Steps 7 thru 10: Beyond Getting Started
by Alan S. Koch, PMP
Having completed Steps 1 through 6, you are officially no longer "Getting Started." Assuming you have been regularly keeping score and talking about it (Steps 3 & 4) and have made a whole series of "sweet" improvements and talked about them (Steps 5 & 6), you should have built a positive and rational relationship with your customers and stakeholders, both within IT and throughout the organization.
From that platform, you are now ready to launch into a new mode of operation that will pay large dividends to IT, to your customers and to your organization at large. This new mode of operation transforms IT from a mere supplier of services to an enabler of business success. That is, rather than IT merely responding to your customers' requests, you join with them in strategic discussions to identify ways that IT Services can be employed to make them wildly successful.
Step 7: Learn about Your Customers' Business
Before you are ready to talk with them about this (in Step 8), you have some homework to do. You need to understand their business plans, how their business works, and how and why they use IT services. As a part of that, you need to learn a bit about their industry, where they fit into it, and how others in that industry use IT.
Learn about your customers' industries.
Your primary (and your most important) customer is the organization you are a part of. If your organization provides IT services to customers, you already have a head start, having focused on IT as an industry in your own work. But most IT departments are a part of organizations that operate in a non-IT industry. For instance, if your IT department is part of a local bank, you will need to learn about the Financial Services industry. If it is part of a hospital, you will need to learn about the medical services industry. This learning is your starting point for making your IT services part of a strategic discussion. But that is only a start. You should also consider your other customers.
In almost all cases, the customers of your organization are direct users of some of your IT services, making them customers of IT. So it will be valuable to learn about their industries. While it may be unreasonable for you to learn about the industries represented by all of your organization's customers, you may be able to identify one or two industries that dominate your organization's customer base. If that is the case, learning about those industries will position you to help your organization to cater to their needs more effectively.
And of course, the various departments within your organization actually represent a variety of industries. Your Accounting department provides Financial Services to the rest of your organization. Your Personnel department provides Human Resources services, and so on. Gaining some insight into those industries will help you to understand the needs and opportunities of these very important customers of your IT services.
Discover how others in your customers' industries use IT.
Identify the "normal" ways that other organizations in the industries you identified above use IT. Every industry has trade journals and conferences where these sorts of topics are discussed. With this information, you will be able to ensure that your customers' use of IT is at least up-to-date.
But you won't just learn about their normal ways of using IT from those sources. There are innovators in every industry, and they like to crow about the innovative things they have done. You will also want to identify ways that the innovators in those industries have made creative or unusual use of IT Services to derive special benefits or competitive advantage. After your customers have mastered "normal" use of IT, they may be ready to capitalize on those innovations!
Identify where your customers fit into their industries.
Are your customers leaders and innovators? Or are they followers or even laggards? This will help you to understand what you can do to help them to achieve better results than they already have achieved. Do you need to help them get up to "normal"? Or are they ready to innovate?
Understand your customers' business plans and how they use IT services.
What are your customers trying to achieve today? And how successfully are they achieving those things? What role do your IT services play in their plans and in their successes (or lack thereof)? Do they already have plans for different use of IT in the future? Or do they have plans to delve into new areas of business that will be a rich opportunity for innovative use of IT? Any of these questions may yield opportunities for you to connect with them on a strategic level.
Step 8: Talk about Your Customers' Business Success
Having done your homework (in Step 7), you are ready to begin forging a new synergistic relationship between IT and your customers.
Your first order of business is to confirm (and correct as needed) what you have learned about their industry, their business plans, their business, and how they use IT services. Being a good listener and learner will not only assure that you have an accurate understanding of their business and position in their industry, it will also cement the positive relationship you are building and make them more receptive to innovative ideas you may have.
Then you will be in the position to discuss with them new ways that IT can enable them to become more and more successful at what they do. Point to ways that their competitors capitalize on IT services, or identify innovations that are begging to be made. Keep in mind that innovation is never an end in itself; your intent here is to identify innovations that will improve your customers' odds of success. They may not be receptive to your innovative ideas at first, but that's OK! Running their business is their job, not yours. Your job is to make IT as valuable to them as you can within your sphere of control.
In talking with your IT Staff, you have two priorities. First, to ensure that they have an accurate understanding of your customers' needs. And second, to engage in brainstorming about ways that IT can enable your customers to excel. (Your customers' competitors haven't thought of all of the good ideas yet!) IT Services that enable your customers to leap past their competitors is your ultimate aim.
Step 9: Help Your Customers Improve Their Business via IT
After you have succeeded in transforming IT (in your customers' minds) from a mere service to a strategic enabler (in Step 8), the flow of improvement opportunities will be unending. Each success will contain the germ of new ideas, and they may start identifying IT innovations before you do. (Cool!)
The Deming Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act, or PDCA) provides a good framework for continually improving.
- Plan each improvement project.
- Do what you planned.
- Check the results.
- Act on what you found when you checked, which will lead to the next plan!
Use this cycle cooperatively with your customers to build their success.
But, of course, don't neglect Step 10!
Step 10: Keep Talking
By the time you get to this point, Step 10 is almost redundant. Your relationships with your customers will be a continual flow of conversation. You will be discussing their success, their challenges and what IT can do to help them on a regular basis.
It is almost redundant!
The truth is that complacency sets in even with the most vibrant relationships. We get busy with our successful work, and we forget to keep talking. You must consciously cultivate the flow of discussion and take action when it dries up. Your best option is to have a regular plan to keep talking on a regular basis (even if it is only quarterly).
That way, the relationship will remain vibrant, and IT will continue to enable your customers' success.