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How to successfully navigate conversations with IT

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chairman at Spot migrationa Chicago-based managed IT support and strategy company that provides peace of mind for operations leaders

Understanding the difference between operational and technical truths can be incredibly helpful when solving problems within a complex process or system. This is especially true for IT systems with many functionalities and safeguards to take into account.

Operational truths consist of concepts that are often more difficult for a more technically minded person to grasp, while technical truths focus on the specifics of how something works.

Both kinds of truths are necessary in many cases to fully understand a system. Operational truths help us understand how something overarching works within a process or system that takes us to our end goal. Technical truths, on the other hand, are more detailed and not so interested in the bigger picture.

Operational truths can be incredibly helpful when trying to figure it out Why something does not work as intended or does not get the desired result. Apart from that, technical truths can be useful to understand precisely how a system works. Technical truths are useful for debugging systems and finding loopholes.

It is often useful to have both operational and technical insight when buying, building or changing a complex system. In many cases, operational truths can provide insight that technical truths cannot. I think this is true even when I’m talking about the most technical processes.

Here is an example of an exchange between an operational person (OP) and a technical person (TP) discussing a backup. Note how asking a technical question will get you a technical answer if you’re really looking for an operational answer.

ON: Will our company data be backed up?

TP: Yes.

This is true both operationally and technically.

ON: Is it an image-based backup?

TP: Yes.

This is true both operationally and technically.

ON: How long will it take before we are up and running again?

TP: 1-4 hours.

This is not necessarily true from an operational standpoint. If the IT professional has all the new equipment on hand and has done this before, that may be true, but it generally isn’t. When an IT person has never tackled a specific challenge, it almost always takes longer than expected. That is the nature of IT. Even if it only lasts for a while, it almost always has some hiccups or inadvertently breaks something else.

I would say they don’t lie to you. It’s their best bet, so a shorter time is the safer answer. Simply put, the intent of the question and the intent of the answer are different.

Here’s another example.

ON: If our internet goes down, will we still be able to use the internet?

TP: Yes, we have a failover internet line.

This is technically true, but may be operationally incorrect. If you are hosting an application or email locally, you cannot connect to those applications. Business continuity is not just technical; it is thinking about all the consequences for the company and the users.

The questions that operational people should ask should always be about the impact on their people. Try something like that.

ON: Will my people be affected if an internet outage occurs?

TP: They will be mostly fine. Email can be unreachable for a while because it is hosted locally.

Another thing to keep in mind is the culture of your company. If it feels like they can’t be candid with you, you’re always in the dark. A culture of fear magnifies this underestimation 100-fold.

Also, keep in mind that IT generally doesn’t think about the company’s operational priorities (i.e., making money) the same way an owner or operations leader would. To help your IT professional, you can train them in finance and business. Basic level knowledge that will help them understand how you think this can make a big contribution to the business. The better they think like you, the better business decisions they will make.

In short, there is general agreement that both operational and technical truths are necessary for a complete understanding of complex systems. However, it is important to understand the difference between these truths. More often than not, you’re looking for an operational truth rather than the technical one. Make sure you ask the right questions and train your IT person to think like you. The more they understand how you see things, the stronger your business will be.


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