‘Do You Want Fries with That?’

Have you ever visited a restaurant and had the waiter bring you a meal before you even mentioned what you wanted to order? It’s unlikely.

That simple process of getting what you want involves looking over the menu and making an educated decision based on what appeals to your taste buds, diet requirements, and how much you’re willing to spend.

Only after going through that mental exercise, you, as a customer, can place your order.

This step-by-step concept for decision making should be easy to digest in the business world, but can often be ignored by IT organizations when they are approached by people who need their services.

Ask Questions

The trouble with many IT organizations is that they may try to deliver all three courses before going back to the business and first saying, “Excuse me, but what do you actually want?” You’d be surprised at how often people begin work on IT projects without asking the right questions first.

After the business customer explains the needs and why they’re important, then you can give your customer some options. You could say that the a la carte choices can consist of access anytime, all the time, with sub-second response times, but it’s going to cost $2 million. Or, you can offer today’s special, access only during extended business hours, 8 A.M. to 8 P.M., with the cost to serve about 75% less.

If that doesn’t meet the budget requirements, you can offer some fixed-price menus with lesser offerings at a lower price. That’s the kind of conversation you should have before you get started on meeting the needs of the business.

These business requirements and expectations help make up service level agreements between IT and the business. In reality, however, service level agreements aren’t always agreements, sometimes they are really service-level compromises. The problem is often knowing when to compromise and when not to.

How do you determine the answer? One way to answer this is to ask the business managers what they need. Then take it to the next level within the organization to establish the worth of the project to the business. If you have no idea of its worth, then how can you make a decision on how much to spend to deliver this service?

A customer once told me that he wanted to extend the company’s online day by three hours, and to squeeze down all the routine batch activities that happen at night. In the old days, I would have recommended the techniques, processes and products available, and how these products worked to achieve this objective. But that approach just doesn’t work anymore.

The fundamental question I asked this customer was, “Why do you want three extra hours?” He gave me five good business reasons for doing this, and then my next question was designed to focus on what they were worth to the company: “How much money will it save or generate?”

If your business customer can’t clearly explain why a project should be done and what it’s worth in business terms, then go back to square one and don’t do the project. IT should be challenging the business to put a value on requests before rushing in to satisfy them.