Just throwing money at the time-to-market problem will not solve it
More resources can even be counterproductive
Faster time-to-market for new IT solutions is a key concern for Nordic business leaders. This is shown by Waagstein Research’s surveys of large Nordic companies. Digitalization and automation solutions are to them the most important opportunity to grow revenue and reduce costs. Bringing these to market quickly is therefore essential to beat the competition.
“Time-to-market is a duty for the whole company, not just IT.”
Many Nordic business leaders believe that their own company’s time-to-market for new IT solutions is too slow to be competitive. They naturally want more resources to be spent on speeding up the development process. But just throwing more resources at the problem is not the only, or often even the best, answer. It can even be counterproductive.
Lack of resources is only one of the causes of slow time-to-market. Our research reveals these critical factors:
- Organizational complexity
- Communication and cooperation
- Human resources
Time-to-market is a duty for the whole company, not just IT. Everyone in business and IT needs to work towards this. An important constraint to faster development of new IT solutions is the complexity of the company’s organization. In many companies, the current organizational structure causes important functions to be split up in different divisions with different objectives. It also makes it unclear who’s in charge of what. This often results in a lack of coordination which in turn slows down development.
“Setting up cross-functional IT and business teams is an important contribution towards breaking down barriers in the company.”
Because of the risk of creating bureaucracy, adding more resources to the development process can actually be counterproductive. More people require more coordination which creates the need for more management levels. This in turn leads to more meetings, more politics and less productive time which, in the end, results in even slower development.
Breaking down the barriers between different company divisions – reducing “silo” working and thinking and moving towards a flatter organization – is essential to reduce organizational complexity.
Setting up cross-functional IT and business teams is an important contribution towards breaking down barriers in the company. In order to become more efficient, they should be empowered to act with a great degree of autonomy and not be overly bogged down by bureaucracy.
Communication and cooperation
Open and transparent communication between business and IT teams is essential in order to establish a fast and smooth development process. Communication between different business units also needs to be frequent and well-structured in order to reduce duplication of efforts.
There are three main sources of communication and cooperation issues that cause problems in IT projects:
- Lack of IT-business alignment and shared understanding
- Unclear requirements
- Mismanaged expectations
Lack of IT-business alignment and shared understanding
Communication and cooperation suffer in many companies because of misalignment between business and IT goals and due to a lack of shared understanding between IT and business people.
“Getting business teams to interact and work day-to-day with IT teams, both in formal and informal settings, is the most important way of promoting IT-business alignment and shared understanding.”
An absence of alignment between business and IT objectives could lead to uncoordinated decisions and focusing on the wrong issues – those that don’t directly affect the bottom line.
Shared IT-business understanding is the shared domain knowledge and mutual understanding between IT and the business. IT has to know the business well in order to be a good, proactive advisor to the business and to be able to correctly translate the business requirements into technical solutions. The business, meanwhile, needs to understand enough about the IT domain to recognize what is possible in a certain time frame with the given resources and current systems.
Getting business teams to interact and work day-to-day with IT teams, both in formal and informal settings, is the most important way of promoting IT-business alignment and shared understanding. Helping everyone align under goals that directly support the company’s customers also makes it easier to break down traditional discipline silos.
Business managers are often not able to give clear goals and guidelines to IT for the new functionality that they request from IT. Good specifications help developers better understand the problem that the new system should solve – resulting in a better solution. They also reduce the risk of re-work, which in the end saves the company time and resources.
Unclear business requirements are more common when there is no direct line of communications between those that require a certain functionality – who knows the day-to-day challenges of the business – and those that are tasked to create it. Any intermediaries that are not absolutely necessary should therefore be eliminated.
Setting the right expectations to the business managers is important because it has direct consequences for their planning. The business needs to know what is possible in a given time frame and budget. Better managing expectations reduces the risk of surprises in the form of cost and time overruns.
The more technically skilled IT staff members are, the faster they solve problems, thus increasing development speed. But not only technical skills are important; equally important is domain or business knowledge.
“Business knowledge is essential for IT managers and staff.”
Business knowledge is essential for IT managers and staff. It helps them understand problems on a deeper level, create quality solutions faster and reduce the risk of having to re-work. It also allows them to notice bad solutions earlier; without domain knowledge they would often just blindly implement a solution provided by the business.
Given the importance of both technical skills and domain knowledge, learning is essential for any organization that wants to be successful. What can be done to promote a learning organization? There are two main strategies, which should work in tandem:
- Talent retention. The organization’s learning will suffer if it isn't able to retain staff. High turnover reduces the average skill level – especially when it comes to business knowledge. High turnover is also detrimental to team stability which in turn affects productivity. There are many strategies for talent retention, and compensation is only one of them. Perhaps more important to keep talent is to help them develop and promote opportunities for them to grow within the company.
- Training. It is unavoidable that new hires will have varying levels of expertise; it’s impossible to hire just the best. New challenges also constantly arise that require new skill sets of the current workforce. Providing learning opportunities to help staff develop new skills is therefore essential. This can take many forms, such as courses, conferences, internal learning events and cross-functional meetings and projects or by just setting aside enough time for them to learn on their own.