Building great technical solutions requires more than technical prowess

In this era of hyper-competitiveness, businesses are increasingly looking at leveraging technology for that added edge or the distinguishing factor that sets them apart from their competition.

Be it an innovative use of population health analytics by a health insurer or a care provider, or the use of artificial intelligence by the auto industry, in every sphere technological breakthroughs are shaping or creating new business opportunities.

In all these shiny examples, the underlying key to success is the right balance of understanding the business needs and applying the right technological solution to meet or exceed those needs. This underlying factor applies to every business and technology customer interface. Whether it is the development of that bleeding-edge application that creates new models such as autonomous driving or the routine application of technological improvements to any business's operational systems, such as modernizing an insurer's claims system. No matter the initiative, achieving this balance requires that the business and technologists can communicate with each other and comprehend each other.

However, more often than not, challenges emerge because of the interfacing parties - i.e., business and technologists - may not be speaking a common language. It's not that IT practitioners are not aware of such language barriers, yet it's still very easy to miss the signs when such barriers start emerging in interactions between IT and business stakeholders. For example, it's easy to imagine an IT practitioner using the word "metadata" in his/her communication with the end-user or customer, and not realizing that even that concept could be very foreign to someone in their audience. This may lead to the parties ending up disconnected, and eventually impacting the effectiveness of that excellent technology in solving the end customer's critical business need.

So how do you deal with this situation? The key is to step into their shoes, to grasp the view from their vantage point as a way to tailor the interactions appropriately.

A non-IT example can help illustrate this point. Imagine you are a person with no prior experience with law enforcement or the judicial system, and you are sitting in a courtroom as a first-time juror. You are listening to "opening statements,” and the "prosecutor" calling upon witnesses. There is also a "defense counsel" interjecting with phrases like "objection,” "hearsay, and not admissible." The judge is also using some technical language to "overrule" or "sustain" something the attorneys have said, and you find yourself sometimes struggling to understand the proceedings fully. You may wonder why these fine people - the judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney - need your help to decide this case, and yet they are not helping themselves by making it easy for you to grasp the proceedings effectively. Why can't they use common sense language? What do they mean by "hearsay," and why is it "not admissible?”

Well, that's precisely how the business people might feel in their interactions with IT practitioners where the IT practitioner - an accomplished individual - may be presenting an elegant solution and explaining it using common industry technical terminologies. However, the business people may not be able to connect with everything being presented, and thereby are not able to partner effectively in the development or application of that just-right solution.

Of course, it would be beneficial if all the stakeholders were equally tech-savvy, as in the case that a juror may be familiar with the law, or the judicial system, or law enforcement terms more generally. But that does not always happen, and here the IT practitioner needs to make that effort in ensuring they first comprehend the business audience – try to see the world from their vantage point – and communicates using simple and commonly understandable language – language that would be readily comprehensible by that business audience.

This is not “dumbing” down anything; instead, it’s assimilating the business's perspective to see it through the same lenses. We used an example here to illustrate how the use of technical jargon by some or the lack of understanding of technical jargon by others, can impair outcomes. But the point is not just about using terminologies appropriately or simplification of communication only, preferably it is about pursuing effectiveness of technical solutions and creating positive impacts on the business, which requires business and IT to team up effectively and that in turn requires them to fully and completely understand each other.

The key to all of the above is to employ skills that will allow one to see and understand something from another's perspective. Things like listening deeply and attentively, having an honest and open dialogue without preconceived notions of what an outcome should be, understanding that the other person's ideas opinions are just as important to them as yours are to you, and yes, even exercising a little empathy towards the other party when and where appropriate.

In a nutshell, we are talking about emotional intelligence or EQ. “Your EQ is the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them” as stated by the noted Harvard theorist Howard Gardner.

IT practitioners usually possess good IQs, but they must also nurture and mature EQ skills that are required to understand better, empathize and communicate or negotiate with their business customers. These skills need to be employed in all interactions between IT and business customers, be it simple conversations, or moderating sessions to discuss end-user needs, or presenting solutions or results.

People do possess some or all of these skill sets at varying degrees, but don’t always excel in them – especially in the IT realm – and it takes commitment and practice to master and wield them effectively. But done well, blending and leveraging EQ and IQ prowess will lead to bonding (in a workplace context), which leads to trust, which fosters better communication and understanding, and eventually manifests into the development of an effective solution that provides significant positive impact to the business. Now that sounds like it's worth the practice to perfect.

By Hatim Kader, X by 2

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