3. Changing gears
from a Reactive Partner to a Strategic Partner

If we were to plan better, what would it look like?

Today, I'm introducing the Organisation Partner Maturity model (OPM), where we can have a "low maturity" approach in the way we do things and a "high maturity"approach. I'm also looking at how we bring together the different competencies of our SDBP® certificate to show how they depend on each other to reach the higher levels of maturity. 

  1. The three levels of (OPM) are Reactive, Service and Strategic partner

  2. The five competencies are Relationship, Value, Strategy, Portfolio and Organisational Change. 

Listen, watch the media or read the transcript below to get practical examples and understand the tips on what this means in practice.

Links: Organisation Partner Maturity    The five competencies


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Imagine the scene. Your boss has just come out of a meeting with the finance director of your company. It's September, and he looks at you and says, "time to sharpen your pencil; it's budget time again". Not only do you have your day job, but you now have to review pages and pages of excel spreadsheets and magically conjure estimates based on abstract ideas of what you think your customers want. And then only after building this immense forest of numbers for the finance director cut it back again.

You're probably thinking to yourself, "what's the point? Even after it is approved, everybody wants to start everything in January, and we're often unable to complete the budget simply because we don't have the capacity to spend it!" Fortunately, you kept your thoughts to yourself, out of your boss's hearing.

I have been exposed to many situations like this, so this is not uncommon. This yearly ritual of forecasting your project spend for the year can sometimes feel like a chore. So, whilst it could be worse - after all, there could be no planning, is there a better way?


Hi, I'm Jon, and this is a series of short articles called "Tales from a Portfolio Manager".  I help people in corporates plan technology across teams. so you could be someone who has a portfolio - of clients, projects, services or a backlog of features and you have to manage them across a wide variety of teams to achieve any number of goals. I have been doing these roles for over 20 years for many corporates and I have a few tales to tell. The best thing I can do for you is to encapsulate that experience into my advisory, online training and coaching so that you can reflect on how you solve some pretty challenging issues that you come across, and as a result,  be more successful in your role. If you like the content, stay tuned for more episodes and try for free our courses. Link above and at the side.


So let's imagine another scene: you're 18 months into the future, and things look very different. On the relationship front, you have a regular cycle of catchups with your customer/business sponsor to ensure continued alignment on where they are with their plans and current situation and whether there needs to be any adjustment. That's not been easy to get to - since you've had to slowly build the level of trust so that they share their plans and thoughts, and you've had to demonstrate responsiveness to what were some outstanding issues before you could even start talking about the future.

On the value front, you've tried to understand your customers' needs, spend time with them, and know how they work and their daily issues. Even then, the level of the conversation at the beginning was like taking an order in a restaurant - and you had to work hard to steer the conversation more to solving the business problem rather than finding a technical solution. Similar to hanging a picture rather than buying a drill. You've considered what they are trying to achieve and what's stopping them. You have listed a series of measurable outcomes that crystallise these.

On the Strategy front, you've organised these outcomes into a clear mandate that the client team can accept as their plan over the next three years and created several themes into which you can allocate business activity onto one sheet of paper (or slide). At this point, the magic starts to happen since you can relate back to the various central technology teams on how they can enable business initiatives. This activity has not been one conversation but a continuous discussion where you've had to work together to figure out what could be done in the short term, if any existing solutions can be leveraged, or do you need to procure or build new solutions to enable the business client to do their job.

On the portfolio front, things are taking shape. There has been quite a bit of back and forth during the year, shaping the demand into something that is starting to look very much like a roadmap - and whilst there has been some jostling for some work to be done immediately, we're talking for the first time about projects that go beyond 12 months. There are some other tangible quick wins you've been able to do - a kanban board of ideas and requests that now gets prioritised. This board gets updated every two weeks with the client to report back on the feasibility of the project or feature request and where you have time allocated to look at agreed requests for the next two weeks. Finally, you've instigated a quarterly strategic portfolio review of the roadmap, where you check whether the situation requires any changes, agree on work packages for the next three months and sign off on those deliverables that were instructed a quarter ago.

On the Organisational front, naturally, there has been a significant change in the approach to the way people work- one of the tricks you used to get people to open up was to demonstrate a pilot with one client and be successful at a small scale first. One of the quick wins clients saw was the different types of conversation and how it was documented. It helped them crystallise their thinking on their goals, and they could see how technology could help. Whilst inevitably, some people would "kick the tyres", every discussion point was to sell the benefits that were unique to them. Based on their response, you quickly see who would be the detractors and advocates for the continuous improvement initiative you started, so you knew whom to ask for a favour and whom you would need to keep a close eye on.

Both business clients and the technology function are far happier with this approach since they now have clarity on what's coming downstream, there is sufficient information to scope projects and enable better decision-making - and in fact, you're a lot happier because you've, in effect moved away from a lot of late nights estimating a yearly budget to regularly updating a budget, a roadmap and a strategy every quarter, where the least defined and vague ideas, are those that are fortunately the furthest out, and not stuck at the top of an excel spreadsheet with the implicit expectation that a project team will do it on the first day of the new financial year.

So with this success in the bag, now you're ready for a much bigger deployment across the rest of the organisation.

What I have outlined is achievable, and the benefits are tangible. I have done these in different organisations in my career, typically moving from what I call a reactive partner to a strategic partner maturity. In this podcast, I've also alluded to the five competencies that make up the SDBP® practitioner certificate, three of which are online and being taught now. Also click on the link below to view the Organisational partner maturity and a more detailed look at the five competencies.

Stay tuned for another episode of Tales from a Portfolio Manager in two weeks time.

3. Changing gears
Baxter Thompson Ltd, Jon Baxter
14 March, 2023
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Introduction and Podcast links
Tales From A Portfolio Manager