Crossing departmental boundaries with your eCommerce team

This is my 300th blog post!

So much is written about the strained relationship between IT and other business departments such as Marketing or Sales. Both departments want to achieve the same goal of creating a service for the customer.  Both departments want to be predictable in their service delivery. But they define predictability differently which is the basis for friction and a strained relationship.

For an eCommerce team the boundaries between departments are often strained because of estimated work effort, estimated costs, volume of work produced, and the velocity of work produced. Unfortunately all of these take the focus of the relationship away from the true goal to produce working software that provides a valuable solution to the customer (one in which the company should make money).boundarycrossing

Here are a few techniques that I have found to be valuable when approaching relationships with other departments in the business. Remember to always turn the conversation back to the ultimate goal.

Deliver smaller work units according to a regular cadence.
Build confidence by showing incremental progress towards solution delivery. The big bang approach to software delivery keeps the internal customers in the dark about how the final solution is progressing and creates a longer period of time before the customer can begin to use any of the solution.

I hear IT people say that it is tough to get business people involved in the process defining requirements. So I advise breaking the work into smaller units of work or a subset of the larger group of features. Show progress towards the goal and transform the discussion with the business owner to one of results rather than waiting. Business stakeholders are more open to conversations and supportive when they see progress along the way.

IT won’t be able to solve all the incoming requests.
Somewhere along the course of time the business units developed an expectation that anything they request will be completed and IT, or a smaller group like eCommerc, automatically assumes they must complete every request. But let’s face it, there are always more requests and ideas than the eCommerce team can implement. This is what leads to product roadmaps and backlogs.

Many people view IT as a large cost center to the business. Technology capital and labor is expensive. So shouldn’t the business want make sure that the team is working on items that will provide a return?  Let’s be real. Sales and Marketing are not able to solve all requests they get either, and many cases work with customers for work-arounds and alternative solutions.

Get agreement to this concept from department heads so that expectations are clear. Then get the department heads to be involved in the process of what work has the best forecast to move everyone towards the goal of returning investment back to the business. Mutual involvement, risk taking, and reward sharing is key.

When possible visit them in-person.
Strong Relationships are built in-person. When I want to discuss the priorities, schedule, or work-in-progress of the team I try to pay the business contact a personal visit. Yes, that means getting up and walking away from desk. It means not trying to live my business life completely in email. My experience is that the spoken word helps to achieve cohesion and unity with the business contact. It creates more of a bond and a feeling that you are solving the puzzle together.

Conflicts can be unlocked by finding your common goal.
Conflicts and differences of opinion are inevitable. There are many ways to solve conflicts but to create a good cross collaborative approach we need to focus on the common goal. For eCommerce teams and business owners that is to produce working software that provides a return on the investment (make money!).

I like the evaporating cloud technique for solving conflict. Answer these questions:

1. What do I want? What do they want? (precisely verbalize the conflict)
2. What need do I have that causes me to insist on that want? What need do they have that causes them to insist on their want?
3. What is the common objective?

The Conflict

  • Business – Get valid estimates upfront
  • eCommerce Team – Give valid estimates after all requirements are given

The need

  • Business – Give the customer feedback when the request can be completed and for what cost
  • eCommerce Team – Provide the best quality by knowing all of the requirements upfront

The common goal

  • Produce working software that provides a solution to the customer and return to the business.

Then challenge the assumptions in the middle and find ways invalidate the assumptions which will produce ways to break the conflict.  From my example, does the customer expect that the full project will be delivered in one piece? Can the customer take delivery in multiple pieces? For the eCommerce team does the customer know fully what they want and can they articulate it upfront?

At some point in the process an assumption may be proved false which will provide a way to unlock the conflict.