IT Projects Success – Principle #2: Projects change the business, so know the overall business first.

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2. Projects change the business, so know the overall business first.

A never-ending discussion in ITcircles is about how much IT staffers need to know about the business that the information systems are supporting. It is high-lighted by every want-ad for an IT job that says previous experience in the employer’s industry is mandatory.

Is detailed industry knowledge and experience absolutely necessary for an ITjob?No.

Can an ITstaffer be effective with absolutely no knowledge of their employer’s industry?No.

As in many situations like this, the ‘Yes’ answer lies somewhere between the two extremes. Like a pendulum, the level of industry knowledge will vary across this spectrum, based on the specific organization, and by the particular ITrole; e.g. Analysts need to know more than Programmers, and it justifiably argued that Testers need to know even more than Analysts.

So, some industry knowledge is required. I suggest from experience, however. that several week’s research on an industry is equivalent to several year’s work experience, as much of a person’s experience is rendered out-of-date by industry changes, or is too specific to the company they worked at. This is truer today than ever, as the ubiquitous Web makes information about almost anything available with a text string and few mouse clicks.

As a result, ITneeds to know something about the industry going into a project, and the willingness to learn more as a project progresses.

The addendum to this discussion, however, is how much does ITneed to know about the specific way their employer conducts business when competing in their industry. Again from experience, I suggest that very little or no such knowledge is needed going into a project. The cliché that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” applies here. If IT people know too much about the current business, they may be unconsciously constrained when devising new IT solutions by ‘the way things have always been done here.’In extreme cases, this can lead to an IT staffer having the delusional belief that they know more about the business than the systems users and their management.

Do not fall victim to this belief. ITis about underlying hardware and infrastructure, and the information systems that run on them. The systems’ users and their management — supported by all the strategies, policies, procedures and rules that define and control the business — will know the specifics of their business better than IT; their jobs depend on it.

This is not to imply that all business users & management are omniscient, or that all businesses operate without duplications or errors, or that there are not things the business doesn’t know yet. In fact, effective use of ITcan address many such issues in the operation of a business, but IT and IT people do this in support of the business; IT does not define the business.

So, know your business in order to support your business.

Next time:Use Architectureto describe the business, before and after projects.

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