Business Relationship Manager Titles–Does Size Matter?


Once again, I received an interesting question from a reader that prompted a post. Here’s the question:

My BRM organization is going through leveling and restructuring. I have several BRM’s reporting to me and am working with very senior business executives with billion dollar business units. My peers in the IT organization have Vice President titles because they have larger organizations than mine. My BRMs sometimes feel that their titles put them at a disadvantage when engaging with their business partners. Is this a common issue?  Any suggestions for approaching this issue?

Organization Size Does Not Equate to Importance of the Leader!

This reader was caught in an interesting and relatively common dilemma! CIOs have faced issues about salary levels for years–often seen as having too many specialists, too many salary bands, and being ‘out of step’ with the rest of the company they support. Exacerbating this, IT organizations often continue to equate the importance of a leadership position (and therefore ‘level’ of that position) with the number of people in a given leader’s organization. This is, of course, a false premise–importance should have more to do with the nature of the leadership position rather than the number of folk reporting to that position (which is not only an invalid indicator of importance, but also drives dysfunctional behavior, i.e., organization size = power!)

Contemporary management thinking and leading HR practice has worked hard to flatten organizations and to break the “organization size = power” paradigm. Some roles carry more ‘weight’ than others, regardless of the number of people working for that role.

Access and Influence Are Key BRM Requirements

Of course, access and influence are earned by a BRM through their skills and behaviors–not because of their title. I’ve worked with very young and relatively low-level BRMs who wield enormous influence and gain access to the highest levels of business executive by dint of their skills and abilities.

However, some enterprises are very hierarchical in nature, and titles carry significant meaning. A BRM with the title ‘Manager’ for example might find it impossible to get on a Vice President’s calendar, while a Director or another Vice President would have no problem gaining access.

BRMs–Leverage Thy Influence and Persuasion Skills!

So, what did I advise the reader that prompted this post to do? Leverage their influence and persuasion skills and their knowledge of Business Transition Management (also known as Organizational Change Management) principles:

  1. Identify the key stakeholders in effecting a change to BRM titles/levels.  And don’t forget Human Resources as a key stakeholder!
  2. Identify What’s In It For Them (the WIFM’s) for each stakeholder by determining:
    • Problems resulting and/or opportunities missed due to the current state approach to BRM titles/levels.
    • Benefits anticipated from the future state with better-aligned BRM titles/levels.
  3. Consider moving the BRMs into the business units they represent.
  4. Identify the optimal first steps in effecting such a change to BRM titles/levels.


Why Will You Be Part of the World’s First Business Relationship Management Conference?

first-clipart-a_smiling_number_1_with_a_briefcase_0521-1004-3015-1200_SMUI am very proud that Business Relationship Management Institute (BRMI, which I co-founded early in 2013) is holding the highly anticipated, first ever conference for Business Relationship Managers from around the globe.

BRMConnect is being held in Portland, Oregon, starting with a reception on May 26 then continuing through May 27-28.  The event will be preceded by an optional 3-day Business Relationship Management Professional training class, and be followed by an optional one-day training class that I am leading on Business Innovation: Processes, Techniques and Tools for Business Relationship Managers.

Portland, Oregon–A “Happening Place”!

Long-term followers of my blog might recall my posts back in September, 2010 about my time in Portland–it truly is among my favorite cities in the world! Check out these three posts–two about my summer living there while I was consulting for a local company, and one with the unlikely theme connecting Portland’s street people and well-managed IT organizations! If you’ve not visited Portland, BRMConnect is a great excuse to do so. Portland is one of the most well-organized and livable cities in the US, while also being funky–or as Portland likes to say (in common with Austin, Texas), “weird.” Portland is also a great location for visiting Columbia River Gorge, wine country, Mount Hood, and the gorgeous Oregon coast. And May is a wonderful time of year to enjoy Portland and its environs.

Not Your Grandfather’s Conference Format

We have designed and structured BRMConnect to be highly interactive and entertaining, while being packed with sessions that will enrich your ability to be a more effective BRM. The event is being held at the remarkable Oregon Zoo, a wonderful facility for a memorable conference. We are incorporating elements of Open Space Technology for a productive and enjoyable event that will engage, inform and inspire you. We will also feature illuminating case studies from BRM experts, and an experiential session on how BRMs can apply lessons from the world of improvisation to their roles.

Register by February 15, 2015 for early bird discounts for the conference and for the pre- and post-conference training sessions. There will never be another first ever BRM conference–be a part of history and join BRMs from around the world, as you develop your skills, expand your network, and relax with the animals–and I mean, the zoo residents, not the other participants! (Though who knows?)






Graphic courtesy of Clipartpanda

When ITIL® and Other Frameworks and Methodologies Become Substitutes for Thinking

what-is-critical-thinkingThis post was inspired by a question I received via LinkedIn.  The question was:

I have been working in the IT field for over twenty years and am increasingly frustrated by the blinkered mantra of following ITIL, Prince2 etc. at the expense of Common Sense. I am often confronted by so-called trained experts in Project Management or Business Analysis who have seemingly forgotten the existence of users and all the variability that brings. The world of IT still seems to live by their own code of Hyper Importance but sadly that world has moved on.”

I very much empathize with this individual’s frustration.  As one who has spent much of his career trying to help IT organizations improve their performance, I too have been frustrated when I see good frameworks and methodologies become “a substitute for thinking” rather than being an “aid to thinking.”

5 Years to Implement ITIL®?

I’ve recently spoken with a couple of organizations that have been trying to deploy Business Relationship Management (BRM) but are having a hard time doing so because the most basic Service Management capabilities are not in place. When I asked them what they were doing to strengthen their Service Management capabilities, I was told:

We’ve been implementing ITIL for about 5 years and are still waiting to see any positive result!”

By the way, I could have replaced ITIL® with TOGAF®, COBIT, SFIAPlus, or just about any other IT framework.  Let me be clear–there is nothing inherently wrong with these frameworks. The failure here is that organizations implementing these frameworks have somehow lost sight of the end goal, and the need to move there with speed, determination and a razor sharp focus on the end outcomes. The end game is not to be a “textbook” ITIL deployment–the end game is to improve Service Management.  By definition, this has to be approached from your own context of needs, history, culture, resources, urgency, and so on.

Solving Your Issues Through Other Organizations Actions

I get frustrated with the same issues as my LinkedIn commenter.  I also get frustrated with a different type of dysfunctionality that I would classify as “Trying to solve my problem with another organization’s solution.”  This is a common trap, and one of the reasons that “best practice benchmarking” has fallen into disrepute over the last few years. The typical question I get that falls into this category goes something like:

How are other people measuring the value of Business Relationship Management?”

I’m not saying there is no value in this type of question, but in reality, other than having a sneak peak at some other company’s metrics, there is little to learn. I guess an analogy that comes to mind is that I have a pain in my left leg and go around asking people how did they treat their left leg pain?  I might surface some interesting data, but it would be a miracle if I surfaced and acted upon a treatment that actually addressed the cause of my left leg pain!

Figuring out how to measure value is a crucial activity, and in reality one that is totally context-dependent. Imagine the relationship-building value of going through a process of:

  1. Engaging your business partner(s).
  2. Finding out what their issues and challenges are.
  3. Identifying how they would determine the value you bring to the table.
  4. Determining how you can measure that value–what would be the leading indicators?
  5. Tracking results and engaging with your business partner around discussions of value delivered against needs and expectations.

You will learn so much more, and strengthen your business relationship by following a path such as outlined above than by knowing that Company X uses 6 ways of measuring value.

2014: My Blog In Review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 61,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.  The busiest day of the year was October 30th with 476 views. The most popular post that day was Key IT Roles for Driving Business Value.

People viewed my blog from 180 countries!  Most visitors came from The United States. U.K. & Canada were not far behind.

My most commented on post in 2014 was Common Failure Modes in Business Relationship Management – Part 2

Click here to see the complete report.

What Should We Be Measuring?

Why-We-Need-To-Measure-And-Understand-First-And-Then-Decide-What-To-Do-300x300A short post inspired by Ryan Ogilvie’s latest post at Service Management Journey.

I’m often asked, “What should we be measuring?” or “Can you share with me what you consider to be leading practice metrics for x?”  I’m always bemused by such requests–I sort of understand why I’m being asked, but it really does not make sense. It’s like contacting a stranger and asking, “What new car should I buy?”  Only you know what your needs are, how much you can afford, other constraints, prior history and preferences, etc.

Insight #1: If you want to know what to measure, ask your customer what is important to them!

Generally, you are measuring with a purpose–to inform, motivate, or to improve.

  • If inform is the purpose, you need to know what the recipient would most like to be informed about.
  • If the purpose is to motivate, you need some sense of what motivates/demotivates those you are trying to influence.
  • If improve is the purpose, you need to know what the customer would consider to be a worthy improvement.

Insight #2: Don’t get stuck on the same old measures!

The things you measure should change over time as your performance improves, especially if the measurement purpose is to improve.  I recall a client that had poor delivery performance–always late and over budget.  So, they started measuring and publishing delivery performance stats.

2 years later, as part of a quality management initiative, they learned from a business partner that the performance stats were being ignored as they were no longer relevant–the business trusted that systems would be delivered on time and within budget. What they really cared about (now that delivery was predictable) was time to value–i.e., not when the new system was implemented, but when it was actually delivering business value!

In short, you get what you measure. As you get it, the things you want change (sort of a Maslow’s Hierarchy!) so the things you measure should change as the customers needs evolve.


Graphic courtesy of Project Management Tools That Work

Business Relationship Manager as Management Consultant


In the process of 30+ years in management consulting, I’ve learned a great deal from my clients. I learned an important lesson over 20 years ago from a CIO of a major global oil company. He wanted to benchmark Ernst & Young, the management consulting firm with whom I was a Partner at the time.

He was undertaking a major IT transformation which included a significant degree of outsourcing. When I asked what he hoped to learn from our firm as as a benchmarking partner, he told me that the plan was for a major portion of his retained staff to fill a management consulting role, so he wanted to understand how we did what we did — recruit, motivate, equip and develop people for a management consulting role. This was to become among my earliest experiences with the role of Business Relationship Manager.

What Consulting Roles Should the BRM Fill?

Leading off with a classic consulting answer, appropriate consulting roles for the BRM depends! I think the Partner role that was traditionally played in the large management consulting firms offers the best model for the BRM as a management consultant. The Partner role typically:

  1. “Owns” the client (i.e., the BRMs Business Partner) relationship.
  2. Helps the client shape and clarify needs and opportunities.
  3. Co-creates with the client the approach to meeting needs and harnessing opportunities.
  4. Identifies what resources need to be brought to the table to address the needs.
  5. Orchestrates those resources.
  6. Empowers the engagement team and the Program and/or Project Managers.
  7. Ensures that the clients best interests are being served at all times.
  8. Acts as an escalation point when necessary.
  9. Meets with the client regularly to keep her informed.
  10. Meets with the engagement team regularly to monitor progress, understand potential barriers, and identify new opportunities.

Beyond the Partner role, the BRM may also serve as a Subject Matter Expert, given that to be effective in their Business Relationship Management role, they should possess core competencies relevant to the business domain.

I have seen the BRM fill the Project Manager role, and, in some cases, the Program Manager role, but generally advise against this is it can be so consuming and is often inconsistent with the BRM’s primary mission of being the bridge between the IT organization and its business partners.

If the BRM Does Not Fill These Roles, Who Should?

In the immortal words of William Shakespeare, “Aye, there’s the rub!”  I’ve worked with many IT organizations who do not provide any real consulting for their business partners, whether or not they have BRMs. And, given that nature abhors a vacuum, and that there is a plentiful supply of management consulting firms (and, post the last recession, sole practitioners), external management consultants fill the gap. As one who’s made a nice career out of management consulting, I can’t argue that there’s anything inherently bad in this except that:

  1. Not all external consultants have the client’s best interests at heart.
  2. When the engagement is over, the specific consultants often move on to other clients — you have effectively “trained” them, and now all that knowledge walks out of the door to benefit another client.
  3. Some management consultants leave the implementation work to other consulting firms — the concept of “design for implementation” might not be in front of mind.
  4. Some management consultants deliver thick PowerPoint decks — the consulting work may have felt satisfying while it was being delivered, but the business results are less than fulfilling.

What Does a BRM Need to be an Effective Management Consultant?

Management consultants depend on good consulting processes, the wisdom to apply those processes with delicacy, and a well-stocked chest of management consulting tools they know how to use and trust them to deliver!

I put a special emphasis on the tools and techniques — these are, I think, the greatest gift that consultants can bring to the table. Useful tools can include:

Of course, having access to a toolbox does not make you a master consultant — you have to know which tools to use when, and how to use them to the greatest effect.  After all, when you really know how to use the different types of hammer, you realize that not all problems are nails!

In upcoming posts, I’ll cover some of the tools and techniques I’ve found most useful over a 30+ year consulting career. Stay tuned…

Cartoon courtesy of Dilbert

How Do You Use Competency Models?


This post was inspired by a recent exchange I had with a BRMI member on the member’s wiki. I was delighted that he was asking an intelligent question about the SFIAplus competency framework from the UK’s BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. If only all my discussions about Competency Models were as well informed!

I am a huge believer in Competency Modeling, and the whole idea behind linking roles with competencies — bundles of expected knowledge, skills and behaviors for a given role. A good Competency Model clarifies what is expected from a role and what is needed in terms of human talent. A good Competency Model supports talent development and performance management programs, clarifying development needs, supporting the design of talent development programs, assessing progress in learning and the effectiveness of learning methods. So what’s the problem with Competency Modeling?

The Secret Shame of Competency Modeling…

I typically find the ‘state of art’ around Competency Modeling quite lacking. The common pattern is a flurry of activity (sometimes driven by the HR department, usually supported by them) during which Competency Models are developed or licensed, HR systems are introduced and everyone declares “success” and moves on to other initatives. But with all the downsizing/flattening of the last decade or so, there’s nobody to keep the models up to date, and they quickly become obsolete as Operating Models evolve.

Often, the Competency Model turns out to be more of a skills inventory — nothing inherently wrong with that, but skills inventories generally do nothing for talent management. In fact, in addition to the lack of ongoing Competency Model maintenance, I typically don’t see the loop being effectively closed between Competency Modeling, competency development, performance management and changes to the Operating Model (processes, sourcing, governance, products, platforms and services, etc.)

The Shoemaker’s Child?

Unfortunately, this is a familiar pattern — one that the late Stephen Covey described as “no time to sharpen the saw.” It is well recognized that the role of information and Information Technology are changing everyone’s jobs, and with those changes come new competency requirements. Just when IT and HR organizations should be collaborating to help lead their companies through the talent management maze, Competency Modeling remains a low priority, under-funded and inadequately resourced. Rather than be an integral component of a robust talent development process, competency modeling is often approached as an event.

What are your experiences with Competency Models? Do you feel that your ability to understand your role requirements and developmental needs are clear? Do you have the resources you need to develop and hone your skills? Are there clear consequences for growing your competency footprint, versus stalling at your current skills level? Do you see Competency Models as a constructive aid to performance improvement, or as an administrative overhead that delivers little, if any, real value for you?

Answers on a postcard, please!


Graphic image courtesy of Law Practice Today