Make realistic deadlines, not excuses

The relationship between IT departments and end users should be fostered upon realistic expectations, writes Mark Lewis.

The relationship between IT departments and end users should be fostered upon realistic expectations, writes Mark Lewis.

It's one of the more frustrating facts of an IT director's life, that IT departments and grumbling end users seem to go together just as surely as fish and chips, or strawberries and cream.

No matter how hard you try to get the corporate infrastructure working like a dream, there will always be a cheerless soul looking for an opportunity to complain about the poor service they get from your department.

Peter Garratt, head of information strategy and management at AEA Technology, believes there is too much at stake for the IT department not to be seen to deliver satisfactorily to its customers around the business. You will have trouble promoting the value of your team to the business, he suggests, "if the board is only perceiving problems with delivery of the service".

So what is the secret of successfully managing the IT department's relationship with the business?

Garratt warns his peers not to set user expectations too high at the outset. "Set user expectation correctly," he says, "and you are likely to come under less pressure." Not only that, you also earn the credibility and respect that's due to someone who is prepared to admit when something is not realistically deliverable.

A fellow IT director once told Garratt that he liked to give the following choice to business managers: "Cheap, quick and good, which two of the three would you like, when it comes to delivering your project?" While this may sound a little pat, there is some sense to it, argues Garratt.

Users must be aware of what they can and cannot do, and must be reminded of their responsibilities. But this amounts to more than just dry documentation sent out to your organisation's line-of-business managers. Garratt advocates developing "fifteen to twenty golden rules for end users, that they can understand in plain English."

Effective communication is key. You need to jettison macho attempts to exert absolute control over corporate IT, in favour of maintaining an ongoing dialogue with business managers to stop "the worst excesses of user DIY".

Of course, it takes two to tango. Garratt thinks it is high time that IT heads started to look for a commitment from line-of-business managers to resource the relationship between them properly. Rather than complaining about poor levels of service, perhaps it is time for business managers to put their money where their mouth is and empower an intelligent individual with the authority to act as the focus between ITand the business.

Doing so is going to cost money, of course, but so is a morning of IT outage.

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