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Are CIOs really getting a flavour of business needs?

Picture by Matt Goreiconphotomedia
Taste4 Lairhwaites wines.
Image by Iconphotomedia

The answers to life’s problems are rarely to be found at the bottom of a glass, no matter how profound or life changing that intoxicating liquor may well have been.

The other myth, ‘In vino veritas’, can also be debunked. Who hasn’t added flourish to a story as they clink glasses with the great and the good – especially if you are neither great, nor particularly good. Present company excepted.

Why am I writing about drink on a professional business and innovation site you might be wondering? Well, take a seat, pour a responsible measure and let me tell you a tale of where two business worlds collided; as wine glasses met across the divide.

I met with sommelier Hande Leimer (and husband, Theo) in Rome’s vibrant Litro wine bar on a recent bit of R&R in the Eternal City. Leimer is the owner of Vino Roma, a wine studio in the Italian capital, where novice and experienced wine drinkers can go to taste, learn and share their knowledge on wine. Though that isn’t always the case.

Leimer is my guiding light on all things pressed and drunk – both on Twitter and Instagram. An advocate of drinking better wine, she once wrote an impassioned email on why I needed to change my wine buying habits. I live by those principles daily (or twice a week if talking to my doctor). As we drank and talked we started to unearth the weird and wonderful parallels between building and developing business requirements for IT systems, and some of Leimer’s attendees on her wine tasting courses.

In Leimer’s world, there is a certain type of person that attends her events with a predetermined view on what wine is and how it should taste. As Leimer introduces a wine to the group, the attendee – usually as a guest of the person booking the class; often male – instantly offers their opinion. That opinion can occasionally dominate – never to the visible frustration of the tasters leading the session, it must be said. They “know” their wine, they’ve drunk this kind of wine before and they go straight to that experience – irrespective of what Leimer and her team might be trying to explain to the group.

I sat there listening, admiring the drink as I swilled it in the glass, trying to think of something interesting to say in front of a person I respect beyond words when it comes to wine – then out of nowhere I looked at Theo, who, we found out also works in IT and said:  “Users. They always think they know what it is they want rather than what they might actually need”.

Picture by Matt Gore
Taste4 Lairhwaites wines.

And that was that. For the next five minutes we barely mentioned the wine, we spoke only of shared experiences of how a small, often dominant group of users – from both an IT and wine education sense – immediately jump to answers. Comparing how the opinionated wine taster was no different from the business end user who approaches a requirements gathering session with a final solution; no discussion needed.

They know what they like, they know what they want – which often means that they don’t want to spend the time being “educated” by those around them. Why would you not want to be educated?

One of the key pieces of work I am about to start on this week is to try and provide clarity to a team of senior leaders that often feel detached from our organisation. They have resourcing issues, which in turn provide timing issues: not enough people equals not enough time to do everything they want to.

Part of the work I want to do with this key group of leaders is to better understand what it is they are trying to achieve through the work they do. To do that, I want them to think – not of answers – but of the challenges they face and the areas they feel they need to address. That way we can offer people to help; people with ideas and experience – rather than jumping to tools and solutions. Where a database or report might have helped in the past, assuming it will do again, without time and space to think through the issues they face, may simply add to their problems. The “right” tool at the wrong time?

We are in a lucky position in that they are not sure what we can offer them as a team, as a service. If you thought of it in wine buying terms, they might like Barolo or Chablis, but they don’t know if those are wines we stock. They have to ask. So we, as the educators, get the chance to lead the interaction. We get to ask what they want from their wine experience? Do they want a wine to drink with food or without, as part of a celebration or even as a second bottle slumped in front of the TV. Hopefully it will be empowering for both parties – my teams because they can demonstrate their knowledge and expertise. The leaders because they finally get someone to listen to them and the challenges they face, rather than simply rushing to the same bottle, the same shelf; panic buying as the shutters are coming down.

By taking the time to understand what this group needs, we get the chance to showcase exactly what we can do. By taking the time to listen to the person holding the wine bottle in front of you, as a drinker, you get the opportunity to challenge what you know; what you like. Why would you not want to be educated?


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