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Why is it that engineering and business teams have so much trouble syncing up?
You would think that, within the same company, everyone is always aligned around the same goals. The reality, however, is that teams spend way too much time fighting each other for budget, resources, and leadership opportunities.
The story of building a new product is often a tale of two brains — business and engineering. These two groups are often in conflict rather than collaborating because they operate on different wavelengths.
While engineering recognizes that successful products come from iteration, pivoting, moving quickly, and failing fast, business teams are focused on planning, predictability, and risk management — they want detailed product roadmaps with months, even years, of lead time.
The result? Business and engineering brains struggle to maintain the connection between what’s built and what needs to be built.
It’s easy to say that teams should ‘just spend more time’ talking to each other or ‘to just have more meetings.’ The reality, however, is that cross-functional teams at large organizations need more pep talks and more meetings. Teams need focused and clearly outlined workflows to connect processes with outcomes.
Here are three tips to guide you.
1. Create a problem that both sides can tackle together
As a national practice leader for cyber security firm Coalfire, Carlos Pelaez often sits at the intersection of business and technical teams to conduct risk audits. This process, however, requires him to focus on more than just security.
“I look at the life cycle for development and how the business interacts with it,” says Pelaez. “If this is not done well, the risk of poorly developed solution could mean that other companies that depend on the solution will be left with poorly built software.”
In auditor role, Pelaez is often perceived as an enemy — a person who can single-handedly shut down or create roadblocks for a project. He has found, however, that his presence will often cause engineering and development teams to rally together.
“Audits create opportunities for developers and business teams to get behind a single cause, which is to pass the audit,” says Pelaez. “During the audit, we have conversations around risk and this further helps each side better understand the larger reason behind why they are doing what they are doing.”
Facing a single challenge, business and technical teams have no choice but to unite together and support one another — to be involved at every stage at the audit process.
“Focus forces more interaction and communication on both sides,” says Pelaez.
2. Eliminate pointless re-work
Development and business teams are often speaking different languages. Engineering teams are likely to approach challenges from a technical perspective, while business teams are looking to achieve very specific growth goals.
When two teams tackle the same challenge from different perspectives, there’s bound to be miscommunication — opening doors for wasted effort and endless rework: a perpetual state of rework, rework, rework.
Let’s say, for instance, that your organization is building a solution to meet a very specific business goal. Your engineering teams receive a set of specs for development. Through a series of emails, however, a crucial piece of information was never communicated from business teams to engineers.
It’s a problem that organizations face over and over, resulting in a costly and frustrating waste of time.
A key first step to resolving these challenges is to ensure that engineers and business teams, together, are involved at the planning stages.
“There are two main steps we take in order to make sure our development and business teams are in sync with each other,” says Chad Halvorson, CEO and founder of employee scheduling app When I Work.
“On one side, we make an effort to hire tech and data-driven business people. On the other, we try to hire engineers who are able to think about the bigger picture of what they are building and how it impacts the growth of the company.”
Enterprise collaboration software can help keep teams on the same page through the entire product development cycle. The secret is no secret at all — these tools create line items of tasks and make it easier for teams to share feedback at every stage. The end result is a product that will exceed performance for its intended use case.
3. Unite around specific goals — not a desire for ‘change’
As a product marketer for app development agency Koombea, Kate Swanberg often looks for ways to keep development and business teams around the same page.
“Engineers are focused on building,” she says. “As a product marketer, I’m focused on acquiring users, retaining users, updating pricing models, and building a business to sustain the costs that go into building our product.”
“The main thing is for business and development teams to share feedback around numbers,” Swanberg says. “As a marketer, I let our engineers know where numbers are low and where they are high.”
Swanberg encourages teams to be extremely focused in positioning their numbers around a business case or story.
“For example, if you’re having trouble acquiring users maybe you need to update your onboarding process,” Swanberg says. “Let the team know it’s high priority to get people using your product than working on developing extra features which actually can complicate the product.”
Collaboration shouldn’t be difficult — but it is. Even more challenging is the fact that there are a number of SaaS tools that promise to simplify workflows and to keep teams aligned.
Before implementing these tactics, organizations need a thorough understanding of their most pressing needs and pain points. Tools can help but will be most successful after teams have gone through the process of identifying and laser-focusing upon the challenges bogging them down.
Simplicity will be your best asset.
The best way to get started with this process is an open and honest conversation in which team members can speak openly and honestly. Identify a set of challenges, and choose tools that solve them.
Read next: 9 apps that can change the way you work
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