Question: In an environment where resources are limited, trying to meet the needs of the business generally leads to expectations not being met. What are the strategies to avoid this?
Like death and taxes, there are a few things that are certain in life and one of those for the BRM is that there will always be more demand than there is either money or time to meet.
The sooner that this is acknowledged and understood the better for everyone involved. However, even if you have reached the point where at some level this is understood there will still be times when one area of a business feels like they are being put to the back of the queue and someone else is getting what they shouted for.
Before going further with responding to this question there is something in the opening statement that I believe needs to be addressed and it is this: The role of the BRM is not to funnel all demand through regardless but rather the role is to filter that demand and define the best opportunities. What is “best” won’t be the same on every occasion and there will be times that a piece of demand is seen as the best thing to do when under a different set of circumstances it wouldn’t have been given any time at all. The BRM is in the best place to understand (or at least should be seeking to understand) how everything links together and to build a cohesive view of all the demand and its links. Knowing what the capabilities of the provider are to meet any particular type of demand, knowing when it is better to pause a request, when to engage a different provider and when to bring multiple requests together is all part of the role.
As soon the BRM finds themselves having to balance the endless demand against a limited supply of resources or delivery capability then they are becoming an order taker on behalf of a supplier and no longer moving towards being the strategic business advisor that they should aspire to be.
Saying all that and even if you’re reading it and thinking that you know all this as it’s in every textbook, every BRM course and the advice given by every consultant, the reality is still often one where you do need to deal with exactly this situation so what can be done?
One of the best things that a BRM can do in this situation is to not try to be the hero and balance everything by robbing Peter to pay Paul rather it is to move to a place of facilitation and support those who do need to make decisions by making sense of what is going on.
It is rare to find an IT delivery team that is good at making business decisions and I think that it’s a failing of those who have business decision responsibility to try to avoid these tough questions themselves. If you’re finding yourself in this situation my advice would be to try and articulate everything that is going on and bring together the people who are impacted by the situation and work through it together.
As a team, we faced a similar problem early on and no-one would (or could) give us any priorities. In the absence of anything else, I started to write down what we were doing since there wasn’t a lot of complaint about it just a desire to see more happen. By doing this I was able to create a model that showed how implicitly work was being prioritised and this then allowed for people to start to have a meaningful conversation about the decisions that they were making. It doesn’t solve the problem of not having enough resources but it does show people the impact of their choices.
One of the worst things that I think, and have seen organisations try to do, is plan everything in and assume they can do everything that makes it to the schedule of work without anything ever-changing. As we continue to experience one of the biggest interruptions to normality in response to COVID-19 then hopefully the ideal that you can plan with that level of certainty will be one thing that doesn’t make it out of lockdown.
People don’t like not knowing nor do they like having to make tough decisions. Therefore the BRM is needed to start to allow those conversations to take place but to do it in a way that doesn’t make it look difficult. One simple way that you can do this is to take each of the requests and start to ask a simple question of is this request more or less important than the previous one. As that conversation happens you start to make sense of what people think is really important and what they’re less precious about. At no point does someone need to say the request isn’t important just that they see the value of doing something else above it. Having complete this exercise you’re then able to look back and see if the things you’ve said are top of the delivery list really are the ones that everyone thinks need to happen next or has something been missed.
As with every approach and every model, this won’t be perfect but it is a good way to be “less wrong” and to work with a broad range of people to build consensus.
My final reflection here is that in most organisations important things can secure funding to get done. Pet projects can make progress because people like them or the person requesting it but the really important things will always find a way of obtaining the budget. This is a good test and a lesson to avoid giving too much away for free even if there isn’t a concept of internal re-charge and delivery is just a cost to the business overall. By getting people to think about what it is going to cost and if they really would choose to spend their money (or budget) on this rather than something else will focus the mind.
In conclusion, then I think this problem arises for the BRM because they’re trying to be a broker of a situation that isn’t theirs to deal with and rather than supporting the conversations which others need to have and acting as a facilitator they try to become the hero who fixes everything. Take a step back and do these three things:
Create the forum for the conversation to take place and playback everything you see going on so others can make sense of the requests
Work with those making requests to find priorities through participation and supporting an overall objective rather than just their empire
Focus on the cost and benefits of any change and make the story work – if it is going to make money or save money then show how delivering the change is greater than what it will cost and then find a delivery partner (internally or externally) that can achieve the desired outcome.
Remember – you’ll never have too little demand but unless you’re focused on the bigger picture you make rarely have the right demand. Being busy on the wrong things is worse than not having enough to do. Facilitate good conversations and enable better decisions.