There’s a huge cultural gap between marketing and IT, and the sort of things that work in a sales or marketing environment might not work in a techie environment. The marketing VP who likes to go around “lighting fires” isn’t going to be well received by IT.
Some people like to be contacted by email. Some prefer the phone. Some prefer face to face. Some like group meetings, while some prefer working things out one on one.
If you want to work with other people, you need to be aware of how they prefer to work.
IT wants details
When IT says, “write me a requirements document,” they’re not just trying to be difficult. They’re asking you to think about what you’re asking, and to present it in a logical way. Remember, they’re going to have to build this thing, and engineering a solution requires a lot more detail than some blue-sky idea.
“Good enough” vs. Perfect
I’ve found it useful to classify IT professionals in two ways. First, there’s the yes and the no types. Second, there’s “good enough” vs. perfect.
Some IT guys will reflexively respond to a new project with a cheerful, “Yes, we can do that.” Then they’ll come back later with their list of problems, caveats and limitations. Other guys will reflexively say “No,” but then they’ll think about it and come up with a list of things they can do, or a new way to approach it.
In both cases, don’t take the immediate response too seriously. People need time to think about an idea and work through all the ramifications.
In the same way, some IT guys are willing to slap something together and say it’s good enough. It works most of the time, on most browsers, and why should he spend all his time and effort for the three people using IE6 on old Macs?
Then you have perfectionists who want every detail to be exactly right before they can release it.
Both of these approaches present challenges. You need to come to some agreement about “good enough.”
Also, sometimes IT has a tendency to over-engineer a solution and build a complicated system when it’s not really necessary. Sometimes it’s best to start with simple and easy things and work from there.
What Drives IT Crazy
Generally speaking, IT thinks the people in the marketing department are flakes who come rushing in at the last minute with half-baked ideas that don’t make any sense. Unfortunately, they’re often right. Don’t be that person.
Like anybody else, IT professionals want you to respect their intelligence, their time, and their process. They don’t like doing a lot of work to set up a fancy new system that will be used once and then forgotten.
Get them involved early. Give them a sense for how large the project might be, which parts are critical and which are not, and get their ideas on how to simplify the process, or break it up into smaller pieces.
IT wants a requirements document, and you should definitely write one, but only after you’ve had a conversation about scope.
A Procedure for Working with IT
You can avoid a lot of problems by following this sort of a process.
- Marketing fills out a “bare bones checklist” for the project. The checklist focuses on what marketing wants and why, not on how it will be done. That will be resolved later.
- Elevator pitch – two sentences on what needs to be done and why.
- Scope – how many pages / visitors / sales will this project effect?
- Is it a one-off project, or part of a larger effort?
- Return – what do we hope to get out of this?
- Timeline – when does this have to be completed?
- Other Drivers – is there some Big Factor to be considered (e.g., it’s the CEO’s pet project)?
- IT reviews the checklist and meets with marketing for clarification.
- Marketing provides wireframes of the major pages that have to be built.
- Somebody writes a consensus document on what will be done.
- Both sides buy in (or goes back to step 2).
- Marketing writes a final requirements document
- Project moves forward.
If you’d rather listen to me talk through this topic, here are some links to a fairly low-quality video I did of this presentation. The videos were limited to 10 minutes each.