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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