.

Coming to an Understanding
The challenge for nearly all businesses is to get IT and business to share similar objectives and continually communicate those objectives effectively. The IT department might be interested in the bits and bytes of specific technologies, but what it should really be asking of the business is: how much revenue would the business like from a new implementation? Being able to evaluate and analyze projects in these terms on an ongoing basis is vital in order to get business buy-in from the start.
Having someone or something which can aid mediation between the two departments is the only way for both sides to get what they want and for the IT project to succeed. This is where Agile methods and processes - developed primarily to ensure success in software development projects - can provide the answer.
Agile methodologies break down a project into short one-to-four week iterations, each treated as a "mini-project" which is planned, scoped out, designed, coded and tested before moving onto the next iteration. Input from the business and its users is included every step of the way, so that the

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