Always start with a business question!
Every IT project you undertake should answer a fundamental business question. Does this project generate more revenue? Does this align with our company strategy? Will we increase our profit?
But I’d like to introduce an overriding question, maybe even more fundamental than the others: Does this project deliver Customer Value? (Keep in mind, when it comes to IT, the customer can be both internal or external. The same questions need to be asked.)
Going beyond the buzzwords to what is really valuable in technology
I am sure that the reader encountered for some time the marketing buzzwords like BigData, Machine Learning, AI. Probably they were told that their company has to start spending money on these projects.
Sadly, the promises of new technology solving all our problems made non-technical people cynical and by default very suspicious. It also doesn’t help that technical people use their own language, which mere mortals can’t understand.
The solution? IT has to learn business language and understand it as well when it comes to talking about Customer Value. Will that value come from moving a button on the website to the left and changing it to a different colour? Maybe. But there always has to be a direct connection between Feature <-> Benefit <-> Value.
If a Feature has no Benefit , which in turn doesn’t deliver Value, it can’t be implemented. You can see this as a Rosetta stone communication tool between business and technology.
How an IT leader can talk about Customer Value on a Deeper Level
Let’s get back to the example of BigData to show what I mean about Customer Value. BigData is sometimes looked at as a kind of miracle technology. It’s cool, new and getting a lot of buzz — so the company needs it, right? No, there’s a better way.
Rather than starting with which technology stack to use, which programming language to use, which cloud vendor to subscribe to, etc. , we should start with where we can deliver customer value. Then we can start the project with real focus.
First, do we have data to even embark on this project? There’s a simple test. Can we quantify the statement: we know that X percent of our customers would benefit using this feature and the result would translate to higher revenue.
(This qualifying statement highlights another issue – the answer can be given only by collaboration between various departments – marketing, sales, IT, supported by the executive team.)
When you’ve identified the real Customer Value, you’re ready to move forward with your IT project
Supposed that we can answer the question with a high degree of certainty (after all, only taxes and death are 100 percent guaranteed). So, we’ve assembled this multi-departmental team.
Okay, now it is time to add members to compliment this team. Depending on the type of project, you might need a mathematician, backend developer, graphical designer, etc. (Each project is unique and will require different team composition.) Now that you’ve assembled your people, let’s see if you have the other essential elements in place.
For instance, each project has a timeline, budget and scope. But what is less emphasized in many projects I’ve observed is that it should have measurable outcomes. There needs to be ongoing visibility and transparency into how the team is meeting those objectives.
Ultimately, the team’s responsibility is to clearly communicate the tangible Customer Value they’re going to deliver. Tracking progress in this way helps the project keep on track.
Business strategy supported by technology, fueled by data is what differentiates companies these days. The ones which learn how to take advantage of it, combined with flawless execution will be around for years to come.