A few years ago a programmer came to me and expressed difficulty understanding some user requirements. I suggested that they go out to the mill production area and view the operation and sit down with the area manager to work out the issues. After a bit of hemming and hawing the programmer meekly explained that he couldn't go out to the mill because he didn't know where that particular department was and he didn't have the requisite safety shoes. His office mate overhearing this conversation proudly proclaimed that he had safety shoes and proceeded to show them to us. He brought out a box with the shoes still wrapped in the original tissue paper. The shoes, as clean as the day they were made, had obviously never been used.
It is amazing to think that anyone can think they can design a system without first going out to see how the system will be used, to talk with the people that will use it, or to insist on customer involvement in the design. And yet, that is a common characteristic in many IT departments. And when we are done we are incredulous when the customer finds fault with it!
Back in the 1980's management guru Tom Peters publicized the concept of MBWA - "Management By Walking Around" originally formulated in the 1940's at HP. The concept is simple - to find out what is going on in the business, go out and talk with the people actually doing the work, don't isolate yourself in the office looking at the numbers. Not only is this a great management tool it is also a great form of communication with your customers. Perhaps we should make it our own -ITBWA - "Information Technology By Walking Around". If we are going to adequately serve our customers and want to work strategically with them, then we have to get to know them, learn their business and understand their problems. We have to put on those shoes and go out and get them dirty walking around and meeting our customers.
Some questions that you may want to ask yourself to determine how close you and your IT group is to your customers.
- Do you and people on your staff regularly attend staff meetings and conferences of the various functions?
- Have you visited your remote sales office, service centers manufacturing facilities to see how they do things?
- Have you attended training sessions (e.g. product training for new sales hires) given by the various functions to learn how they operate?
- Do you regularly meet with your customers where they work rather than the IT offices?
- Do you know how the products/services your company makes are made, sold and used?
- Have you ever "shadowed" someone to learn how they do their job and truly use IT?
A friend of mine Russ Svendsen would always remind me, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Oh so true!
By the way, those are my safety shoes in the picture. So, just how dirty are your shoes?