How to start co-locating developers with business teams

This shift helps developers become product managers – not just writing code, but delivering on business priorities and building true partnerships
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We’ve seen tremendous success at Ellucian in co-locating a team of IT developers with the business. In our organization, some of that co-location is virtual, since more than half of employees work remotely, while some people physically sit adjacent to each other.

Co-location has its benefits: When our business people have a question or when an issue arises, for example, they automatically know who to turn to for help. They also feel supported: The business knows that the developers are invested in their success.

When developers become product managers

This change has led developers to take on a new role. In some ways, they’re not just developers, they’re essentially product managers. They’re not just writing code, they’re providing solutions, business support, and advice on priorities. They’re planning the next-generation solution.

[ Read also: Revenue generation secret: Make everyone a product manager. ]

This model is far more successful for us than a more traditional pool of developers assigned to the next approved project, regardless of business function. By associating developers with the business — and only strategically rotating them from one discipline to another — we’ve been able to develop great partnerships.

We further augment this approach with our IT Business Partners, who are senior leaders in the IT organization and are responsible for coordinating IT engagement with our various business functions. Often, the developers assigned to a business team report to the responsible IT Business Partner.

Start with a pilot project

It’s easy to pilot developer colocation. Talk to your executive peers in one or more business units and look for opportunities and serendipity: a new project that is coming down the pipeline, a shared innovation interest, or a business opportunity that you have been jointly assigned.

Set the tone that the two teams will work together and succeed together. They’re one team that jointly understands the business problem or opportunity, and they all bring unique skills to the table. You’re in this together, and you deliver as a team.

[ Are you leading using an outdated rulebook? Learn the new rules of CIO leadership in this Harvard Business Review Analytic Services research. ]

Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics.