In 2008 Business Week reported that Kimberly-Clark had run a charm school for its pared-down IT workforce. The consumer packaged goods giant had recently outsourced almost 80 percent of its technology staff, and there were high expectations for the survivors. Improving communications with the business constituency was a priority. Hence the techie finishing school.

There’s a great Dilbert cartoon in which Dilbert asks a user for his business requirements. The user suggest that instead Dilbert just build the system, “and then I’ll tell your boss that it doesn’t meet my needs.” Welcome to a new era of shared accountability where the business is—or at least, should be—as much on the hook for IT project success as IT is.

As we’ve formalized business requirements gathering processes and even adopted new tools to help us automate them, business users can no longer simply finger-wag at IT. They’ve got skin in the game, too. As much as they’d prefer to call someone to run some numbers, or rattle of a wish list in a status meeting, business stakeholders need formal rules of engagement just as much as their IT brethren. Likewise, IT managers can’t simply rely on the overblown promises of iterative prototyping to draw users in, or depend on their trusty enterprise app vendor to prescribe a solution in a vacuum. Mutual accountability is the new black.

The diagram below illustrates an example of a sustained hand-off cycle between IT and the business at one of our clients:


In essence, this was the unified gameplan that had been missing. In this new world, the business can’t enlist IT until they’ve done their own homework. This means thoroughly defining the initiative—here, ensuring that it’s aligned to strategy and a complete business case is developed—before engaging IT and entering the development pipeline. Note that each of the numbered steps represents its own process or set of processes. (IT people will enjoy the divine justice that there are more steps on the business side.)

Business stakeholders need to not only adopt their own processes for defining and justifying initiatives, but they have to articulate their expectations clearly and stay actively involved in delivery. The days of the IT-business mind-meld when technology staff relied on gut-feel, personal relationships, and so much storytelling to arrive at the right technology solution are over. So are the days of what blogger Xavier Noemann calls the “Kramden-esque hamana hamana” of user-speak. The fact is business users have to step up, articulate their desired outcomes, and work with IT. And maybe they can start being nicer to each other, charm school be damned!

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