BRM: Building a house not an extension

As a child playing with Lego, there were plenty of times where a build reached its natural conclusion. To add any more on didn’t work. The only way forward was to start again. I had a similar experience writing my dissertation at university. Having pursued a particular path, the options became fewer the further I went down it. Ultimately, I knew to make it significantly better I would have to undo so much that it wasn’t an option.

The same is true in organisations. Clinging on to everything that has gone before whilst trying to add in new capabilities is never an easy task. Few of us have the luxury to simply start again. Knowing if you’re building a new house, or just adding an extension is important.

This post is a response to the question, and statement, at the top of the page. Both raised in a discussion with Business Relationship Managers. They both point towards the same thing — how do move forward together and not create a legacy mess?

Business ownership is integral to future success. Investing in a system without sponsorship from within the organisation quickly becomes a vanity project. Worse, the provider talks about what the technology is from their perspective. The focus should be on the business outcomes, the problem you want to solve, the opportunity the technology creates.

Ownership is not paying the bill, putting your name on a report or signing off on a project report. We need to view ownership like owning a car or having a pet. If a dog isn’t just for Christmas then nor is an IT service. There needs to be a sponsor who is going to put their name not just to the birth of the capability but take that responsibility through its lifetime leading to its decommissioning in the end.

This is about shifting mindsets from invest and forget to invest, own and champion. Organisations are increasingly bringing their business and technology silos together by shifting from projects to products. It is time to stop playing chess and start playing jazz. In chess, each party waits for the other to move. In jazz the group works together being aware of what others do, responding to it, being prepared to go somewhere new and create together.

This takes us to the question — how to persuade the CIO to integrate everything into an accessible architecture?

No doubt the questioner had some experience that caused them to ask this question. It shouldn’t take much persuasion to get the CIO to take this approach as it is a core aspect of their job. However, if it isn’t seen that way another approach may be needed. This takes us back to the importance of business ownership. Wary of suggesting that there is a hierarchy between the technology and business function, it is important to remember that technology should be looked at through the lens of what it enables.

It may be less the role of the BRM to persuade the CIO and more the responsibility of the business owner. The BRM plays a part in opening the eyes (stimulating, surfacing and shaping demand) with the business partner to the consequences of not taking an accessible and integrated architecture approach.

However, the CIO sees the world, whatever their aspirations and desires for the technology may be, I doubt many would object to being pushed forward by the business functions.

As is so often the case, the BRM has overall visibility that others often aren’t afforded the time to consider. Helping the organisation move forward in the right direction is less about winning fights and more about aligning shared objectives.

The art of persuasion starts with people. Both sides will want something. Showing how they, both achieve more is key to progress. The BRM can open the eyes of both sides to show them what could be possible. Understanding how time, cost and hopefully quality improves when you take a joint approach should help to challenge the silo mentality.

As I finish this, in my head are the voices of a previous team. They would have known this was the theory, we talked about it many times, but still, we were frustrated. Knowing what to do and getting it done are two very different things. The way forward is to create the little fires. A spark in one area can lead to another and another. It is a long journey but by building the evidence to show the benefits you take people with you. Knowing the places to start to get the best evidence, have the biggest impact, and win the hearts and minds of peers is where the BRM moves from being a part of the process to a strategic thinker shaping the future of the organisation.

With this question and statement, I think there is as much value in knowing they are things to consider as there is in getting to an answer. For the BRM, knowing that systems added to the side, systems without business owners, a disconnection between technology and business objectives should get them out of bed and drive the conversations they have. Answers come in time, knowing your purpose and direction is where we start.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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