We are all “the business”

Photo by thinkpanamaOne of my bugbears is when technical people—developers, BAs, etc—refer to internal stakeholders as “the business”. We all understand who these people are and their great value in our work. They are the people for whom we are building our technology, who can evaluate the elements of what we’re building, and help us prioritise and deprioritise our time.

But calling them “the business” is wrong because it separates us. We are all the business. As technologists we are building long-term assets for our organisation, the consequences of which may well outlast most employees. What we create determines what is easy and what is difficult for our operation for the future. It determines costs and opportunities in the medium and long term. Our architectural and design decisions impact our organisations’ strategy.

We technical and non-technical people need to be seen as partners, because we are a partnership whether we like it or not. Technologists are no less part of the business than non-technologists, and calling the non-technologists “the business” creates an unequal relationship.

No, I don’t have a better name, and I still find myself falling back to “the business”, too. “Product owner” might be appropriate in some situations, but it’s only meaningful if you understand particular methodologies. “Subject matter expert” isn’t bad, but I feel it slightly underplays the role of the non-technologist, reminding me of how an expert witness in a trial drops in but isn’t a central player. Other ideas are very welcome. What I do know is that technologists and non-technologists have to work together as equals, and our language needs to reinforce that.