I was recently reading some “brochureware” from a prominent IT consulting firm that defined Business Demand Management as “managing business requests.” This is a travesty! It implies a low level of relationship maturity, what BRMI would define as “Order Taking”, which is Level 2 on a 5-Level Business Relationship Maturity scale, where Level 1 is the lowest maturity. Order taking is certainly NOT the type of relationship to which IT leaders should aspire.

An effective Business Relationship Manager (BRM) works hard to stimulate, surface and shape demand. We’ll look at each of these verbs in a moment, but the key here is that Demand Management cannot be effective as a passive, order taking activity. Our Business Partners do not necessarily know what they want, or what is available, or what is achievable. It is part of the BRMs job to help their Business Partners better understand what they should want, could want, what is available, and what it will take to achieve the full business value from the investment they are looking to make.

Stimulating Demand

This is relatively simple, at least in concept. It involves:

  1. Understanding business mission, vision, strategy, business model and operating model.
  2. Deep insight into business challenges and opportunities and your Business Partner’s agenda—what are they hoping to achieve?
  3. Understanding the business culture and how change happens within that culture. (Most investments in IT only yield business value if they lead to business change.)
  4. Having the skills to present innovative ideas that resonate with the Business Partner and the Emotional Intelligence to read how your presentation was received.
  5. Knowing what to do next with the proposed opportunity and having the skills to do it.
  6. Knowing and having collaborative relationships with Enterprise Architects, Portfolio Managers, PMO heads and other key Provider stakeholders.

Surfacing Demand

This is not quite as simple as it sounds. If Demand exceeds Supply (it always seems to!) and Supply has a history of being unresponsive or slow to respond, Demand may remain hidden, with the familiar refrain, “Why bother asking, there’s never the capacity to get to my needs!” So, surfacing demand requires:

  1. A clear, simple and transparent process for capturing, categorizing and refining ideas.
  2. A “business development” budget for exploring ideas and opportunities.
  3. A robust method for prioritizing opportunities within an overall Strategic Portfolio plan.
  4. A transparent Business-IT Governance capability to control Portfolio investments and value realization.

Shaping Demand

Probably the trickiest of the three aspects of Demand Management, this involves:

  1. Helping your Business Partner understand how (and how much) business value could be realized through a given opportunity.
  2. Having the skills to say “no” without it sounding like “no.” For example, spinning low value ideas into higher value opportunities—with your Business Partner feeling as though the resulting opportunity was their idea in the first place! Or recognizing when a request is to solve a symptom rather than solve the underlying problem, and having the competency and credibility to leverage that request into a root cause analysis or similar study.
  3. Creating incentives for your Business Partner that make it easier for them to buy into an opportunity—for example, reduced cost to the Business Unit because several other Business Units want to participate in that same opportunity.

To my point #3 above on Shaping Demand, I’m reminded of a wonderful book, Everything’s An Offer by Robert Boynton and my friends at On Your Feet, a consultancy that uses principles of improvisation to help companies around the world relate, create, and collaborate. We brought On Your Feet into the BRMConnect Conference at Portland last year, and they will be joining us again at the four BRMConnect events around the world, starting with Charlotte, NC from April 12, 2016. The notion that a business request is not an “order” or a “demand” but rather an “offer,” a starting point in a negotiation, is a powerful idea.  And Everything’s An Offer provides myriad ideas and approaches for the practicing BRM that not only apply to the subtleties of Demand Shaping, but for many aspects of high-performance Business Relationship Management.