BRM: Getting out of the tactical rut

Question: What if I want to know the strategy to make things better but my stakeholders only want me to manage resources. How can I change this?

There are few words more widely used in business without actual consideration for what they mean than tactical and strategic. The BRM wants to be having strategic conversations with business leaders which sounds like the right thing to do – but have you actually considered what it means?

I’m not going to attempt to dive into what strategy really is in this post, if that is something which is of interest to you then I suggest you take some time to explore the work of Simon Wardley which can be found here.

A quick search on YouTube and you’ll quickly find one of Simon’s previous talks on the subject which will be worth watching. The other good model to start to get your head around is the Cynefin Framework.

The mistake that I see most people make when talking about strategic and tactical requests is that they think that the bigger the request, the larger the project or the more resources that it needs, then it is more strategic. This simply isn’t the case. There is also nothing inherently wrong with tactical work, sometimes problems need to be sorted, seemingly “wrong” things need to be done to make progress and unlock the ability to do the “right” things. The second biggest mistake people make is to fail to recognise tactical short-term work as exactly that – you can’t always do the big stuff but at least know you’ve made a compromise and understand how the decisions made today impact the decisions of tomorrow.

The challenge for the BRM is to make sure they’re able to work alongside their business partner to be able to develop these conversations. The question posed at the start of this post implies two causes of one problem – firstly that the BRM isn’t being given all of the information and secondly that they are looking for a magic wand to fix this. The problem that is caused by this is simply that the business partner doesn’t see the value of bringing the BRM to the table to be involved in the important conversations. Now, there is one other explanation and that is that you always hope that the strategy conversation is taking place but quite often find out that it actually isn’t (and no-one wants to admit it!)

In this situation, the BRM isn’t powerless but they need to think about the approach they take to unlock the conversations they want to have. The most direct route is to just state it as it is in the framing of the question. I’ve seen some people do that and be successful, it’s a bold move and if it doesn’t work out then you’re making more enemies which will be harder to influence but don’t rule it out as an option immediately.

The, perhaps more considered approach, is to start with what you do have and work from there. I’ve been in situations where there are lots of tactical requests being presented and the requestor isn’t really that interested in having conversations they just want to know how their deadline will be met. It is here that the BRM needs to start thinking about the long game. You capture the requests, you work with them but you keep your eyes on the horizon and the place that you want to get to. Start to track each request and think the strategy from the bottom up – in time you should be able to build up your own picture of what you think is going on and from there you can start to play it back.

My approach has often to be to have a model of what I think good might look like (a template strategy may work) and then plot on the requests with their interdependencies and overlaps.

That model then becomes the basis of the conversation you’re able to start having which doesn’t challenge the person making the request but does allow you to take them some actionable information, something that shows your value and gives them the scope to start to explain more to you.

Rather than just closing down conversations because you aren’t being given the strategic picture start to make sense of what you can and seek out the people you can play this back to. In doing so you will be able to ask about what you’re missing and what else needs to be considered – everyone loves to find fault in someone else’s work and offer up corrections, and this model approach plays to that. Few people when asked will resist the opportunity to tell you that you’re wrong, swallow that and use it to get out of them the information that you’re missing.

Ultimately the only way you’ll be able to position the BRM role where you want it, to be invited to the important strategic conversations, and seen as the peer is when you’re adding something useful to the mix, solving problems and bringing a different perspective. This isn’t, though I almost wrote it, about “adding value” it’s about working with people to achieve a better outcome. Be useful and take your time to show where the greater opportunity will come from.

By listening and observing everything that is going on you’ll have a much better view of the organisations change activities than anyone else and if you can turn that into intelligence that supports others making decisions (and make them look good in the process) then you’ll start to bring about the change that you aspire to be known for.

Written by

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

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