It is critical for you and your department to be aware of what your customers think of you. What are the customer's perceptions of you, your team and your department? Do you know what those perceptions are and are they positive? These perceptions make up your department's brand. A brand, as defined by the Kellogg School of Management, is "the psycho-cultural associations linked to a name, mark or symbol associated with a product or service." Your brand ultimately drives whether your customer wants to work with you or not.
Why Brands are Important
One of the greatest brands is Apple and it's the brand of each product they sell. Does it really matter what Apple product comes next for consumers to decide if they want it? No. People will buy any product by Apple because it is from Apple. I know people that don't know how they are going to use their new iPad, but spent $600 without blinking. Same goes for you and your department. You want to be top of mind to your business areas when they want to overcome a challenge or take on a new opportunity.
Some of you may be thinking, "I am a BA. What do I need to know about branding? Shouldn't that be left for the marketing people? I work with internal customers I don't work with the general public where our brand matters." If you do think that way you are wrong. Everyone is in marketing.
Think about the need for companies to reduce costs in today's environment. If you, your team or your department have a negative brand (meaning your stakeholders may not want to work with you) it won't take long for your department or pieces of your department to be outsourced. If you have a positive brand (stakeholders are happy) then they will fight for you when the outsourcing option comes up.
What Can You Do?
For awhile now there has been talk that IT needs to partner better with the business. I just read a blog on CIO.com, 4 Practical Steps to Marketing IT, that addresses this very topic. The key message the author starts out with is that IT departments are still being looked at as a service because they view the other departments (the business) as customers. Because of this you are not viewed as partners. If you are viewed as a service provider, you can be replaced. I have a service that delivers coffee to my office. As soon as I see another service delivering the same coffee for less, guess what? I am going with that other service. The same can happen with IT departments.
Regardless of whether management is doing a great job marketing the entire IT department, you can have an impact on the areas you work with. Here is one idea on how you can create the partner relationship you want.
Stop the venting! How do you speak about your business stakeholders to your team? Do you complain about them often? They don't know what they want, they keep changing their minds, they're never satisfied, etc. What this does is help foster an "us vs. them" relationship. Whether you realize it or not your team takes the lead from your attitude. You are the one on the front line. The same applies to how you talk about your team to your business stakeholder. When the business area is not satisfied do you "blame" the development team. Again, this creates the "us vs. them" relationship. Instead you need to be positive on both sides and foster a relationship where the parties feel everyone is working together to achieve a common goal. If you need to vent call me or your buddy and let us have it! Keep positive with your team members and business area.
Are you, your team, and department viewed as a partner or service provider? What are some things you do (or can do) that help establish and maintain the partner relationship?
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