Understanding Business Stakeholders

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Khalil Gibran

As I speak to many co-workers who have younger children I often think about my experiences as a parent. Having two kids I have a shared understanding and empathy. The many stages you go through with children bring about great learning and challenges.

In business, we can see similar shared experience. Organizations grow and shrink while they make many changes. Having a basic understanding of what people do and need can help us bring empathy and relate to their struggles. Before I was in software I worked in sales. This experience has helped me see things that someone without that experience can grasp.

Common Personas

Working in the software development arena for many years I have run into some common issues working with the business. You will no doubt run into similar feedback from teams you collaborate with.

Take so long?

A sage old developer I once worked with said, “Everything is easy to those who don’t have to do it.” He was often second-guessed by managers and tried to explain all the steps involved. They stopped listening after the first two. Working with technology is hard and problematic. Some days it can be quite frustrating and others everything works.

Changes…

Working with different systems you find configuration can be challenging. If you purchase or begin using a system that gets you 80% complete there are trade-offs. More than likely you cannot change everything. So the speed comes with a cost. On the other side, we can completely code a solution from scratch. This gives you more flexibility but can take a lot longer.

Ready???

Before we had iPads for our kids, going to grandma’s house was a chore. My son would ask repeatedly, “how much longer?” We could not get to grandma’s house fast enough. Most teams have someone like this too. The changes they want always take too long. They ask in every meeting and in the hallway. You get to the point where you walk the long way to the break room to avoid them.

Estimates

I have spoken a bit about the #NoEstimates movement in the agile world. Of course, that doesn’t stop many executives from asking. The mountains of evidence that humans don’t estimate well just don’t deter them. I recently got an estimate for some car repair at a body shop. It made me think about the estimates we do in software development. Repairing a fender on a car and re-designing a software system have some similarities. The big difference though is the inherent complexities of software design. So if you are pressed to give an estimate of time or cost you can give one, but chances are you are wrong.

ROI

Corporate management can be obsessed with the Return on Investment in all aspects. They can try and break down each phase to look at the value. This can be problematic as many times the value is seen after the culmination of work and effort. There is some preliminary work that needs to be completed before the team can accomplish everything. If we focus on one phase we can overlook the complete cycle.

Too many People?

Trimming the organizational ranks is a management standby. If a company is publicly traded there can be a constant demand for performance. In the 80’s there was a corporate executive that made his name by trimming the ranks and trying to increase profitability. His nickname was “Chainsaw”. Al Dunlap was eventually disgraced when his efforts to trim organizations and show good numbers were fraudulent. As a manager, you want to have a productive but lean team. Understand that most often you will be understaffed.

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