I was recently at a CIO conference in the mid-Atlantic region and had the opportunity to attend a session that spoke about lean principles in Information Technology. The entire focus of the discussion was the need to carry business outcomes into IT projects. The speakers presented a framework that was structured to present IT with Business Problems, and then measure IT on the accomplishment of a solution to solve that problem. It is a noble undertaking.
During the discussion, one of the speakers said the framework was progressing and there was optimism. He then said the challenge they were facing was identifying a solution for connecting the business to IT. He drew a thin line on the board as he said it (showing a connection). From my seat in the audience I did not see a thin connector line. I saw three letters: BRM.
Frameworks and approaches aside, the problem that was highlighted is the entire reason why the Business Relationship Management discipline exists. Many times we are the thin line that connects major parts of the organization that must work together, but don’t always do so well.
The causes are most often not solved with a new program or framework. The reason is that organizations are hotbeds of history and culture that can stifle cooperation. It is a fact. In these situations, we must remember what a wise CIO once told me “People and culture eat structure for breakfast.” Sometime programs just cannot overcome, and that is when an organization needs to turn to people. Those people are BRMs. So, as BRMs, we need to be ready for the call. The session was an excellent reminder for all BRMs to stay sharp. The organization needs you, even when it does not recognize it. To that end here are a few suggestions for BRMs as they work in their organizations:
Be a student of the culture of the organization: This is not just being connected or understanding people. This analysis goes further. BRMs should be looking at the org chart consistently and studying the people that make up the key positions in the business and IT. Look at their backgrounds on LinkedIn. See what colleges they went to. You will get a sense of culture from that. For example, suppose the past four Vice Presidents of Sales have engineering backgrounds. Would you not expect the sales group to have a technical influence?
Look at the history of past CEOs. Study these people as well. Tenure length. Degree. Jobs before they were CEO. You will then get a great hold on the culture from the top down.
These two tactics will help the BRM be ready at any time to overcome cultural barriers.
Once equipped with this, the BRM should then ensure Business Value passes through from concept into execution. This is not always easy as BRMs can find themselves slotted into swim lanes. However, we should not hesitate to get out of our comfort zone. For example, as a follow up to the session, I spoke with one of the architects of the framework proposed, and he described the need for Sprints to include meetings that tested the business value of the requirements and software being developed along the way. Why would this not be the BRM? It is a natural place for the BRM to interact. Yet, how many BRMs occasionally attend a standup sprint meeting for an agile project that is addressing a critical initiative? So, a suggestion for those BRMs that work in agile environments, visit some sprint meetings occasionally and ensure business value is the discussion, not project output.
These are just examples, as the tactics can vary, but the goals are the same. The presenters who presented their lean framework were trying to solve one major problem and overcome one major obstacle. The problem was business value not being emphasized in downline project activities. The obstacle to solving the problem was culture. The solution may or may not be a new framework. However, I am 100% certain of a solution that would work, the BRM. That is you. Stand tall and be ready. Your organization needs you.