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What Makes a Great Business Partner?

A colleague and I were talking about past projects.  When I mentioned one of my favorites, he was surprised–he thought people found the business partner on that project to be “difficult”.  Not me—she met all my criteria for a great business partner:

  1. They know their stuff.
  2. They provide you sufficient meeting time and respond to your email in a reasonable amount of time.
  3. They will make decisions, including prioritization.

Didn’t hurt she also had a great sense of humor.  But, I don’t require that–if I get my top 3, I’m pretty happy.

Since we always monitor  risks to our projects, it’s interesting to think about the risks that arise from a business partner that doesn’t meet the criteria.  Here are a few that come to mind:

Business Partner Weakness Risks
1. Insufficient knowledge
  • Building the wrong thing
  • Rework
2. Lack of time/unresponsive
  • Project delays because dependencies are not met
  • Extra project cost resulting from team members spending time following up on unanswered questions, rescheduling meetings, and attending meetings that get cancelled due to no-shows
  • Team demotivation–this behavior carries an underlying message “this is not important enough for my time”
3. Inability to make decisions, including prioritization
  • Project delays due to waiting for decisions
  • Delivering diminished business value from working on less valuable features
  • Wasted work on features that are de-scoped when the need to prioritize becomes unavoidable

Now the tough thing—once you identify the risk, how do you mitigate it?  I wish I had the magic answer, but all I can do is make a few suggestions that sometimes help:

  • For 1, identification of additional resources—people, materials, etc.—is your best bet.
  • Frank discussion with the business partner about the impact of the behavior can help with 2 & 3.
  • I used to periodically meet with one unresponsive person and walk her through open questions and get answers. When I needed a written response, I’d get her to respond while we were meeting.
  • As to the person who won’t meet, learn when you can ambush them—do they get to work early or stay late so that you can do a drop-by?
  • For the indecisive, help them–propose a decision with supporting reasons and request agreement.
  • For prioritization, use the Business Objectives Model to get them thinking about and prioritizing based on business value.

Our business partners can really impact the success of our projects, if you’ve already got a great one you’re lucky.  If not, maybe you can help them become one.

 

 

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