Handmaidens

 Posted by on Nov 17, 2007  Add comments
Nov 172007
 

We are not alone.

In the struggle for business strategy alignment, I believe we have a compatriot in, if you can believe it, marketing. After all, we in IT have much in common with marketing.

Certainly longer in the tooth and possessing a meaner kick than the young colt known as the enterprise architect, the brand strategists and their henchmen, a.k.a. the brand police, have a fearsome history in the annals of corporate history. Marketing has been known to cut a swath of terror in slash and burn blitzkriegs across and through business units who dare defy the brand standards. For all our wailing over renegade IT outside of IT, marketing departments have long lived with renegade marketing outside of marketing.

I actually have more sympathy for brand architects than I do enterprise architects. At least enterprise architects can unleash a stream of acronyms that can cut through the minds of all around who fail to understand what the heck the enterprise architect is blathering on about. Marketers and brand strategies tend to use terms that are more approachable and are certainly not as esoteric as technology jargon. And this is their curse. Everyone, even IT folk, believes that they too can do marketing. After all, marketing is simple isn’t it? Why my cousin does a wonderful job marketing his eBay business online. Sure he can help us.

Marketers have a harder time preventing amateur hour — and at any level in the firm. The marketing gong show has even crept into the CEO quarters. Just read any business magazine.

But we share a deeper connection with marketing. While many of us prefer to pontificate on the more subtle, abstract and strategic notions that we like to believe ought to govern the known universe, the reality is that most of everyday work life involves far more mundane interactions.

Like marketers, we get asked to change the location of visual elements on a page, change the order in which things occur on the screen, alter colors, words, pictures and rich media. In short, we spend a fair bit of time rearranging their virtual furniture to provide for their creature comforts. Many of these rearrangements are arbitrary, with no clear linkage to the gilded strategic theories those in the executive suite concocted. But these rearrangements are critical for adoption of what we build.

Some forms of technology are pervasive and ubiquitous. Users live in these interfaces daily. As much as they can and do complain about a chair, a desk, the location of a door, the color of their walls, the temperature and the view, they are doubly likely to do the same for interfaces. I don’t blame them. I often complain too.

What prevents us from requesting changing a wall, a chair, a desk, a window or a location of a door is that all of us can easily see the cost and effort and disruption that is necessary to make the change. In IT, we often say “Oh, no problem. It will just take a few minutes.” And typically it does only take a few minutes, with minimal disruption to the user. If we do this fast and thoroughly enough around critical interfaces, we even give it a name — agile methodologies — in which we iterate through functionality until it is deemed correct by those who use it best. We deliberately put ourselves into the service of others, perhaps even being subservient. This can be noble. But along the way, a design pattern of human behavior emerges. An unintended consequence, if you will, results.

Because we can so aptly provide for the creature comforts of the virtual world, and because in the day-to-day world, these types of conversations between IT and the business tend to dominate over so-called strategic conversations, we can get mistaken for handmaidens.

In this regard, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our kindred brethren in marketing.

“Strategy be damned! Just move the widget a few pixels to the left and when you get a chance, fill my coffee again, pretty please.”

Is this repeatedly emergent design pattern of human behavior at the root of IT-business unit misalignment?

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