In evaluating why projects fail and how to manage project risk, The Standish Group, which specializes in project management, cited three very significant reasons why projects fail:

  1. Lack of user input;
  2. Incomplete requirements; and
  3. Changing requirements

All of these areas relate back to original user input into projects and ensuring that the
projects meet the needs of the business.

SEE: Policy pack: Workplace ethics (Tech Pro Research)

There are many reasons why user project requirements don’t get communicated. One, users are always busy in their business areas and have limited time for IT–even when they are requesting a project. Second, these users don’t always understand how completely they need to define requirements for IT. Then IT, which may not understand the business, makes an assumption about business needs and requirements and proceeds to develop a project that doesn’t “fit” with the business and fails.

All of this points to one glaring need in IT departments: A business-savvy IT professional who understands both what IT requires to fully execute a project and what the business fully requires for the project to deliver business value.

The reality for IT managers and staff is that there is no easy way to develop business savvy if you’re an IT professional who is cloistered from the business. Consequently, if you want to develop business savvy, you have to undertake your own self-training.

SEE: Why IT pros need soft skills to advance their careers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

6 steps to becoming more business savvy

1. Understand the company’s business and performance the way an investor would

This means reviewing the company’s quarterly and annual reports and press releases. Often, companies will host quarterly employee meetings to report on earnings, orders, the general industry climate, new and ongoing projects, and even IT investments and initiatives. By taking the time to understand the business from a senior executive perspective, you put yourself in a better position to understand how the applications you work on contribute to the bigger picture.

2. If you want more opportunities to learn the business, talk with your immediate manager

Often, IT has opportunities for application developers to work with business areas or even spend some time in these areas to gain familiarity with the business. If there is an opportunity, take it.

3. Get to know the end users, especially the “super users”

They know a great deal about the business, and how business systems work (and don’t work). It is also invaluable to develop strong relationships with these business users, especially if you find yourself working from the IT side with them on application development.

SEE: 10 ways to communicate more effectively with customers and co-workers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

4. Study the reports and queries used on a daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis in the business

This will tell you a lot about the concerns and priorities of a particular business area, and how the software supports decision making.

5. Request assignments

Make sure these assignments allow you to not only to develop software, but to get engaged in earlier phases of system development like requirements definition and system design.

6. Take outside courses

If you are assigned to manufacturing and enterprise systems, a ERP or MRP course from the end-business perspective might be a good idea. If you work in a financial area there are courses available on lending, accounting, and risk management from the business perspective. All of these courses can be approached as self study, and will give you a better understanding and a fuller end-business vocabulary that will improve your communication with users.

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