As we previously discussed in the first article of this blog series, 2022 has presented IT teams with challenges in increasing transparency and collaboration while continuing to adapt to a hybrid workplace and reigniting innovation. In a recent CIO survey, 76% of CIOs say it’s challenging to find the right balance between business innovation and operational excellence.
Two high-level solutions are a flexible approach to projects and collaboration that expands horizontally throughout the organization. We now want to delve deeper into these challenges and offer some practical action to position IT as a “business-enabling value center” within the organization.
Intentions vs. actions
The need for IT to balance engagement with the business, as evident within surveys such as the one above, is not new. Like New Year’s resolutions, trust and communication are emphasized as part of strategic planning at the start of the year, but IT often finds itself back in the same spot as last year before long. There are some common trends that often lie in the shadows of teams with the best intentions:
- A continued need for even more speed: In today’s IT environment, one of the biggest challenges is time and the need to do more with less. IT teams are under constant pressure to produce something tangible. Collaboration and communication can often be lost in the rush to deliver results.
- IT complexity continues to expand: IT environments continue to become more complex. Coupled with a ‘new normal’ of hybrid work models, this leads to situations where collaboration with non-technical stakeholders is often fraught with friction, missed, or avoided entirely.
- Cloud and SaaS are amplifiers: Cloud and SaaS have begun to shift roles for operations and support teams (i.e., System Administration) from designing and enabling solutions to designing and enabling experiences. IT support teams are also struggling to keep up with the rapid change coming from multiple cloud providers, new features across the SaaS suites they can often own, and enabling capabilities in a non-disruptive fashion.
As we emerge from the pandemic, IT must shift its focus toward driving business innovation, developing business strategy, and identifying opportunities for competitive differentiation. While these challenges are very real, they also represent an opportunity to rethink how IT plans and executes its strategies to break through these barriers.
Collaboration is not an easy problem to solve. However, with complex issues, it’s always important to start somewhere and continually improve toward a more mature end state. Below are some ideas to jump-start that process.
Supply formality to unstructured work
Unstructured work lies in the area between the work prioritized by the PMO’s purview and the well-known, repeatable tasks teams complete daily. This unstructured work often lacks the visibility required to ensure the work aligns and supports business objectives. By giving structure to this unstructured work, teams can showcase the value it has provided to the organization and ensure their teams are focusing on work aligned against strategic goals. Even more important is the consideration that this unstructured work happens daily within IT teams and could include things like responding to problems, urgent needs via shoulder taps, or miscellaneous efforts to improve IT.
Some simple solutions can be easily implemented to enable this:
- Adopt an ‘everything is a project’ mindset. Recognize that smaller-scale initiatives are often not treated as such and therefore get no support from a PMO and no project structure. For example, while many IT teams have implemented a Change or Problem Management process, these can result in "mini projects" for which a formal PMO approach and tooling is excessive or even unavailable. In many cases, the PMO approach is geared toward PMs, the framework is too formal, and the tool is too complex for non-PMs to use.
- Implement an approach other than spreadsheets or email to create a line of sight between your unstructured work and organizational goals. How often do your teams complete incredible work in that “unstructured zone” but rely on memory or email to map against goals come the end of the month, quarter, or year? How often do your teams complete unstructured work, only to find out post-mortem that it doesn’t align with organizational goals? Creating a line of sight into this work opens the door for IT teams to easily showcase its value and counter the “black box cost center” discussed in part one of this series.
- Foster collaboration by building your process with permanent hooks into your stakeholders. Creating templates of projects and tasks that hook into specific business teams, no matter the size of work, helps ensure that the IT/business relationship is always considered in the early stages of execution rather than as an afterthought shortly before implementation.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
Every team has a unique language through services and corresponding processes. However, there are always common threads that any team can utilize to avoid the challenge that comes with starting from scratch:
- Learn from others. Engage with other companies through conferences or round tables to learn from each other and find new ideas that can help you through similar situations. Where that engagement isn’t possible, explore Wrike’s templates. These aim to provide a starting point for both simple and complex needs. They are also a valuable resource when establishing processes and aligning to frameworks like Waterfall or Agile.
- Make IT an internal champion for Agile across business departments. Long gone are the days when Agile was only found within the IT team's four walls. These days, Agile is expanding across all departments, and everyone is seeking opportunities to leverage automation for efficiency with their strategic objectives. IT can utilize this moment to be a champion of Agile for new departments, such as marketing, finance, or human resources.
- Create re-usable dashboards, tools, and reports to enable cross-department visibility. These items are often created within a single department or PMO silo. Instead, partner with each other to create common reports, tools, and dashboards. Not only will this draw you closer to the business requirements, but it will also help raise awareness about IT’s alignment.
Pave permanent paths into the business
IT teams often wait for business or co-sponsored work to materialize before hooking into other departments. This is because teams can be worried about workload, struggle with how to break boundaries, or have actual limitations through tooling. Powerful options exist today to break down these boundaries:
- As discussed in part one, you must centralize tools and platforms across departments. IT departments face a tough challenge: How do you create synergy with the business when your collaboration opportunities have boundaries? When all teams work from the same tools or platform, cross-department collaboration becomes easy. Organizational standards are adopted company-wide, metrics report into cross-department dashboards, and bringing cross-functional teams together becomes effortless.
- Make it simple to move work to the appropriate teams or bring others temporarily into your projects (even the small ones!). Within Wrike, cross-tagging work enables amazing opportunities for collaboration in a hybrid/remote world. Here at Wrike, we cross-tag daily to engage with each other on project tasks, collaborate on ideas, and pull anyone from any department into active work when required. It changes the way you look at tasks and projects.
- Champion and amplify those fighting daily for that transparency, like your architects, sponsors, business analysts, and Scrum Masters. Successful cross-functional transparency will always come down to trust between people and teams. These roles are fundamental for building permanent pathways between business and IT departments.
Taking these ideas into reality
Ultimately, IT teams need to continue to prioritize cross-department relationships, which can be quite difficult among the never-ending surge of change and work in today’s fast-moving climate. However, it can be easy to solidify these hooks by supplying formality for unstructured work, recognizing that everything is a project, speaking a common language through your collaborative solutions, and using technology like templates to get a head start.
For the final part of this blog series, we’ll take a deeper look into using templates, such as our IT PMO template, to provide a starting or maturation point for the IT teams’ project journey. We’ll also look at ways in which Wrike’s newly announced Custom Item Types can be used in conjunction with templates to present opportunities for IT teams to align tools and frameworks with their internal language.