Achieving Balance

Business Relationship Management

Baxter Thompson Ltd, Jon Baxter


I have been asked quite a few times how much time should a BRM spend doing certain activities. The short answer is: It depends. What is the challenge? So I know I could spend significant portions of my time on say:

  • Fixing broken processes such as issue review and resolution
  • Feeding information, business cases into the governance “machine”
  • Reviewing business cases and negotiating scope
  • Attending discovery meetings with suppliers or
  • Conducting “status update” meetings with business units.

In fact, on occasions I have found my head spinning when I’m at the front end of the pipeline, there is so much potential demand, trying to prioritise more than one business unit, be responsive and present, and progress initiatives through the IT department. Where do I start?

The Four Activities and Relationship Maturity

I would argue that there are 4 main areas of activity that concern a BRM. These activities are:

  • Strategic Scoping – understanding long-term internal and external demand, creating a shared vision, and defining a capability roadmap.
  • Portfolio Management – Marshalling and shaping the capability roadmap into initiatives, business cases and approvals.
  • Servicing – Monitoring progress through project and service delivery for said initiatives.
  • Value Realisation – Reviewing the value articulated in the initiatives to ensure that the benefits are realised.

A key driver of how much time a BRM can spend in any of these areas is dependent upon the overall relationship maturity of the provider and the business unit. If the BRM is in an organisation with low relationship maturity then many activities would probably be focused on not just monitoring servicing but also being part of service delivery. Should a BRM occupy this space? Is there a case to increase the Project and Service delivery capability by recruiting Project Managers and Service Managers?

If the organisation is starting to operate at higher levels of relationship maturity then depending on the competency of the BRM (and indeed the ability / desire of the business unit to engage and deliver on it’s side of the bargain), they would be able to start practicing Strategic Scoping, Portfolio Management and Value Realisation. Do BRM’s feel they have the skills necessary to deliver these aspects?

Activity Balance

Many of the BRMs I have met say they spend too much time on servicing, they wish they could be more strategic and indeed they acknowledge they should spend more time assessing benefits. Assuming that the fundamental enablers for the highest level of maturity relationship are in place, then I would aim for a ratio as follows:

Activity Focus:

​25% Strategic Scoping ​25% Portfolio Management 25% Monitoring Service / Projects​ ​25% Value Realisation

This can be a goal to aim towards - after a year you review the goal based on progress made and adjust according to the context of your organisation. A benefit is communicating this goal to help you position your role with peers and business units. See “Role Clarity” below.

Notwithstanding the relationship maturity of the organisation, in my personal experience as a BRM, I have found that if I spend too much time in meetings I know I don’t keep abreast of technology developments, industry news and I also lose quiet study time to reflect on solutions and business issues. That’s where the real insight comes from and what Business Units value the most. I’ve also had my fingers burned when I’ve got distracted on trying to fix internal IT issues and letting the quality of the business relationship suffer. As a result I now try to keep to these guidelines:

Domain focus:

​50% Business Unit Facing    ​50% IT Provider facing

Time management:

​50% Desk based activity / external research ​50% Meetings

At face value it looks obvious and too simplistic. However in practice it’s very difficult to regulate people demanding attention and in my past experience these percentages have varied enormously. I know when I stray too far from this I tend towards unnecessary trouble. Also I am at my best when I have quiet time to think and reflect.  In suggesting my personal preference I acknowledge that personal engagement styles vary and preference for learning means that these percentages could vary significantly from person to person.

Role Clarity

The holy grail is to achieve true business-IT convergence. Sharing long-term strategy and being present at these discussions is an additional activity that requires resource. We may find that it difficult breaking through beyond the portfolio management and benefits review simply because we find already we have a full time job.

So if we are to conduct strategic scoping activities then it becomes partly a question of capacity of the BRM.  How many business units should the BRM engage with to be effective? Can one person really effectively engage say six very different business units? Can some of the activities be delegated and shared?

In response to this conundrum, I suggest two things:

  1. BRM is a role that can be adopted in part by people who have business function facing responsibilities. BRMs are not a sole conduit of information nor a gatekeeper. As a person responsible for enabling relationships, then a prerogative of the BRM is to ensure that the right people are talking to each other with sufficient proficiency. That may include business analysts, project managers, architects and service managers.
  2. Role clarity is fundamental to the success of the BRM role. Given the multitude of roles that now exist – Organisational Change Managers, Enterprise Architects, Portfolio Managers - everybody can see their ownership, contribution and deliverables according to the 4 activities mentioned above. Coming up with an agreement on the roles and responsibilities, who does what when is an enabler to ensure that some of the four main activities can be done, delegated and shared. The value in completing a RACI chart is not the output but the process and discussion leading up to it.


So in summary, I suggest that a balanced approach to spending time in doing strategic scoping, portfolio management, monitoring service and value realisation will depend on the organisational relationship maturity that is driven by our competency as BRM’s, demand maturity and provider capability. If we were operating at the highest of relationship maturity, all four activities are more than one person can do especially if they have more than one business unit to report into, hence agreeing with other collaborators the roles and responsibilities upfront is fundamental to our success as BRMs.

How Baxter Thompson Associates can help

We help IT understand the opportunity with business partners through our Reconnaissance for IT framework and can help implement a business relationship management capability to ensure that the Value in IT is delivered. We also provide training - the BRMP(R) and soon the CBRM(R) courses in addition to coaching and Interim Management.

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