This week, I´ve been talking about the communications gap between geeks and suits. It´s something that affects every business, but it´s also something that can be managed. In The Geek Gap by Bill Pfleging and Minda Zetlin, readers learn first-hand why the gap occurs and what they can do about it. Here´s part two of an interview with the authors:
Q: Why are you the first to write about this obviously huge and long-standing problem?
A: We’re kind of curious about that ourselves. When we first started research, we found books for technologists on how to talk to business people, and books for business managers on how to manage technologists. More recently, some are looking at the need for technology people to understand business concepts and goals. No one has addressed the culture clash itself.
And yet, when we tell both business and technology people what our book is about, they almost always nod in recognition, and begin telling us about the Geek Gap problems they themselves have encountered. It’s as if everyone knows it’s there, but no one thinks they can do anything about it.
Q: OK then, what can they do about it? What can a company do to alleviate the effects of the Geek Gap, and where should it begin?
A: There are many things companies can do, and some are doing, to narrow the Geek Gap. Cross-functional work teams that include both geeks and suits, including technology people from the start of a project and, if appropriate, on customer visits all can help. Education on both sides, so geeks learn about business and suits about technology is very helpful. Some companies actually have programs that allow technologists to work on the “business side” for a while, and business people to work in technology areas, which can be extremely helpful, too.
Just as important is what not to do: Many companies seem to deliberately separate the technologists from everyone else, putting them in their own area, and even operating IT as a separate fee-for-services center, in which other departments “pay” for IT from their budgets. This is a powerful way to solve the alignment problem as it forces IT to show ROI on every single project. But it also widens the Geek Gap.
The most important thing, though, is to find some way to foster respect in geeks and suits for each other’s expertise. This respect is conspicuously lacking in most workplaces, as when business people expect technology people not to mind having others tinker with systems they designed from scratch, or when technology people assume they’re just as qualified to run a business as the suits are. Until both learn to value each other’s skills, the Geek Gap can never be bridged.