The Business of Relationships: Working with Business Partners to Forecast and Manage Demand

How do you work with business partners to forecast and manage demand?  We see many different challenges in this area, so let’s break this down into levels of maturity to get a better sense of them.

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Level 4:  Equal Partner.  Organizations at this level have a well-defined process and are considered equal partners in their business planning and forecasting activities.  They typically have formalized processes with defined roles and responsibilities, and work directly with their business partners through a business relationship manager role and service portfolio lifecycle management.  Their partners value them because they understand what IT sells (which is different than what they do – see previous posts) and they buy what they need based on their business plans.  The planning cycle looks more like a buy-sell market exchange.  IT is a valued and trusted partner with a seat at the business table.

Level 3: Valued Service Provider.   At this level, organizations will have a good relationship with most business partners and are usually able to anticipate what they need.  The demand process here is less formal, and there may not be a defined business relationship manager role.  The positive IT/business relationship is usually due to both interpersonal skills at the sr. leadership level and an intentional (action-based) desire to maintain those relationships.  Services are defined and managed, but may not be fully enabled in an end-to-end manner.  This can work reasonably well at smaller organizations, but will present challenges in larger and more complex environments.

Level 2:  Reactive Order Taker.  Here, IT organizations are not actively engaged in the business planning activities and often get requests for demand at the last minute.  This is a pretty strong indicator of a disconnect between what IT is doing and what the rest of the organization is doing.  Typically, demand is managed informally and manually in IT with occasional business level engagement.  Big projects get funded on the strength of the business case, but the understanding of business needs beyond that is hit or miss depending on the planning cycle.  Often, there is not a good definition of the services that IT provides.

Level 1:  Cost Center.   At this level, business partners consider IT a cost center and usually complain about the cost of IT.  We find organizations here when they have lost the confidence of the business to deliver what they need.  The demand process is ad-hoc and usually lacks credibility when it comes time to fund initiatives.  There is very little understanding of how IT delivers value and an often contentious relationship with the business.   IT typically has an “inside-out” perspective—focused on technology and what they do instead of what they deliver and how that impacts their customers.

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So, if you find yourself in level 1 or 2, what can you do to get better connected with your customers?  It starts with getting engaged with those customers and understanding their needs.  This can take the shape of a defined demand process along with better definition of what you provide in value terms (i.e.; services).

If you’re closer to level 3 and struggle with the complexities of managing and evaluating multiple channels of demand across your organizational eco-system, you might benefit from automation and closer governance interactions with decisions makers.

If you’re at level 4, you need to make sure your processes, services, automation tools and governance are tuned for the inevitable organizational changes.

 

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