I recently published an interview with Lee Anderson, the CIO of American Railcar Industries, who is embarking on a plan to "embed" his IT staff into business units, assigning staffers to be dedicated liaisons for their business colleagues. Such efforts are becoming more common, thanks to a growing realization that projects tend to be more successful when IT staff better understand business needs and issues. (Business staffers also get a better idea of the duties and responsibilities of colleagues in the IT organization.)
Gary Wright, CIO of Florida's Melbourne Internal Medical Associates (MIMA) takes a slightly different approach, with a job shadowing program that requires IT staff to spend at least two hours on the job with their business colleagues two times a year. Members of Wright's IT organization have spent time with secretaries, registration personnel, nurses and other medical and administrative staff.
Among the primary benefits, Wright told me when I met him at the recent Midmarket CIO Forum, are enhanced teamwork and morale and reinforcement of common organizational goals.
One part of the shadowing program I found especially interesting is a requirement that IT staff document their experiences with a short written summary, including at least two items they learned about the duties or normal workflow of the person they shadowed. These summaries are then posted on the corporate intranet, where anyone can view them.
Wright says it's a way to keep the program as transparent as possible and also requires IT staffers to reflect on their experiences. It occurs to me it's also a great opportunity for IT folks to brush up on their writing skills, which they may not use much in their "regular" duties.
A team of developers working on a system for a particular department might each shadow a different individual in the department. The resulting product is better, and IT staff can offer suggestions for different and more efficient workflows. Wright says business folks tend to appreciate suggestions if they are presented correctly. The right approach: "Could we make it easier for you if you did it this way rather than the current way?" The wrong approach: "You're not doing this the most efficient way. Do it this way."
Scheduling presents the greatest challenge, since Wright's 25-person staff, like many other IT organizations, has all the work it can handle. But, Wright says, IT staff "have realized the benefits and roll in shadowing with projects to understand the true need of a project from the client's perspective." Shadowing has "become a part of our culture."
Other parts of MIMA's organization, having seen the benefits, are experimenting with shadowing. Click here to download a copy of MIMA's shadowing policy.