Closing the gap between business priorities and technology priorities is an age-old challenge.
Yet with digital tools becoming ever more pervasive across the organisation, getting business and tech teams on the same page is critical. This means ensuring that the priorities of both are fully aligned.
Quantifying tech impact to the business
Part of the challenge is getting one side to understand what the other is working on and needs. It is no secret that the way technology talks is not always accessible to non-technical stakeholders. This extends to the key performance indicators tech teams will look at, compared to what the business considers critical. The two may be linked – a tech focus on site reliability engineering (SRE) will have a direct impact on customer experience, but there is a danger of losing how the two co-exist if both parties are not absolutely clear on the link.
That means finding a common ground. For instance, if a tech team requires a significant resource investment to improve site availability, it needs to be able to illustrate the effect the support will have in a way non-technical stakeholders understand. This could be what Nik Gupta, Software Development manager at Amazon, called “a crisp summary of the impact to customers, to business, to your agility, to your operational cost, your quality of life […] present that analysis back to your stakeholders. If you do that well, you would see the stakeholders being very receptive.”
Nik was taking part in a recent Indorse Engineering Leaders panel discussion, and what he suggested is relatively straightforward in theory. The reality can be more challenging, however, as fellow panelist Smruti Patel, head of
LEAP and Data Platform at Stripe pointed out. Having the right data is certainly important, but “what I’ve historically seen is it’s easier to have metrics when you’re building products, in terms of customer experience, and […] it is slightly harder when you’re building out infrastructure platforms.”
Smruti’s point highlights one of the challenges with measurement – that there is rarely a single set of metrics that work for everything. As one article notes, businesses “are unlikely to find a single golden set of unchanging metrics, but the search for measurements that are appropriate for your current situation has value in itself.”
Aligning business and tech priorities through (over) communication
Aligning priorities is not just a problem for large businesses, either. Having worked at the likes of online food delivery service Just Eat, keeping everyone on the same page while growing rapidly is a challenge that Chris Newton, VP of Engineering at Immersive Labs, knows well. “As you grow, especially as you grow really quickly and the complexity of communication starts to build up, then maintaining that alignment and prioritization across teams is really hard.”
To overcome this, businesses need to start with a vision. “It needs to have a really clear, inspiring, well understood company vision that is really guiding every department in the business. Not just product and tech, but you’re talking about the whole wider business.” This overarching perspective informs every subsequent layer of objective setting and strategy, even as it moves from the entire company view to product and technology, and then engineering.
Maintaining that alignment requires communication, or as Chris says, “over-communication. There’s not enough times that you can talk about strategy and vision to your teams, and you have to say it and say it and say it again, until it really begins to resonate, and really becomes then just a guiding principle for everything that you do.”
Making the most out of disasters
But not all companies have that level of strategic organisation and cohesion. That doesn’t mean all is lost – in fact, tech teams can seize the chance to get the business to pay attention during moments which might not usually be considered positive. Nik pointed out that “every disaster is an opportunity. We just need to be able to view it that way.” He was talking about a major outage at a multinational technology company, and what one of its engineering leaders had discussed with him. “When [the outage] happened, suddenly all of that conversation stopped. It was all about, ‘Right. You are the most important person in [the company] right now. How do we fix this? How do we set this?’ This led to “a massive sort of platformisation effort after that, which they drove on the back of this very short public incident.”
Nik’s point was not to go looking for problems, but that when they do occur, to use them in the right way to show how this has happened because critical tech priorities have been overlooked. Clearly, in an ideal world there would be no failures, no downtime, but they are inevitable. It is up to tech leaders to not only fix the problem but highlight how it happened and how focusing on certain priorities will ensure it does not occur again.
What is not inevitable is the gap between business and tech priorities. As the panellists have noted, a combination of clearly defined metrics, communication and an overarching vision can help organisations to better align what both tech and the wider business wants. Do this, and companies will be in a better position to ensure that the technology they use is fully focused on driving performance.
The original article, published on European Business Magazine, was written by our team with the insights from four Engineering Leaders that participated in one of our panel discussions in January 2021!