Business Relationship Management is a Contact Sport!

Sumo-wrestler-with-kid-e1384952556983I sometimes find my Business Relationship Management (BRM) trainees, coaching and consulting clients assume that BRM is a somewhat passive role, lacking in accountability and without ‘sharp teeth’. This perception is badly mistaken and can be harmful to the successful deployment of the BRM role.

Putting on the Boxing Gloves

Among my most popular posts this year was Business Relationship Management with Boxing Gloves. In that post I pointed out that BRM’s are:

  • Not “Order-Takers” where all business requests are seen as good requests, no matter what the potential to deliver real business value.
  • Not “Account Managers” who simply exists to route the business partner‘s requests to the proper people in the Provider organization.
  • Not “Gap Fillers” who become victims of dysfunctional Provider organizations–stepping in to fill any and all gaps in their business partner needs that are not being adequately met by the Provider.

The seasoned BRM knows how to deflect low value requests and turn them into high value opportunities, just as a boxer deflects his opponent’s punches and uses his opponent’s momentum to win the fight! They challenge dysfunctionality in the Provider organization, bobbing and weaving to move the Provider to a more responsive role. They are willing to throw a punch when necessary, appreciating that to not do so is to become a punching bag for someone who is not stepping up to the plate–who is not taking accountability for what they are supposed to deliver.

Being Clearly and Proactively Accountable

A second popular post was my last post, Are Business Relationship Managers Accountable for Anything? In that post I pointed out that the BRM owns the customer relationship and is fully accountable for the customer experience! The customer experience in turn is a complex product of factors including customer satisfaction, business value realization, customer service experience, and the customer’s rational and emotional reactions as they try to accomplish their goals using the Provider’s capabilities and services.

This notion of “relationship ownership” and the corresponding “accountability for the customer experience” are not concepts familiar to most internal IT organizations, but they represent a very real and extremely important accountability–one crucial to the success of the BRM role!

When Push Comes to Shove–Who’s Side Are You On?

It’s easy to say that the BRM sits between a Provider organization and their internal business customer and represents each party to the other, but what does that really mean in practice?

  1. The BRM represents the “voice of the customer” to the Provider. If the Provider is not meeting valid (and valuable) needs of the business customer, the BRM has to know who and how to confront on the Provider side. They have to understand the Provider’s Service Management ‘system’ and how to request new or changed services or service levels. Of course, they have to be very familiar with the project, program or portfolio intake process, and how to tee up new initiatives that survive the justification and prioritization process.
  2. The BRM must be able to support and defend Provider policies and processes, or, if they don’t believe these are in the business customer’s best interests, they much know how to lobby for changes.
  3. The BRM must have the communications and persuasion skills to shape and challenge business demand. If the demand seems to be of low business value, they have to be able to help their business customer recognize this and help guide them to a more valuable need. They must be able to help customers connect the dots between business strategy and goals to Provider services and initiatives, and if the dots don’t connect, they must know how to connect them or to re-frame a “want” into a real “need” that has business value.
  4. The BRM must know how to go back to business cases and establish the degree to which expected benefits are being achieved, and what to do about initiatives that are not achieving their expected value.
  5. The BRM must have the communications skills to achieve all this while only taking one side–that of their company or institution.

All these points reinforce the fact that Business Relationship Management is very much a contact sport–it takes skill, finesse, agility, and, of course, strong, trusting relationships and partnerships. This is a tough role to fill and is not for everyone. But for those with the chops, it’s an incredibly satisfying and valued role–one that can really make a difference! But not if you are constantly in retreat!


Image courtesy of Rude Baguette

Are Business Relationship Managers Accountable for Anything?


Once again, this post was inspired by a question that recently appeared on the BRMI member’s Online Campus.

The member asked the following question (paraphrased):

Our IT Operations group does not see the value of the BRM role. They believe that the BRM role has no real accountability, while being viewed as holding others accountable for service delivery performance. As a result, they tend not to include us in their activities and decisions about operational issues that impact our business partners and customers. What can be done to help them appreciate the importance of including us in such meetings or decisions?

A Common Dilemma!

I responded that this was a relatively common dilemma–role clarity and engagement is always a challenge, but when you are looking at the gap in role perspectives between the BRM (with their customer intimate value discipline) and IT Operations (with their operational excellence value discipline) the gap in understanding and collaboration is often huge!

So, Is the BRM Accountable for Anything?

The viewpoint that “the BRM role has no accountability” is TOTALLY WRONG!  The BRM owns the customer relationship and is fully accountable for the customer experience! The customer experience in turn is a complex product of factors including customer satisfaction, business value realization, customer service experience, and the customer’s rational and emotional reactions as they try to accomplish their goals using the provider’s capabilities and services. This notion of “relationship ownership” and the corresponding “accountability for the customer experience” are concepts quite foreign to most operations environments, which live or die based up strong process management discipline. So, yes–the BRM has a very real and extremely important accountability!

Is Anyone NOT Accountable for Anything?

Beyond the real and significant BRM accountability for the business partner’s customer experience, if we recognize that (according to Wikipedia) accountability means:

answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving. e.g., “A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s (past or future) actions and decisions, to justify them, and to suffer punishment in the case of eventual misconduct.”

The acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance, and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.

…then everyone is accountable for making and meeting commitments. In organizations with a strong culture of accountability (i.e., high functioning organizations), everyone makes commitments and feels accountable to meet those commitments. Whether a Process Owner, Service Owner, Product Owner, Relationship Owner, or anyone else on whom we depend upon for strong, predictable performance, accountability is integral to success, and is assumed to be part of the “rules of engagement” between any roles.

My Recommendation?

I suggested that this BRM initiate a dialog with IT Operations about this aspect of BRM accountability and its implications for other roles and other IT capabilities, such as IT Operations. That could be both illuminating and collaboration-enhancing! If we don’t understand, and live by, our mutual roles and their associated accountabilities, we slide into dysfunction, increased stress, and poor performance.


Graphic courtesy of Not Only Luck

The Search for Role Clarity Ends with Strategic and Operating Model Clarity! (Part 1)

Role-ClarityI come across a whole heap (yes, that’s a technical term!) of “role confusion” in my consulting and training work. And it’s an insidious issue. Lack of role clarity leads to errors, miscommunication, redundancy, noise and wasted effort. It creates frustration, confusion, and, for a provider such as an IT organization, it leads to a poor customer experience and to the familiar refrain, “IT costs too much, delivers too little and is hard to do business with. They want to help us improve business processes, while their own processes are badly broken!”

It’s interesting to note that external providers generally don’t have this problem. They demonstrate high maturity and a level of precision in how processes, roles and rules of engagement are defined. They have to–it is crucial to how they make money and how they attract and retain clients–and talent! Internal IT organizations often like to say, “We run IT like a business!” But they rarely do. If they did, they would ensure role and operating model clarity–or they’d have a failing business!

You Can’t Transform a Silo’d Organization Silo by Silo!

Too often I see an IT transformation initiative being managed silo by silo:

  • Service Management is on a path to a better future–often on a great path, but it’s their own path!
  • Enterprise Architecture is on a path to a better future–often on a great path, but it’s their own path!
  • Solutions Delivery is on a path to a better future–often on a great path, but it’s their own path!
  • Business Relationship Management is on a path to a better future–often on a great path, but it’s their own path!
  • Project/Program/Portfolio Management is on a path to a better future–often on a great path, but it’s their own path!

The good news is that most of the ‘moving parts’ that comprise an IT capability are moving to a better, more disciplined and more intelligently designed future. The bad news is that:

  1. They are starting from different points on a maturity curve.
  2. Their destinations are usually roughly the same–unless you drill into the details (where the devil lies!)
  3. They are each following their own trajectories.
  4. Nobody is driving this holistically–it’s a set of relatively independent transformations.

The result?  Role confusion.

Pre-transformation Things Seemed to Work

Before each of the silos began transforming, work got done through a combination of:

  • “I know who to go to because she and I have worked here for years.”
  • Heroic efforts. Processes are either broken or undefined, but that’s fine because I can fix things and be the hero. And heroic behavior is rewarded.

So, before the transformation, things kind of muddled along–error prone, inefficient and frustrating to the business customer. But they worked. Now, in the heat of transformation, people are:

  • Positioning for power and influence.
  • Protecting turf.
  • Unable to see (or believe!) the “big picture” of the end state.
  • Afraid of loosing control. (“The old ways were not very efficient, but at least I understood them!”
  • So focused on their own silo, they don’t have the time, energy, or structural paths to clarify how all the moving parts engage.

I will pick up on Part 2 in the next week or so. Meanwhile, as ever, comments welcome!

Shadow IT: Friend or Foe?


Every now and again, I see articles, posts and comments about “Shadow IT“, nearly always cast as a negative phenomenon–something to be avoided, challenged, even eliminated. As an example, Information Week recently published an article entitled “Shadow IT: 8 Ways to Cope.” While all the suggested ‘coping mechanisms’ make sense, I’m always concerned that Shadow IT is treated as an evil force to be eradicated as opposed to a powerful capability to be encouraged and leveraged.

What Do We Mean by “Shadow IT?”

Sometimes called “Stealth IT”, Shadow IT usually means work that ‘should’ be performed within the ‘formal’ IT organization but is instead performed by non-IT professionals inside business units. The implications of Shadow IT can include systems that don’t meet requirements of security, privacy, integrity, or compliance with standards, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, Basel II or PCI DSS.

The degree to which Shadow IT solutions violate such standards, and the implications of such violations is rarely considered. Shadow IT is considered a scourge on the landscape that must be eliminated.

The Other Side of Shadow IT

The problem with tarring any form of IT work handled outside the IT organization with the “Shadow IT” brush is that it misses a key trend, and ultimately, a powerful opportunity. This is something I’ve referred to in this blog over the years as “Business-IT Convergence.”

The reality today is that:

  • Information and IT are pervasive–everything can and is being digitized in some way.
  • IT literacy is increasing–people enter the workforce expecting the same level of connectivity and user friendly tools they have at home.
  • Demand for IT solutions continues to far exceed supply–it is frustrating to have a need stuck in a ‘backlog’ with the knowledge that it may take months or even years to deliver valuable functionality.
  • Cloud services such as Software as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service are proliferating–there are a growing range of low entry cost and effective solutions available for almost every apparent business need.

As a result of these forces, the “high priests and priestesses of IT” are no longer the only source of IT talent. In some ways, the cat was out of the proverbial bag with the invention of the minicomputer, and given free reign with the invention of the PC and of spreadsheet tools like Visicalc. These tools enabled a non-programmer to quickly do the work of a highly skilled FORTRAN programmer–usually in a fraction of the time!

When Does Shadow IT Become Embedded IT?

The real danger with Shadow IT is when it truly is hidden in the shadows–when the real costs of IT are buried, when the risks associated with legal or regulatory compliance is real, or when solutions have low integrity.

The best ways to head off this danger is to go ‘with the flow’ inherent in business-IT convergence and encourage embedded IT by providing the infrastructure to safely support it.

Without meaning to introduce politics into my blog (something I’ve managed to avoid since the first post in 2007) President Obama is pursuing engagement with Cuba with the argument that 55 years of embargo have not been effective. Whether or not this is the right policy, I believe IT professionals have to reach out to Shadow IT groups, learn why they exist, and find ways to embrace them and bring them ‘out of the shadows.’

Bringing Shadow IT into the Light

There’s a ton of valuable information in the existence of Shadow IT:

  1. What needs does Shadow IT fulfill and why weren’t these needs fulfilled by ‘official’ IT groups?
  2. How are Shadow IT groups and activities staffed and funded, and how can this activity be legitimized?
  3. How can an infrastructure be established that includes appropriate governance and funding mechanisms that clearly delineate ‘departmental’ needs and solutions from those that should be leveraged across departments or the entire enterprise?
  4. What is the best way to connect Business Relationship Managers into embedded IT groups?  What is the nature of the BRM role with these groups?

There’s also a ton of valuable knowledge within the Shadow IT groups:

  1. What types of knowledge exist in the Shadow IT groups?
  2. Are there ways to better capture and tap this knowledge?
  3. Are there other groups that don’t have access to this knowledge that could benefit from it?
  4. What other knowledge could these groups benefit from, and what is the best way to make that knowledge available to them?

So, I suggest looking at Shadow IT as a positive rather than a negative force–as a source of information and knowledge and as an early form of business-IT convergence. If you can’t beat them, embrace them.  Bring them out of the shadows and help establish them as a part of a highly effective enterprise-wide IT operating model.


Cartoon courtesy of Enterprise Efficiency

Business Innovation: Processes, Techniques and Tools for IT Business Relationship Managers


Shameless Promotion!

Disclaimer: This post is a promotion for my one-day training event in Portland, Oregon on Friday, May 29, 2015, 9:00AM-4:00PM PST. This training session follows BRMConnect, the world’s first and highly anticipated conference for BRMs being held at Cascade Crest Conference Center on May 26-28 in Portland’s picturesque Washington Park on the grounds of the Oregon Zoo.

Act now–this event is being limited to a maximum of 20 participants, and there are only 5 seats left!

Why Is This Important?

To survive today, organizations must be adept at making effective use of IT to support business operations and administration. This has become “table stakes” for organizations of any size or purpose. Only a few organizations, however, reach beyond table stakes to truly innovate business products, services, processes, and business models, even though today’s technology landscape offers a host of innovation enablers, such as:

  • Cloud-based services and solutions with very low barriers to entry
  • Low cost sensors, tag, cameras, etc., with RFID, GPS, bio- and telemetrics, etc.
  • “Big data” analytics for making sense of the environment
  • Social tools for collaboration and engagement with customers and workers
  • Mobile everything; the “Internet of Things”
  • Electronic wallets and payment systems
  • 3-D printing
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Gaming, Massively-multiplayer online gaming
  • eLearning, Massive Open Online Courses

New Processes, Techniques and Tools for the IT BRM

How do BRMs become business innovation catalysts? Innovation research highlights new methods that can be effective in surfacing, evaluating, selecting and exploiting business innovation opportunities, including:

  • Design Thinking
  • Mind Mapping, Heat Mapping and Dialog Mapping
  • Innovation Jams
  • Social Network Analysis
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Prototyping
  • Sentiment Analysis
  • Prediction Markets
  • Innovation Labs
  • Systematic Inventive Thinking

This one-day course will discuss the BRMs role in business innovation and explore processes, tools and techniques for stimulating, surfacing and exploiting IT-enabled business innovation opportunities.

Course Learning Objectives

Today’s IT BRM must be knowledgeable in the ways of IT-enabled business innovation and skilled in the underlying techniques. Though this one-day course you will learn:

  • The importance of “Innovation Intent” and how to create it
  • Distinguishing between Invention, Innovation and Improvement
  • Innovation lessons from the world of improvisation–an experiential learning session led by improv master, Gary Hirsch, co-founder of On Your Feet
  • Tools and techniques for innovation Discovery
  • Tools and techniques for implementing innovation
  • Key Organizational Principles of innovation and how to assess them
  • Design Thinking and the Innovation Process
  • Enabling the Innovation Process with technology
  • Illustrative Case Studies in IT-enabled innovation

Please click here to find out more about this course. Please visit BRMConnect 2015 Registration page to register for this class.

Fostering Business-IT Convergence – Business Relationship Manager as a Synchronicity Coach


The more I teach, the more I learn!  Last week I wrote about the boxing metaphor for Business Relationship Management–a metaphor that surfaced during a recent onsite Business Relationship Management Professional® (BRMP®) certification course I was teaching. This week, a new and surprising metaphor surfaced in my online version of the course–that of Synchronicity Coach.

Learning Through Metaphors

Early in the BRMP course, I ask participants what metaphors come to mind for them when they think about the Business Relationship Manager role, and this week one of the participants offered “Synchronicity Coach.” I asked him to say more about his metaphor, and he said:

Both business and IT need to constantly adapt to changes in the information and Information Technology landscape.  The natural tendency is to adapt over independent paths, which is not healthy. The BRM role exists to bring these independent adaption paths into synchronicity.

I thought this was a very astute perspective. I’ve blogged in the past about the notion of “Business-IT Convergence”–going well beyond the elusive “Alignment” goal (which always feels reactive) to something more proactive, that recognizes that:

  1. Business executives and managers are becoming ever more IT literate.
  2. Information and IT are becoming every more ‘consumerized.’
  3. The role of the IT organization is shifting from the ‘doers’ to the ‘enablers’ and ‘coaches’.


Wikipedia defines Synchronicity as:

The occurrence of two or more events that appear to be meaningfully related but not causally related. Synchronicity holds that such events are “meaningful coincidences”. The concept of synchronicity was first defined by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, in the 1920s. During his career, Jung furnished several slightly different definitions of it. Jung variously defined synchronicity as an “acausal connecting (togetherness) principle,” “meaningful coincidence,” and “acausal parallelism.”

Certainly, business is evolving in its relationship to information and IT, and the IT organization (or, more correctly, the IT Operating Model) is evolving in its relationship to Information Technology and the enterprises and business units it supports. So, I think that what my participant was referring to the BRM as a coach in fostering Business-IT Convergence:

  • Helping the business harvest more value from information and IT.
  • Helping the IT organization be more responsive to, and anticipate the needs of the business units/enterprise they support.
  • Increasing the transparency of IT to the business and business to IT–fostering porous boundaries that allow Business-IT Convergence to be a natural evolutionary response to Cloud Computing, Consumerization of IT, “Big data” and so on.

The best way to learn is to teach!