Summer 2018 IT BRM/IT Business Partner Forum – Findings and Recommendations


IT BRM/IT Business Partner Forum

On Thursday 21st June 2018 7th IT BRM/IT Business Partner Forum took place in Warwickshire, kindly hosted by NFU Mutual (  We’re delighted to announce the event was the biggest yet with 70 individuals joining us for the day, the format of which was as follows:

  • 9:00 Coffee and Registration
  • 9:50 Welcome
  • 10:00 Keynote by Steve Rix (
  • 10:40 The Challenge of Delivering Value
  • 11:20 Coffee Break
  • 11:50 Pitch and Choose
  • 12:50 Lunch
  • 14:00 Tracks discussions
  • 14:50 Coffee Break
  • 15:10 Tracks discussions
  • 16: 15 Closing Talk

For the afternoon the organising committee chose three themes that ran as separate tracks. As part of the pitch and choose session in the morning, all delegates received an insight into what they were about and then selected one.  The three themes were:

  • Getting Started – Led by Paul Kirkham
  • Beyond Service Partner – Led by Gavin Berman
  • Masterclass – Led by James O’Driscoll

We’d like to thank all our panellists and delegates for their input in these sessions, which is summarised below.

The Challenge of Delivering Value – Sarah Fogg (

Sarah delved into one of the biggest challenges that IT Business Partners face by reviewing how well people perform against our D.A.M.A.C. framework in our Value Management survey. The results suggest there are significant opportunities in analysing the root cause of issues and doing continuous improvement to demonstrate value to our business peers.

What is Value Management? 

Value Management is a set of management techniques to ensure that customers’ expectations and needs are met through supporting activities, products and services.

How can we do it?

Applying the DAMAC model from Baxter Thompson ( enables Value Management.  It groups a series of management techniques into the following recursive cycle:


 What did our survey measure? 

We wanted to understand where our strengths and weaknesses were in relation to the above framework, so we provided examples of activities and asked our 43 respondents to rate themselves based on whether they consistently demonstrated, partially demonstrated these activities or not at all.

Define Benefit

Help us understand what’s important to you. 

The key here is to articulate a Value Proposition in a language understood by whoever you communicate with – this means adjusting it for the audience so that it speaks personally to them.  It must include tangible outcomes to help people understand the relationship between what’s in it for them and the actual product / service that is delivered.

Our score: 8/43 consistently applied (18.6%)


Are we doing the right activities? 

So that all stakeholders have a “skin in the game”, always demonstrate how a business outcome is linked to the project activities, the IT workstream or software application.  Ensure goals are shared.  If there is no link, there is no value!

Our score: 12/39 consistently applied (30.8%)

Measure Outcome

How do we know if we’re successful? 

Demonstrating success builds credibility.  At the point of defining the value proposition, it’s important to establish meaningful metrics which demonstrate the tangible impact of the business outcome.  This needs continuous monitoring through the WHOLE lifecycle of a project, service or lifetime of the application.

Our score: 13/39 consistently applied (33.3%)

Analyse Root Cause

Why aren’t things going as expected?

When things go off track, root cause analysis ensures the best possible opportunity for improvement.  There are various techniques to help, such as the “5 Whys”.  A no blame culture is important to establish the facts.  Sometimes this exercise can result in amending the Value Proposition, or even cancelling the project if the outcomes can no longer be achieved, or indeed triggering continuous improvement.

Our score: 2/39 consistently applied (5.1%)

Continuous Improvement

What can we do differently to get back on track?

Whether it be a poorly performing service or a failing project we need to gather, test and implement ideas that will meet expectations, often through business process change.  Making improvements must become part of the “operational muscle” and a habit of the organisation.

Our score: 7/38 consistently applied (18.4%)

And finally…

We can see where our areas of weakness are. The techniques, once learnt are not difficult to apply.  The real challenge is working with colleagues on investing time in these activities.  The whole cycle of value management consistently applied is the surest way of gaining credibility and a seat at the decision maker’s table.  This lays the foundation for becoming a Strategic IT Partner.

Why do this?  Simple: As IT Business Partners, managing value means adding value.


Getting Started review by Paul Kirkham (   

It was great to gather together with over 70 like-minded people at the excellent NFU Mutual facility in Stratford for the summer IT BP Forum. The sun shone on what turned out to be an enjoyable and productive day.  The ‘Getting Started’ track kicked off after lunch with a presentation from Luke Radford ( on how he’s put together a team that have built business partnerships within the Department for Transport.

Luke took us through his journey, beginning with pre-2017 and before his involvement at the Department for transport (DfT), through how he’s built credibility for business partnering. He shared how the move from being reactive, to being proactive, allowed the BRM function to talk about what is possible. The session offered real insight in to the creation of a BRM function from scratch, some of the challenges along the way and how to measure if we are winning with SMART goals. The inspiring quote of the session was on how to measure if you are getting it right; “see your fingerprints on the business plans and activities”

The one point that really stood out for me, amongst many good take-aways, was moving away from being a point of contact (usually for issues) to being a point of focus looking at the future and influencing the way the department works.

After a short break for refreshments, with a chance to enjoy the sunshine and chat with like-minded colleagues, the Getting Started track continued with the enigmatically titled “The Effective Business Partner: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly” presented by Thierry Ackermann (  In an enthusiastic, engaging and interactive session Thierry presented some thought provoking ideas about the definition of business partnering, the true value that a business partner can bring and how to leverage this value effectively.

Building on the theme introduced by Luke of moving from reactive to proactive, Thierry led the group to explore their thoughts on what holds us back in this journey and how we can take actions to be more proactive. We discussed how fixing ‘stuff’ was false demand and how an outcome focussed conversation would allow us to align (one-day shape) to strategy, focus on demand and enable change.

We even had time for a fun, but serious, game that helped us look at the characteristics of a business partner that we could then align to the ‘good, bad and ugly’ in the role. We spoke of Orchestrators, Challengers, Explorers, Critical Friends and Enablers. I’ll always be reminded of these observations and insights whenever I see a joker in a pack of playing cards!

It was an excellent day and based on the feedback we’ve received, the Getting Started track really hit the mark in delivering an engaging and informative afternoon for those of us focused on how we start the journey and shape the path to strategic business partnering.

With contributions from Jackie Ross (


Beyond Service Partner review by Gavin Berman (

The Beyond Service Partner track contained two sessions facilitated by myself, with a workshop by Mark Smalley (, all helped by Theresa Jacobs (  In the first session I began by setting the context in which the Parliamentary Digital Service operates, providing the digital tools for two separate albeit very similar organisations – The House of Commons and The House of Lords – and the Politicians they serve in the UK Parliament.

Since the introduction of the Business Partner function two years ago, some of the challenges that we have faced included:

  1. A lack of role clarity;
  2. Demonstrable senior leadership support; and
  3. Poor service management processes.

With some resolution of the first two issues the team wanted to consider what their next steps would be. This turned out to be calling in Baxter Thompson Associates ( to run a “Kick Start” one-day workshop to help remove the constraints and identify the new activities that would start the journey for the organisation to become a Strategic IT Partner.

A range of tools and techniques were introduced that looked at practical examples that built on what Sarah Fogg had discussed in the morning (The Challenge of Delivering Value). A couple of examples showing the work we undertook are below:

Challenge ​Most Significant Root Cause ​Brainstorming Solutions For Root Cause
  • ​Poor scheduling and consensus management of IT maintenance weekends
  • ​Historical focus on technology impact due to cultural attitude of department
  • ​Involve business peers in the decision making process
  • Create yearly plan
  • Make business Units accountable for decision
  • ​Business Stakeholders arrives with a technical solution
  • ​Not involved in day to day business operations
  • “Hang out” at watercooler
  • Invite business person for a “day in the life of…” discussion / show and tell
  • Co-location 1 day per week

In conclusion, the workshop proved very useful in bringing the team together, help focus thinking in a new way and set direction on the immediate next steps to improve credibility of the whole organisation.  Also, the solutions came from within the team, giving us confidence. Jon Baxter ( pointed out that these challenges are typically symptomatic of the level of maturity in the organisation; hence whatever the level the organisation is at, the tools and techniques are still applicable as the challenges, root cause and ideas will be different. Whilst resolving the challenge still remains a work in progress, what I’ve learned is to set time aside to continue the steps outlined in the workshop to make it a reality.  The group were then invited share the issues that are preventing them moving up the scale and initiatives they had put in place to help them. They didn’t need a second invitation:

  • Where does a Business Partner fit in to IT? – Lack of clarity within the provider organisation with better engagement with non-IT
  • Lack of power and influence to get things done
  • Business Partners seen as interfering coming back with ideas from non-IT
  • Resistance to acknowledging problems with concerns raised not taken on board as ‘we’ve not seen any incidents logged’
  • Dealing with some IT colleagues who view non-IT as an annoyance.

There seemed to be a consensus that as business partners we were skilled in engaging with non-IT and speaking to them in their own language but we had more of a struggle with colleagues within IT. The most striking aspect of the conversation was how similar the issues and concerns that being raised were – with nods of approval coming from a range of industries, based around the country in both the public and private sector.

In the second session Mark spoke about what he called ‘the often-troubled relationship between business people and IT people’ and looking at how that is changing in the digital age where the two worlds were moving ever closer together. The attendees were split in to two teams representing IT and the business. We were then asked to discuss and note down five behaviours that your group would expect of the other to produce a more productive relationship.

So, what five (or so) behaviours did we come up with? What behaviour does ‘the business’ want to see from IT?

  • Be honest – in terms of cost/time/effort required
  • Be responsive
  • Don’t just say no – provide alternative solutions or explain constraints (“Yes we can, if”)
  • Take an interest and understand our objectives
  • Create plans and take action regarding those plans
  • Communicate

What behaviour does IT want to see from ‘the business’?

  • Don’t be condescending regarding your specialism
  • Bring us your problem not solution
  • Involve us from the start
  • Treat us as part of the business
  • Be engaged throughout the lifecycle
  • Accept responsibility alongside us
  • Articulate the business value of your request

Mark explained that he had conducted this exercise with around 20 different groups around the world and our responses chimed with his previous research (  The research is reviewed after each exercise to see if new ideas had been identified, although after doing this a number of times they rarely were. The behaviours identified were similar across the world, even in those countries where you might have thought that cultural differences would highlight different expected behaviours issues.

I found this to be a really interesting exercise, but did wonder whether these behaviours would be the same as those identified by colleagues across IT and non-IT. As Business Partners sit between the two areas perhaps our views may not be representative. An opportunity for a discussion with our business colleagues to understand their expectations, perhaps?


Masterclass review by James O’Driscoll (

Discovering Outcomes – Change Your Questioning Language

Mike Burrows ( the founder of Agendashift (, a champion and enabler of outcome-oriented change kindly kicked off the afternoon masterclass track.  The purpose of his session was to introduce and then workshop a needs based, outcome oriented approach to organisational change, rather than the norm where you start with a solution(s) and then deal with the inevitable resistance.

Obviously such a huge topic cannot be covered in 50 minutes, so Mike focused on the delegates use of questioning language by first asking them to write down some examples of obstacles they feel stop everyone (so individuals, teams, organisations etc.) being able to work consistently at their best.  A key outcome of this was the majority of the delegates look for obstacles with “absence”, “lack” or “insufficiency” language, so there was no X, there was a lack of Y or there was too little Z.

However, if the delegates want to operate in a needs based, outcome oriented approach they shouldn’t try diagnose or fix the obstacle but ‘flip’ them into outcomes instead.  To help the delegates understand this further Mike asked the groups of four to take it into turns to be a coach (guide of the conversation), client (person with an obstacle taken from the previous exercise), scribe and observer.

Using a cue card the coach then guided the conversation with the client, trying to ensure they resisted the temptation to respond too much and ensure they incorporated the client’s words into their questions.   Suggested questions included:

  1. And when <obstacle>, what would you like to happen?
  2. What is happening when <outcome>?
  3. Is there anything else about <outcome>?

A key outcome of the session from an observer point of view was that whilst there was initially some reluctance to ask questions in outcome orientated approach, as the session progressed you could see the majority of the delegates were becoming more comfortable with such a style of questioning.  Our hope from the session is that the delegates can recall this exercise in their working day with the key message being not to look for obstacles in your questioning language, but ‘flip’ them into outcomes instead.

For further details the cue card and deck are available here – 15-minute FOTO and includes a video of Mike facilitating a discovery session at the Adventures with Agile meetup. For more on our use of Clean Language, see the first couple of chapters of his Agendashift book, the #cleanlanguage channel in the Agendashift Slack, and this reading list.

Debatable Data – Build More Solid Business Cases And Hold People To Account

Tony Koutsoumbos (, the founder of the Great Debaters Club (, the UK’s only debate club and training programme for adults kindly completed the masterclass track and after a few technical issues (thank you George Kerby – kicked off his talk around debatable data.   This workshop was focused on how we use data to test conclusions for the presence of bias and how delegates can make better use of data when justifying their decisions and advice to others.

Again, such a large topic could not be covered in a 50-minute session, so instead the delegates were introduced to the subject with an overview of the difference between data vs.  evidence, some real like examples of misleading data, an explanation of the building blocks of an argument (conclusion – what I want the audience to believe, data – that supports my conclusion and analysis – why data is proof of my conclusion), again backed up with real life examples and finally “Spot the Fallacy.”  This was used to help delegates have the ability to recognise a fallacy in a real-life argument, by being presented with numerous examples and asking them to identify the relevant fallacy using the cheat sheets issued.

As I’m sure all IT BRMs/IT BPs will recognise, the use of data to help make arguments is incredibly useful as part of a wider influencing strategy, especially when dealing with your two key personality types as discussed in the Winter 2017 IT BRM/IT Business Partner forum.   To recap these types are:

  • Pragmatists (Sensing/Thinking e.g. IT colleague)
  • Theoretical (Intuition/Thinking e.g. CxO)

However, from an observer perspective I didn’t feel we gave this subject the justice it deserved in this workshop due to a lack of time.  The delegates did have a clear, high level overview from Tony and good real life examples to start the process of understanding the subject.  However, I would urge IT BRMs/IT BPs to investigate further as it is clearly a subject that can be very useful in both making your own decisions and influencing others.



Further details of all presentations (including the key note) and videos of the day can also be found here –  Please note you’ll need to a member of our online community to have access and please ensure you are logged into your account before clinking on the link.

If you are not a member of our online community yet, you’re more welcome to join.  To simply register your interest please complete the online form found here –

Next steps

Due to the continued success of the sessions more are planned, with the next event taking place on Thursday 22nd of November 2018 at the Thistle Heathrow T5 (Bath Road, Longford London UB7 0ET/  The specifics of the day are still to be confirmed, however the overall format will be similar to this event.

If you are interested in joining this session, want to contribute or have something to share, please go to our request for proposals page ( or get in touch with James O’Driscoll from Gilbert Scott Associates or Jon Baxter from Baxter Thompson Associates.

Email – &

LinkedIn – &

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