When it comes to IT budgets, the fact of the matter, based on research that I did for InformationWeek, is that many, but not all organizations are fairly flexible with IT, despite the crusty old practice of only planning expenditures once per year. So why is budgeting a topic that makes IT folks cringe?
At yesterday’s seminar, “IT Budget: Getting A Seat At The Table,” Brian Shea and I dug a little bit into this. I’m someone who used to be external IT who is now internal IT, and Brian is external IT who used to be internal IT, so we both have a sense of how IT budgeting can affect internal and external IT services. We had a spirited conversation! While the webinar is now posted for those of you who are audiovisual in nature, I thought I’d jot down a few key points that came out of the conversation while they were still fresh in my mind.
- It Depends. Sometimes budget conversations are tough, and sometimes budget conversations are easy. The reality is that you can create as many flip charts and project justifications as you want, but budgeting usually boils down to trust and credibility. If you believe in someone, you fund them. Those that get funded believe that the budget process is flexible, those that don’t, don’t believe it. The budget process is “sometimes” flexible because people “sometimes” have credibility.
- Budget 101: Nobody Likes Whiners! Someone asked about what to do when business management doesn’t understand them. I quoted Larry Winget out of the great interview that he gave me in October: if nobody understands you, perhaps you’re not being understood. I’ll add here that he also said “if you’re whining, you’re wallowing in the problem and playing the victim. Get over it and take action to correct the situation, whatever it is. If you’re taking action, you can’t whine. If you’re whining, you can’t take action. It’s one or the other.” Sometimes, action is just as simple as getting with others who are affected by the problem – even when it’s a funding problem – and asking, “What can WE do about it?”
- Credibility Is Ultimately About Helpfulness. Why should someone give you money if you’re not substantially helping them? Credibility doesn’t mean that you’re credible/believable for being UN-helpful, it means you’re believable when you say that you’re going to use the funding to be a powerful force for good. Brian made an awesome point: credibility takes a long time to create, and, unfortunately, it only takes a short time to lose. Credibility is all about delivering what you said you would, AND about delivering something ELSE when it turns out that what you discussed with the customer isn’t quite what the customer needs. Be flexible to get flexibility. If you stick to process over outcomes, you can expect to be in the percentage of folks who say that IT budgeting isn’t flexible.
- Credibility, Not To Be Confused With Cowardice. I’m really glad that Brian was in the conversation, because usually I’m That Guy who is talking about the positive side of things, and it’s someone else who gets to be the Doubter: the guy who says, hey, all of this helpfulness stuff is great, but does that mean that Pollyanna is running IT? In this case, I played the role of the Doubter, and we had a great conversation about the distinction between being a helper and being a coward or pushover or cluelessly optimistic Pollyanna. There are so many times that building credibility is about sticking to your guns, about being firm but respectful, where the customer or business partner understands that you’re being firm for their benefit. This is quite different from just being a jerk. Creating credibility is not just about being a YES guy or gal. It’s about being honest with the goal of making things better.
If you’re looking for the t-shirt that I mentioned, you can find it here. Just don’t wear it to your budget meeting! 😉
I hope you enjoy the webcast! If there are other points that resonate with you or that you disagree with, please share in the comments!