While Agile and Scrum have replaced Waterfall techniques for development, leaders and practitioners across IT functions are also stepping up their skills around customer-driven innovation. At the same time, given the avalanche of digital innovation, IT has become even more critical. Often, IT is called on to step up to lead transformation for the enterprise. New skills and tools are needed to enable them to be even more effective in their elevated roles.
As we’ve worked with IT teams across multiple industries (CPG, Retail, Financial Services, etc.) the biggest disconnect we tend to see is the one between IT and the departments they frequently work with. While there is a long list of projects and tasks that IT members tackle on a day to day, they constantly balance maintenance of core business applications with new innovation. All the while, with pressure to move faster than ever before. Leveraging Agile or Scrum, project sprints kickoff with goals and objectives, and we’ve noticed there are common pain points experienced along the way.
IT team members might feel little ownership in the tasks they work on. Or, ambiguity, inefficiencies, and patching problems vs. addressing them head-on become pain points.
The answer to these pain points, we believe, is to embrace a practice of empathy.
Here’s what we mean: Listening well to the key stakeholders on your project, specifically across departments. Look and listen for thoughts, feelings, words, and actions to help build strategic empathy — empathy that enables you to address the real, root business needs rather than a surface level fixes or tasks. Although it might seem unrelated, digging into background related to their role, motivations for rewards, career aspiration, business goals, and personal interests can lead to insightful discovery that will help you better understand the real business or organizational job to be done for any core maintenance or transformational initiative.
Start by identifying the key stakeholders that impact or will be impacted by your work. Then, over the course of a variety of interactions, build empathy for each of those stakeholders. Here are five areas to dig into and a few questions to kickstart those conversations:
What is your stakeholder’s role in the organization or on the team? Understanding this will give you context behind a request that may come your way. Importantly, you may have a job description for the role, but understanding how the stakeholder sees his or her role is often much more revealing. Ask:
Listen for: where your stakeholder feels responsible/accountable for things vs not; adjectives they use to talk about their role for clues about how much they enjoy or don’t like certain things about their role. Consider how their thoughts and feelings might impact their willingness to engage on tasks or projects.
What motivates your stakeholder? What kind of reward might they desire? Understanding this can help you contextualize the ‘softer’ side of success for a given task or project. And, can help you establish ways to build your relationship over time. A few questions that could build your understanding:
Listen for: ways that you can motivate/encourage your stakeholder; opportunities you can connect to celebrate your stakeholder. Consider the truth that when we feel rewarded and/or appreciated, we are more engaged and more willing to partner with others.
Where is your stakeholder in his or her career? Is this role a stretch, a stepping stone, their final swan song, a broadening assignment? Are they looking to get promoted, retire soon, or simply earn a living? Understanding these things can be extremely helpful context behind their perception of urgency, for example; or who else might be influencing them (based on who is influencing their career). Try asking your stakeholder:
Listen for: what might be motivating your stakeholder when it comes to their career. Consider how you can position or influence the scope of the work you’re doing together can help or harm their career aspirations; what adjustments could you make to help your stakeholder achieve what they desire?
The context of how your stakeholder understands the business and the state of the business can reveal the external pressure they are under; the opportunities they are excited about; and/or even some of the cultural influences they are facing day-to-day. You can learn more by asking:
Listen for: pressures or opportunities that might propel or roadblock the work you’re doing. Consider how you workaround, or work with the realities of the business and how you might better design your work or craft your communication to resonate.
Finally, building a personal understanding of your stakeholder can impact the relationship for both of you. Building these connections makes it easier to work through difficult conversations as you establish a level of trust and commonalities. Be sure to share your own answers as you ask these questions while building empathy for your stakeholder:
Listen for: connections and commonalities. Consider how you might establish these connections to help build a more solid relationship that can help you work through challenges that may arise.
Understanding these critical components will help add context not only for the task at hand but also for what success looks like across functions. Building this awareness is a step in the right direction and offers the team an opportunity and responsibility to come together to work as one.
The Garage Group can help you build a plan and more fundamentally understand the needs of stakeholders and begin to unlock a whole new level of effectiveness for IT to lead transformation for an enterprise. Our work across multiple client teams has enabled more efficient and more effective development and innovation efforts. We’d love to hear more about how your IT function is stepping up to lead transformation, and we’d love to partner with you to help along this journey. Contact us and let’s compare notes!