Seven reasons to communicate better with business stakeholders

18 Oct 2020

‘Why do I have to talk to the business teams? They always ask for impossible things and they want to get them today.’

Are you a software developer or IT professional? Does this sound familiar? Do you have moments when you would rather do anything else than talk to your business stakeholders?

If you said yes, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Communication between technical and business teams can be tough. It is the source of a few comic strips, as well as a lot of frustration on both sides. The fact that I wrote ‘on both sides’ shows just how much we think of business and technical teams as being on different sides of a battle. Like different teams competing against each other instead of working together towards a common goal.

The thing is, it shouldn’t feel like this. It doesn’t have to be this hard. Business and technical people can work well together, it happens every day in thousands of companies around the world. The key to their success is good communication.

‘But it’s so hard to talk to the business teams.’

I know, it can be hard to communicate across the business/IT divide. But just because it is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

If you are struggling to find reasons to improve the communication with your business stakeholders here are seven things to consider:

1. Without business stakeholders the IT teams don’t have a job.
2. Most budgets are held by business teams.
3. Business goals drive IT changes.
4. Business teams generate work for IT teams.
5. Business teams approve the work (or not!) delivered by IT teams.
6. You all have a shared goal.
7. Good communications means better relationships.

By the end of the post, I hope you’ll find a reason to pick up the phone or write an email that helps you connect with your business stakeholders.

Reason 1: Without business stakeholders, the IT teams don’t have a job

Technical teams don’t bring money into the organization. The sales teams, marketing, product development, billing, service and all the other operational teams are the ones that bring the money into a company.

Sure, a business runs on its technology, but the technology itself doesn’t make money. Without a sales and/or marketing team to sell a product, there wouldn’t be any customers. Without billing teams how would the customers pay for the product? And without product development, there wouldn’t be any follow-up products to keep the customers coming back to your company.

Every piece of software, every system, every process that IT designs, builds and maintains, supports the business in its goal of serving a customer and generating revenue. If you want your company to be successful you need to be able to work with and talk to the people who bring in the money.

Reason 2: Most budgets are set by business teams

In most companies, the budgets are driven and owned by the business teams. Their goals, projects, and targets are what defines how much money is available for the technical teams to spend.

If the communication is bad between your technical team and the business teams that provide your funding, you will have problems. Your teams need to know and understand the strategy of the business teams you serve.

The communication must go both ways. The business teams also need to know the technical requirements, limitations, and roadmaps you have. The better the communication, the more they will understand what you need and help to ensure the budget is available to meet the combined goals of the business.

Don’t think about budgets as competition for each team getting a slice of the same limited pool of funding. Think of it as a collaboration to ensure the needs of the business are jointly met for both business and technology strategy.

Reason 3: Business goals drive technology changes

The goals of business teams are either driven by market changes, or a desire to change the market. In either case, the result is usually new products or features that the IT teams must build and maintain.

Poor communication between business and technology teams often stops the IT teams seeing the business roadmaps. This means the changes, new products, or features, come as a surprise.

Even small changes in product features can mean a lot of work for the technology teams. Changes take time and money, and if the work is a surprise it can be tough to find the resources (people or money) to deliver the work.

By communicating clearly, regularly, and openly with your business stakeholders you can avoid many of the short notice ‘surprises’ and have fewer budget or resource issues in your team.

Reason 4: Business teams provide the work for your teams

All technology work supports business goals. If the business didn’t have goals there would be no work for the technical teams to do. The business, sales, marking, and operational strategies all provide work for technical teams to deliver.

• Fixing defects ensures operations continue smoothly and efficiently
• Maintaining systems or technology is necessary to keep the business running
• Developing new technology ensures the growth of the business (a factor that is important if you want to have a job next year)

If the business teams are the source of your work, it is a good idea to have clear and open communication with them so you can understand what they need and when they need it by.

Reason 5: Business stakeholders approve the work (or not!) delivered by technical teams

The success of an IT team usually comes from the approval or acceptance of the product by the business teams. If communication between you and the person approving your work isn’t good there is a chance they will reject it. There can be many causes of an end product being rejected by the business, but the two biggest causes of rejection have some basis in poor communication:

The delivered ‘thing’ doesn’t work — It is unusual for a finished product not to work. So when business teams say ‘it doesn’t work’ that usually means it doesn’t work in the way they expected. This indicates a gap in understanding between the business and technical teams about the intent, function and expectations of what needed to be built. That is a communication breakdown.

The customer doesn’t like it — This could be blamed on sales, marketing or product development for not understanding the customer need. It is true that those teams have the customer-facing jobs and they convey the customer need to the technical teams. But this is too often used as an excuse for technical teams to hide behind.

If the customer didn’t like it, is that because the ‘business’ didn’t get the right requirements, or because the technical teams didn’t fully understand the customer need?

Instead of saying ‘the business teams gave us the wrong requirements’ you can be proactive, engage in the requirements process and ask questions to understand the customer need. The more you know about the end-users intentions the better you can design and build a product to meet their need. Remember you have the same goals as the business teams, to serve the customer and to make money for your company.

The approval and acceptance by business stakeholders are critical for the success of any technical team. The better the communication between your team and the people you serve, the more likely you are to have good results.

Reason 6: IT and business teams all have a shared goal

It doesn’t matter if you are designing a front-end UI, fixing bugs in an application, updating security systems, or managing databases, everything you do as a technical professional is to serve customers and support the success of the organization you work for.

Those goals are the same for anyone working in a business role.

IT teams and business teams all have these same goals and everyone is working towards the same objective. Despite this, we often have a ‘them vs us’ mentality between technical and business teams.

The way to begin to break down this barrier is to communicate with the business teams about the common goals. Talk to your business stakeholders with the mindset that whatever they are asking for is aligned with your own goal of serving the customer and supporting the business. If you don’t understand what they need, or why they need it, ask questions to find out how their request is aligned to that common goal. Once you can do that it becomes much easier to find common ground and agreement on the way forward.

Reason #7: Good communications means better relationships

Your business stakeholders are the source of much of your work and the internal customer for whatever you produce. They are critical to the growth of your organization and therefore to your own job security and career.

With so much of your time and your future employment in the hands of other people, it makes sense to build a good relationship with them.

Without a good relationship, the everyday tasks in your job become harder. Asking for help, or letting someone know about a delay or a cost increase all become easier if you have a relationship with your business stakeholders, but if you never talk/email/call/message someone you cannot build a relationship.

Having better relationships with your stakeholders will make your job easier and learning how to communicate with your business partners is critical for good relationships.

Let’s wrap up

Good communication builds good relationships, and the relationships you have with business stakeholders are some of the most import you have at work. With so much of your job affected by the quality of those interactions, you cannot avoid communicating with the business teams. Not only will it make your own job harder, but it can also prevent you achieving your goals at work.

If you are like many IT professionals and you avoid, or dread, talking to your business stakeholders, it isn’t too late to change. Reach out, be proactive, start talking to them, and you will be surprised how easy everyday things can become.