by Peter B. Nichol

Why project managers are vital to BRM success

Jan 11, 2018
IT LeadershipProject Management Tools

There is a hidden solution for shifting business-relationship managers from a tactical to a strategic focus: Embrace the project manager.

project management
Credit: Thinkstock

It’s fascinating to observe the emerging wave of business-relationship managers (BRMs). There’s an assumption that the existing work executed by project managers is of little value. This misguided view promotes the notion that it’s possible for business-relationship managers to be effective and build credibility without project management support and buy-in.

Inversely, innovative and progressive business-relationship managers know that to be strategic, they must solve the tactical elements first. The most powerful business-relationship managers tightly partner with project managers to address tactical needs, enabling BRMs to focus on the strategic outlook.

The role already performed

Reflect for a minute on your organization. What’s the dynamic between BRMs and project managers? Is it healthy and highly collaborative? Or is there increased friction? If there’s growing polarization, your business partners will lose tactical ground, relegating BRMs to a tactical role.

The role of business-relationship managers is newly designed but not newly performed. Much as in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when project managers were called designers, software engineers, and architects, someone else owned the role of the business-relationship manager. In most cases, this was the project manager.

The additional role of the business-relationship manager, however, was likely ineffectively executed due to the workload that prevented the project manager from focusing on relationships. This isn’t to excuse but to understand the phenomenon.

The hidden value here is that project managers understand what’s required to execute. They can manage the tactical for CIOs, empowering BRMs to drive the strategic.

Discovering strategic value through project manager synergies

Business-relationship managers are accountable for prioritization, demand management, and improving business process outcomes, e.g., value realization. It’s helpful to outline what’s in scope for most business relationship managers.

Business relationship managers in-scope:

  1. IT face of the business
  2. Business-area function representative and subject matter advisor (as required)
  3. Identify and capture IT demand
  4. Prioritize demand for business partners
  5. Co-own business processes
  6. Develop business cases
  7. High-level technology impact analysis
  8. Own organizational change management
  9. Improve business operations by applying business-process leading practices
  10. Assume accountability for all IT resources (internal and external) within the business partner’s area
  11. Coordinate vendor management (business area and impacted IT areas). Manage vendor contracts.

Business relationship managers out-of-scope:

  1. Managing project team
  2. Formally communicating project status, e.g., tactical
  3. Managing budget of project, e.g., PO, invoice, and payments
  4. Managing the PMO or project management lifecycle processes or deliverables

Key areas of focus for business-relationship managers:

  1. Demand capture and prioritization
  2. Business process modeling, e.g., business process and business components
  3. IT roadmap for business functions
  4. SLAs

Likewise, to leverage the project-manager role and unburden your business-relationship managers of tactical activities, understanding the project manager role is useful.

Project managers are accountable for the delivery of internal and external projects and programs within scope, schedule, budget, quality, and benefits.

Project managers in-scope:

  1. Manage scope, e.g., delivery of agreed-upon scope
  2. Manage schedule, e.g., on-time delivery
  3. Manage budget, e.g., financial forecasting, PO, invoice, and payments
  4. Manage quality, e.g., internal/external quality measures, PPM tools
  5. Manage benefits, e.g., project outcome realization
  6. Define roles and responsibilities of team
  7. Resource management of team, e.g., utilization and allocation
  8. Manage and administer change control process, e.g., run the project change-control board
  9. Communication of project status

Project managers out-of-scope:

  1. Primary interface with business
  2. Demand capture and prioritization of business wants and needs
  3. Ownership of the business partners’ processes
  4. Owning the business process models
  5. Managing IT resources within the business partner’s area
  6. Managing SLAs with vendors or business areas

Key areas of focus for project managers:

  1. Deliver project and programs aligned within the expected scope, schedule, budget, quality, and benefits.
  2. Clearly and consistently communicate status of project to impacted stakeholders

CIOs can extend the capability to positively impact business partners strategically by visualizing in and out-of-scope areas for overlapping roles.

Savvy business-relationship managers know the greatest value comes from thinking and executing strategically. That’s difficult to do when you’re wading through bogs of technical debt.

A new breed

As business evolves and creates new roles, it’s useful to remember that newly defined roles were once the responsibility of others. I’ve had the pleasure to work with some amazing business-relationship managers—leaders that wanted to be part of something bigger. These were dreamers who saw the potential for their business partners and were creative enough to build relationships to empower those visions.

The common theme is that inspirational business-relationship managers know that their strategic success stands on the shoulders of tactical success.