Business Relationship Management and Project Success

Robina Chatham, Research Associate, Leading Edge Forum explains why raw technical and project management skills aren’t the only facets needed to ensure project success. Rather, human qualities are also essential

The objective of the Business Relationship Management (BRM) role is to improve the relationship between, and hence the value derived from, a service function, such as IT, and their business partners in other key areas of the organisation.

The BRM role is most commonly found in IT. Its mission is a broad one, it aims to improve the communication, collaboration, coordination, negotiation, alignment, leadership and decision-making between IT and other key parts of the business so that IT can be better exploited and leveraged.

The relationship between IT and the other business functions has been a subject of discussion for many years, and is still often described as a troubled marriage in need of guidance. In today’s technology-driven world, it is now more important than ever that we get past these differences if organisations are to truly exploit everything that digital has to offer. Indeed, research suggests that 75-80% of all IT projects fail due to relationship issues; hence the rise of the BRM role within IT. However, while the BRM role has been around for many years, it is a challenging one and in many cases has failed to be the panacea it set out to be.

Note: BRM is distinct from enterprise relationship management and customer relationship management although it is related. The difference is in scope, BRM has a far larger scope than a simple liaison designed to align business interests with IT deliverables.

We are frequently asked the following questions in relation to the BRM role:

Q. What makes a good BRM?
A. BRM’s need an extensive and difficult to find skill set; many of the crucial qualities are innate. Our research concludes that there are four key areas of competence required:

Triple-deep skills i.e. Digital IQ, Business IQ and Emotional Intelligence (EQ): These are a prerequisite to success, as a BRM at any level. BRMs need to understand and be able to articulate succinctly the ambitions, strategy and challenges of their organisations. They need to understand the business processes and how to ‘work’ the organisational culture. BRMs are not expected to be ‘techies’ but they do need to be IT literate, to have sufficient appreciation to ascertain if it ‘smells right’ and to have credibility in the eyes of their IT colleagues. More crucially they need to understand the technological possibilities and what ‘digital’ could mean for their organisation. BRMs need exceptional interpersonal skills and EQ i.e. self-awareness, empathy towards others, the ability to manage ones emotions, optimism, self-motivation and social skill.

Drive, initiative, curiosity and outside-in thinking: This is about seeking out new knowledge and understanding, being open to new experiences and getting excited about the novel and the different. It is about seeing new possibilities and taking those ideas forward. In today’s environment, this means being much more outside-in, keeping pace with the extraordinary innovations in the cloud and technological advances and bringing those nuggets of wisdom from the outside in.

Courage and confidence: This is about a willingness to face the unknown, to exercise sound judgment and be prepared to take entrepreneurial risks. It is about demonstrating leadership in difficult situations, where there are no right answers or objective tests.

Personal Power: Once a BRM has mastered the three previous capabilities they will have naturally attained Personal Power, the gravitas and charisma needed to build alliances and make a real difference both inside and outside their organisation.  

Q. Tell me more about Personal Power?
A. Personal power is not about beating your chest and saying ‘look at me, how great I am’. It is about confidence, inner strength and tenacity. It is about visibility whilst maintaining authenticity. It is about political acumen whist maintaining honesty and integrity. It is about assertiveness but not arrogance. It is about being firm and persistent, but also fair. It is about building upon the ideas of others rather than knocking them. It is about ‘walking the walk’ rather than ‘talking the talk’.

Personal power is about possessing both gravitas and charisma. This is achieved through attaining the right level of status. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is being meek and apologetic and 10 is being arrogant and aloof BRMs should aim for a 7. Good examples of a ‘7’ are Denzel Washington or Meryl Streep in person.

Q. That sounds like a tall order, how do you go about sourcing such people?
A. Our research indicates that diverse and varied backgrounds are advantageous as is grounding in both the arts and sciences. Many organisations favour sourcing their BRMs from outside of IT. We have found experiential training to be of great benefit. We have also developed an assessment tool to help firms choose the right BRMs and assess their existing ones.

Q. What would be your top tip for a BRM?
A. Getting outside of their organisations’ - networking and scanning the external environment for those nuggets of wisdom; keeping abreast of technical possibilities and advances. Understanding what digital means for their organisation and how they can help their business partners pursue the fantastic technological opportunities that lie ahead. In order to achieve this BRMs need to learn how to manage their time more effectively so that they get out of reactive mode and become more proactive.

Q. What, in your opinion, is the biggest barrier to success for a BRM?
A. Not having a supportive organisational culture. The BRM role requires visible advocacy from the top, clear and consistent messages and expectations across the company, and an atmosphere that promotes open and candid conversations. Towards this end, we at the LEF, have designed a second diagnostic to help organisations ascertain their cultural ‘fitness’ and identify those areas that they need to address.

Q. How do you see the BRM role evolving as we enter a more digital world?
A. As the world becomes increasingly digital I see it becoming more and more important that IT people communicate well and build strong relationships with their peers and colleagues in other areas of the business. The BRM role has, and is continuing to help in this area - in an ideal world all IT people would have BRM capabilities.

I see BRMs evolving into Digital Business Leaders (DBLs) who will possess an entrepreneurial spirit with a focus on driving growth through new ways of working. They will be courageous risk-takers who always keep an open mind and continually ask questions - ‘tell me why?’ They will spend much of their time outside their organisation networking with major players at the forefront of technical innovation. They will become ‘digital anthropologists’ understanding how society and the consumer are evolving in the digital world. They will be gaining hands-on experience and encouraging others to do the same and leading by doing.

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