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Perceptions: Technologists and Non-Technologists

John Eggert of IdeaLeadership out of Houston, Texas, conducted a survey, whose purpose was to ‘better understand the challenges to communication and collaboration among professionals from technology-related disciplines and those outside of these disciplines.’  John was kind enough to allow me to share his findings, which are in an article entitled “Non-Technologists’ Perceptions of Technology Professionals…and Vice-Versa.”  For those of you familiar with my blog, this is a topic I’ve covered from many angles, and now we have another, based on a survey of 120 individuals.

Respondents to the survey were evenly divided among women and men, most were between the ages of 51  and 60 (around 38%), 40% have Master’s degrees, and the split of professions was 55% were not in a technology-related profession (our non-IT respondents), while 45% were (our IT sample).

Here are the fascinating results John obtained:

Barriers ‘technologists’ and non-technologists bring to the party

Part 1:  Non-Technologists’ Characterization of Barriers Presented by Technologists

  • 45% of respondents said technologists do ‘not have people skills.’
  • Just over 30% said technologists ‘think like technologists,’ indicating they don’t consider problems the same way business people do.
  • Fortunately, less than 10% responded that technologists either ‘use jargon,’ ‘don’t understand the business,’ or ‘are conservative and rigid.’  I was pleasantly surprised by these lower percentages — it appears that some technologists at least are making headway in these important areas of interaction.

Part 2:  Technologists’ Characterization of Barriers Presented by Non-Technologists

  • About 27% said non-IT does not understand what IT does — this number was far lower than I would have guessed.
  • However, just under 25% said the business had unrealistic expectations about what IT can do.  This could be addressed by a more open relationship that contained ongoing conversation.
  • Nearly a fifth of technologists felt that business managers make decisions without sufficient data.  The impact here is that direction given to IT might not be fact-based, which even in the best delivery circumstances can lead to disappointing results.

Advice ‘technologists’ and ‘non-technologists’ have for each other

  • Technologist think they understand non-IT (5%) far better than non-IT understands IT (15%).  This is a significant gap in perception and could lead to presumptions about knowledge, influence, and expectations.
  • Technologists (under 30%) do not believe non-technologists (6%) collaborate towards common goals.  Without alignment, both groups will always be off the mark and disappoint each other.
  • Both appear to engage the other as individuals (response differences were immaterial), are open to alternative points of view, manage meetings well  and consider ‘our world view.’

What are the key findings (paraphrased) from John’s survey?

  1. The desire for working together may go unrecognized by the other because of different orientations to the concept of engagement or collaboration.  (The largest differences between the groups related to issues of mutual understanding, collaboration and/or engagement.)
  2. Similarities are as common as differences between them — this is not a bad starting point.
  3. Indications of a desire to work together effectively were evident.
  4. The non-technologists more often expressed a need for individual understanding and engagement, while the technologists more often emphasized a need to focus on project or organizational goals.
  5. And while not explicitly listed in the published results, the issue of respect for one another and for each other’s expertise was a frequently cited factor that cut across many of the response categories.

I found John’s survey gave me hope for the ongoing improvement of the relationship between these two parties who must always work together.  Not surprisingly it all goes back to respect via communication, listening, and understanding.