Communication between departments might not happen in two different languages, but they do exist in two different worlds. With different targets and performance goals the same phrase often means something completely different to each party. Learn how to work across these barriers in this article.
1. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
You'll likely find you have more in common with colleagues outside your department than you think. You're both under a lot of stress to get projects completed, you have managers breathing down your neck, customers are complaining, and nobody really understands why things take so long.
Make it a point to either do a regular walk through other departments to see how things are going or build relationships (in and out of the office) with other department colleagues. You both might be pleasantly surprised to discover that they have a customer facing problem they are trying to solve, and you have a technological solution for it.
If you don't spend time communicating outside of basic operational interactions, you may be missing an opportunity to improve the business as a whole, and change how other departments perceive your role in the company.
"If you are working in the same building or office, try to build friendships with people in other departments," recommended by Manjunath Sullad, an expert on Experts Exchange. "Do a monthly floor walk and ask for feedback. Meet outside the formal office environment -parking area, cafeteria, etc. - and talk casually."
2. Use Analogies and Go Easy on the Techspeak
If your attorney only spoke to you in the language of the law, and your doctor explained your diagnosis using terms from a medical dictionary, you'd surely be frustrated and confused. Analogies go a long way in explaining concepts that are foreign to anyone outside of the IT department.
People may argue when you say that you need to replace all of the machines in the office, rather than just upgrading the existing machines. But, if you counter with, "Would you pay to put a 2014 Porsche engine in your 1989 Datsun?" they might reconsider.
3. Explain Realistic Timelines
In the same way DIY home remodeling TV shows oversimplify construction, making building contractors' jobs harder, the prevalence of ever-improving consumer technology can give some people the impression that every technology is streamlined and automated. As a result, your colleagues probably don't understand why it takes a long time to complete what appears to them to be a simple task. I'm sure you've heard, "Can't you just...?"
Additionally, because there are other projects in your work queue, probably a period of testing that needs to be accounted for in any project and many other little things that effect job completion timelines, setting and explaining project timelines with your colleagues is worth the effort.
"The biggest headaches I've come across are justifying [an implementation] process and then how long that process takes," noted Rob (tagit), an expert on Experts Exchange. "Non-techs and management will often assume that things can be done very quickly when it comes to IT. I've found it useful to break down how and why each step in tech projects take as long as they do, making sure to avoid the use of any kind of tech speak. I keep breaking down the tasks until they can see the steps involved and understand the effort."
4. Plan for Changes in Scope, and Implement in Phases
Have you ever had to merge into fewer crowded traffic lanes to cross a narrow bridge, all the time wondering why they just didn't make the bridge wider to begin with? Solutions that meet immediate needs may not work long-term as the company grows, or as the industry changes.
However, enlarging the scope of a project can be tricky when it comes to budgeting. Aarontomosky, an expert on Experts Exchange, warns, "I find it hardest to justify infrastructure projects that were minimally scoped at origin. For example, if you have a business project and buy them a server, everyone is happy. Then a few months go by, and the server needs more storage and a larger backup. The original project is already closed, so justifying hardware upgrades is next to impossible, because 'it runs just fine now doesn't it?'"
But it's equally challenging to make a business case for everything you might need/want for now and the future. Expert mOtan, an expert on Experts Exchange, recommends a phased roll out that puts critical needs first, but includes plans for future needs and noncritical extras.
"Many department managers will not understand the overall scope of what they are requesting, so explaining the complexities of your operation when asking for specifics for your projects is a must. You don't want to overwhelm your team by trying to squeeze in a million different requests into one project, so try to find out what the business users need now, versus what they want in the future, and roll the projects out accordingly. Trying to achieve too much too quickly will make projects appear sloppy and rushed, causing you to lose the trust that you've worked so hard to gain from those departments."
5. Find the Common Goal
In simplest terms, everybody in your office exists for one reason - to keep the company in business so that you can all stay employed and bring home the bacon. However, the ways in which you pursue that goal are quite different from department to department. If you make time to communicate regularly outside of your daily tasks (see tip 1), you will better understand the challenges and goals of those outside your department. Armed with that knowledge, you may be able to come up with technical solutions to those problems that your colleagues didn't even imagine were possible.
"One fail-safe in communication with non-technical departments is making sure they understand why you are changing or implementing certain infrastructure" recommends Rob (tagit), an expert at Experts Exchange. "Often the non-techs don't understand what's going on other than something is changing on them again. Being able to explain your actions in terms of profit, costs, and efficiency will usually get the point across."
When you can't find a common goal, even the most insignificant tweak to a small software system can create issues, because, in their opinion, it doesn't address an issue that concerns them. Regular communication with other departments also gives your colleagues an opportunity to better understand what your job entails. You can explain (in the simplest terms) the steps required to keep things running smoothly, and why things have to happen the way they do.
Finding a shared goal is often the difference between collaboration and resentment.
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