UntitledRegular followers of this blog know that I’m a big believer in the potential for the role and discipline of Business Relationship Management (BRM). (In the interests of full disclosure, I’m also a co-founder of Business Relationship Management Institute, I teach course on Business Relationship Management, and serve as the Chief Examiner for APMG-International’s BRMP certification.)

I talk to a lot of BRMs, and have worked with many organizations trying to implement BRM—some of them on their third or fourth attempt! The good news is, they still believe in the importance of and potential for the BRM role. The bad news is, they’ve failed several times in their deployment of the role, and with each failure comes increased cynicism, and the familiar cries of, “This won’t work here!” and “This too shall pass!”

So, I’m going to devote a few (number to be determined!) posts to common failure modes I come across.

Failure Mode #1: BRM as “Single Point of Contact”

This is a common mistake, 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.

This is a problem for several reasons:

  1. As a Single Point of Contact, the BRM quickly becomes overwhelmed. If they are effective at fielding calls, they will be called on more and more frequently, until they collapse under the weight of an ever-expanding appetite of questions to answer and issues to solve. If they are not effective at fielding calls, they just add to the dysfunctionality and further alienate the business client.
  2. The BRM quickly gets dragged into tactical issues.  As such, they are unable to add real value, and sooner or later are seen as ‘overhead’.  (And by wallowing in the tactical, they are indeed largely ‘overhead.’)
  3. The Single Point of Contact role tends to alienate key stakeholders on the provider side. Enterprise Architects, Strategic Planners, Portfolio and Program Managers, Business Analysts, for example, value their access to the business clients, and resent having to negotiate the “BRM Doorkeep” in order to gain that access.
  4. It addresses a symptom, not the root cause. You still have a lack of organizational clarity, and this leads to inefficiencies, poor communications, dropped balls and a chaotic, stressful work environment.

Lesson 1: Don’t position the BRM as a Single Point of Contact.

Better to position them as a ‘Single Point of Focus’, helping to connect to and orchestrate key provider roles. Establish the BRM as the “Account Owner” for business clients they serve. Account Ownership carries certain responsibilities and accountabilities. It also must be afforded certain commitments by other key provider stakeholders—primarily a commitment to keep the BRM, as “Account Owner” informed about any contact or activity with the business client.

Failure Mode #2: BRM As “Dumping Ground”

This is a variation on the “BRM as Single Point of Contact”, but happens 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.

I’ve seen this failure mode occur when the BRM role is announced without a clear definition of its purpose. Others in the provider organization fear that the BRM might invade their territory, but also see it as an opportunity to get rid of tasks they don’t like (or feel that someone else should be doing.)  So, at every opportunity, requests get deflected to the BRM:  “Oh, our BRM’s take care of that kind of thing.  Here’s an email address and phone number.  Bye!”

Lesson 2: Organizational Clarity is your biggest friend and is something you have to work towards.

Be proactive in defining the BRM role, with all it’s strategic implications and ways it helps to drive business value. Take the time to work with key stakeholders on the provider side to define “rules of engagement” and interaction models.  Take some common (and not so common) use cases, and work through the solutioning life cycle, from idea to retirement—which roles are engaged when and how? Define high-level SIPOC (Supplier, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customer) models and ensure you have comprehensive understanding and buy-in from your colleagues. Reinforce the strategic, value creating purpose for the BRM role in your day-to-day behaviors.

We will examine some more BRM Failure Modes in the next post—please join me and subscribe to this blog by clicking on the link in the right sidebar.

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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