IPMA International Project Management Association
19 November 2018 / 8:40

Collaborative business relationships

Projects are done by people and through collaborative relationships. Therefore, the ISO 44001:2017 “Collaborative business relationship management systems –  Requirements and framework” is of interest to all engaged in project business. Aim of the standard is to establish requirements of a strategic lifecycle framework to improve collaborative business relationships in and between organizations of all sizes. Collaborative business relationships in the context of ISO 44001 can be multidimensional; a one-to-one relationship or rather networked relationships involving multiple parties.

While the ISO document addresses the management system of an organization in general, it also recognizes that effective collaboration requires two or more organizations to engage together and that management systems need to accommodate the joint activities of the parties. In addition to addressing the overall requirements to establish a management system, the document addresses operational process requirements for specific or individual organizational relationship engagement and contains a number of informative annexes to assist the user. For example, Annex A provides a checklist to assist organizations in implementing and meeting the requirements of the standard.

The framework of ISO 44001 addresses a number of themes that cascade from the high level management system and varies within the context and maturity of a specific collaborative relationship lifecycle. These evolving themes impact the behaviour and organizational culture of collaborating organizations to ensure they are effective, optimized and deliver enhanced benefit to the stakeholders through collaborative approaches.

Like for other management systems, top management surely plays a crucial role for establishing a collaborative business relationship management system. It shall demonstrate leadership, accountability and commitment with respect to the collaborative business relationship management system by:

  • ensuring that the collaborative business relationship policy and collaborative business relationship objectives are established and are compatible with the strategic direction of the organization;
  • ensuring the integration of the collaborative business relationship management system requirements into the organization’s business processes;
  • ensuring that the resources needed for the collaborative business relationship management system are available;
  • communicating to relevant stakeholders the importance of effective collaborative business relationship management and where applicable of conforming to the collaborative business relationship management system requirements;
  • ensuring that the collaborative business relationship management system achieves its intended outcome(s);
  • directing and supporting persons within the participating organizations to contribute to the effectiveness of the collaborative business relationship management system;
  • promoting continual improvement;
  • supporting other relevant management roles within the participating organizations to demonstrate their leadership as it applies to their areas of responsibility.

The standard proposes a Relationship Management Plan (RMP), which identifies how collaborative business relationship management will be applied within each organization. It should capture how operating practices, including existing processes such as customer–relationship management, project management, contract management and supplier relationship management, support collaboration. Organizations should aim where possible to embed this document in their existing management systems and use the RMP to signpost existing or modified process and policies. The RMP document content should always be proportional to the level of complexity of the relationship management task and be kept to the minimum necessary to be effective and efficient.

Due to the nature of relationship-building between people, the standard provides guidance on the competencies and collaborative behaviour of individuals that support collaborative working. The right business environment to support collaborative business relationships needs to encourage openness, honesty, responsiveness, commitment, performance, fairness, information sharing, giving early warnings and doing more than just the minimum required to achieve objectives. This can be achieved by developing the appropriate competencies and skills, leveraging key enablers and encouraging appropriate behaviour. In the dynamic operating environment, on-going learning from academic and business research can be used to maintain and improve collaborative business relationships.

Interestingly, the standard does not only provide guidance on how to enter a collaborative business relationship, but addresses also an exit strategy. This stage of the lifecycle involves the joint management team activating the exit strategy, ensuring that the responsibilities and considerations of all parties involved have been met and that the relationship is maintained beyond the closing of operations. The joint management team should assess current operations and potential developments in key areas and whether these should lead to the controlled disengagement of the business relationship. It should consider how to maintain business continuity in the event of premature exit being necessary and where appropriate, the effective and efficient transition to another partner. Furthermore, the parties should  consider future opportunities where they might over time create, dissolve and reconfigure the relationship to their mutual benefit.

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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.