Common Failure Modes in Business Relationship Management – Part 2


hindenbergThis is the second in a series of  posts about common failure modes I come across in the deployment of a Business Relationship Management (BRM) role and/or capability.

In Part 1 in this series I discussed two common failure modes:

  • Failure Mode #1: Where the BRM is positioned as the “Single Point of Contact” between a provider organization (typically an IT organization) and their business clients. The Single Point of Contact role is often introduced in response to a common symptom—the business client is unclear who to contact for what. In other words, the root cause is lack of organization clarity, and the false belief is that by appointing a BRM (or whatever label you use) as a Single Point of Contact, the organizational dysfunctionality arising from lack of clarity will be mitigated.
  • Failure Mode #2: BRM As “Dumping Ground” when the BRM becomes a “catch all” for requests that nobody else wants to deal with, or that people are not sure who is supposed to deal with them. Again, lack of organizational clarity is a root cause here, and the types of problems this leads to are very similar to those identified above due to the Single Point of Contact failure mode.

Let’s look at a couple of other common BRM deployment failure modes.

Failure Mode #3: Strategic BRM when a Tactical BRM Is Needed

This is a very common BRM failure mode.  Here’s the common scenario:

For whatever reasons, a provider (typically, an IT organization) is seen to be not fully satisfying the demands and expectations of its business customers/clients (pick your favorite term—I’ve seen both terms as the preferred way of describing the entities a provider serves).  In response, the provider undertakes some type of capability improvement initiative (sometimes referred to as a ‘transformation’, ‘transition’, ‘realignment’, ‘refresh’, and so on.) The initiative often has several aspects, such as deployment of a Service Management Framework, Operating Model realignment, process management program, sourcing strategy, and deployment of a BRM role/capability.

Someone is nominated to lead the BRM deployment.  They do their research, perhaps retain some consulting advice, build their team, and with high hopes and a strong sense of “damn the torpedoes”, create and execute a deployment plan.

All this sounds reasonable, but the disconnect is that the vision of BRM to be deployed is that of a strategic relationship between provider and customer/client.  As such, the BRMs chosen to fill the role are relatively senior people, well-qualified to work with senior business executives with a focus on business demand shaping and business value realization. Meanwhile, Service Management, Operating Model realignment, Outsourcing, and so on are all underway. Just as a golfer determined to improve their golf swing knows, improvement initiatives are often accompanied by performance setbacks.  Imagine a golfer not only working on a new swing, but also using radically new clubs, a revolutionary new ball, wearing an innovative, experimental golf shoe, on a brand new course. With all these changes going on simultaneously, the performance degradation could take a while to pass through.

While the new BRM team is trying to foster new strategic partnerships, surfacing new, valuable, business demand, the ability for the provider to supply even basic services is seriously compromised. This is especially true with new major outsourcing arrangements, which can take a year to 18 months to settle down. The business partners quickly lose patience as the newly surfaced demand lays fallow in a backlog, and current services falter. It does not take long for one or both of two situations materialize:

  1. The BRMs get dragged into tactical firefighting.  This is ok, but it may be hard for them to reposition themselves back into the strategic role they were originally intended to fill.
  2. The BRMs are deemed to be not adding value—especially given that they are senior and relatively expensive resources.

Lesson 3: Don’t position the BRM as a Strategic when the context demands a Tactical BRM.

It is possible to migrate from Tactical to Strategic BRM, but it demands that the BRM has the competencies to be strategic, and it takes some skill and finesse to establish the medium to longer term vision for the strategic business relationship with the caveat that in the near term, the BRM will be part of the provider organization’s improvement efforts, and therefore mainly focused on essential, though tactical activities, such as service definition.

Failure Mode #4: Tactical BRM when a Strategic BRM Is Needed

This is less common than Failure Model #3 above, but is still quite common, especially when an organization has blindly followed the ITIL framework without sufficiently understanding their supply maturity context.  Here’s the scenario.

The provider has implemented a Service Management Framework such as ITIL, where they recognized they needed a BRM role. Some people from the Service Management function were appointed to BRM roles and deployed. The Service Management initiative has been effective, and the proverbial “lights stay on and trains run on time.”

After a while, the business customers/clients let the provider management know that their BRMs don’t add much value—things seem to work ok, and having folk in the BRM role seems like unnecessary overhead. Sometimes it is the provider management that comes to the conclusion that the BRM role has served its purpose and abandons it.

Meanwhile, there is little to no improvement in the business value that is realized from investments in the provider’s capabilities and assets. All the basics work well, the business’s ‘orders’ mostly get taken care of, but there’s a sense of general disappointment in the provider’s strategic and innovation capabilities.

Someone with the competencies and authority to be a strategic BRM can operate at a tactical level, but someone without those competencies cannot operate at a strategic level.  Tactical BRMs help to get the lights to stay on and the trains to run on time, but once those “table stakes” have been achieved, the tactical BRM will (to push the metaphor too far!) run out of steam!

Lesson 4: Don’t position the BRM as a Tactical when the context demands a Strategic BRM.

It is very difficult to migrate a purely tactical BRM to a Strategic role. They will be unlikely to have the experience and competencies to act as a true strategic partner, or to be granted the executive level access they need to be successful in the strategic BRM role.

What do you think?  What other failure modes have you seen?

 

Note: My next on-line BRMP Course is being held across 3 Mondays—July 7, 14 and 21, 2014. For details, please click here.

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9 thoughts on “Common Failure Modes in Business Relationship Management – Part 2

  1. Vaughan,

    I agree completely with your thinking. In practice we all have to wear both tactical and strategic hats, the trick is to push back when being asked to be overly tactical using some of the tricks from Andrew Soble in his book “All for One”

    Reply
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