The “Geek Gap” between managers, known as “suits,” and technicians or engineers, known as “geeks,” was growing apparent in 2006 when authors Bill Pfleging and Minda Zetlin wrote The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don’t Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive.
The authors found that the faulty communication caused by the Geek Gap was costing businesses billions of dollars each year in failed IT projects. They reported that in 2003, the Geek Gap resulted in the loss of $55 billion in the U.S. alone, and they predicted that as business became more technology based, the Geek Gap would continue to grow.
Now, fast forward a decade, this prediction has held true, and businesses continue to look for ways to bridge the gap between executives and technicians.
In their book, Pfleging and Zetl explain that the conflicts arise from the very different viewpoints, agendas, and ideas of how accomplishments are measured.
They say suits have numerous pet peeves against geeks. They believe geeks:
- Don’t understand – or want to understand – anything about the businesses they work in
- Love technology for its own sake, not considering what new gadgetry might cost
- Expect that suits understand as much as they do about technology
- Can never seem to meet deadlines or stay within budgets
- Think rules shouldn’t apply to them
- Are bad with people
Adding to this, there are several pet peeves geeks have about suits. They believe suits:
- Refuse to learn anything about technology
- Don’t understand technology but insist on making technological pronouncements
- Don’t value technology
- Only care about money
- Resist innovation
- Value image over substance
To counter these misperceptions and promote communication, the authors outline several measures that companies have found to reduce or eliminate the Geek Gap:
- Avoid or mitigate policies that physically separate suits and geeks. Move IT so that they’re integral to operations and activities – don’t isolate them by themselves. Merge departments if practical, and create as much interaction as possible between IT and other employees.
- Create multiple points of contact. Get suits and geeks to be more familiar with each other by implementing processes with multiple touch points between the two groups. This promotes engagements and also helps avoid bottlenecks.
- Get geeks involved in projects from the start. Make IT staff functional members of project teams. This helps eliminate design-oriented technical problems up front before customers start using your products.
- Keep geeks in the business loop. Hold daily or weekly meetings for all employees, including IT. This involves IT staff and helps them prioritize their activities in line with the company’s goals.
- ‘Federalize’ IT. In large organizations, establish separate IT departments for each individual business line. Then, IT staff members are accountable to their local managers and not to the central IT operation, and there is more IT alignment with the business objectives of each line.
- Encourage a job swap. Create opportunities for suits and geeks to trade jobs, even temporarily, to learn about each other’s challenges, activities, and goals.
- Find ways to build respect. Promote respect among both suits and geeks by making sure each group has a basic knowledge of what the other group does. When the two groups understand each other, they get along better and communication improves.
Dynamic collaboration is part of the DNA of Enfocus Requirements Suite™. With direct stakeholder input and a central repository, users can bridge the Geek Gap for greater communication and improved outcomes.
I have two questions:
First, isn’t the business analyst role traditionally one of the most overlooked solutions to the above problem, since we commonly act as a liaison on many levels?
Second, the federalization of IT looks interesting but scary from a process perspective; has anyone ever seen it work?
I agree with Christy’s comment regarding the role of the BA.
The other essential role for bridging the gap is a UX (User Experience) team.