The priorities of other departments may not always align with IT’s big picture, but keeping stakeholders happy is worth the effort.

by Craig Idlebrook
Date Published May 31, 2022 - Last Updated January 20, 2023

Too often, the IT department doesn’t get the credit it deserves. In fact, the department might get more blowback than warranted when things go wrong. The problem is that the work done by IT is often viewed as a bit of a black box by other departments. IT is who you call for help, or who you blame when a bug happens.

One of the ways to overcome this dynamic is to make sure that IT is consistently prioritizing the work that matters to other departments. These priorities may not always be obvious to IT, or even make the most sense to prioritize, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored completely. Instead, it is important to strike a balance between the work IT needs to do to drive tech forward and the work the other departments feel is important to them. The latter work may not seem as vital, but it’s important work if only to maintain and strengthen the relationships between departments.

The disconnect in communication between IT and the other departments about what work to do first is one of perspective. Often, IT can see the big picture when it comes to tech - how each step in a sprint may culminate with a planned update of a website platform, for example - in ways that other departments can’t. That work is indeed important and may be vital to the business in general, but it may not seem important to the rank and file in other departments, who can’t see the tech forest for the trees.

Consider this scenario. I once worked at a publishing job in which a website’s articles were not showing up correctly on social media. I considered this an integral tool for my job in growing audience engagement, and I asked that it be fixed as soon as possible.

It took the IT department more than two years to fulfill this request. During that time, IT fixed or introduced many other important tech tools that benefitted my role, but I didn’t want any of those as much as I wanted the social media bug fixed. Because of this, if I were asked about IT’s performance, my answer may have been unfairly weighted toward the negative, despite the work IT had been doing to benefit me overall.

From the perspective of those outside of IT, it may seem like IT is simply playing in its own sandbox and uninterested in doing the little things that might improve day to day work at the organization. They don’t see all the steps needed to get up to the next tech level, so they can get frustrated when their smaller requests are not fulfilled in a timely fashion.

It would be wonderful if IT could fully communicate the holistic work it does, but that may be asking too much of everyone. For this to work, IT would need to consistently communicate effectively about its long-term goals. This would require a lot of bandwidth and exceptional communication skills to help educate non-IT folks how things work. That would be great…if IT had its own PR team.

It may be easier and more effective to make sure you leave a lane open for smaller potato priorities of the other departments, ones that may not seem important for the overall tech picture. This should not be a signal to allow departments to drive IT work overall; no one is happy when IT is being pulled one way or another by competing priorities from non-tech personnel. Instead, allocate slots in your sprint each week to take care of the lower hanging fruit of priorities of other departments.

You may even not want to advertise this methodology to the other departments. Instead, analyze tickets submitted and follow up periodically with the ticket submitters about the order of what they would want done first, second, and third. Also, have water cooler-type conversations to ask those outside of IT what may be holding them back, and see if you can find quick wins for them within your bandwidth.

This method may take some finetuning, but it could really provide IT an opportunity to shine in the eyes of other stakeholders within the organization.

Tag(s): supportworld, communications skills, customer service


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