How to Run an IT Monthly Business Review

Although it’s a little different at each organization, the monthly business review  (MBR) is a fixture in the management firmament of enterprises everywhere.  It may happen monthly,  quarterly (QBR), or on some other regular cadence.  The boss gathers his or her direct reports into a room (in person or virtually) and gets an update on the performance of the organization for the last month/quarter.

Woe to ye who comes to the MBR unprepared.

Not surprisingly, running a MBR is a TBM best practice.  Top CIOs in the best run IT organizations gather their team together to review what’s happened in the preceding month, communicate accomplishments and issues, and take action to course correct as needed.  They examine KPIs that provide insight into the condition of the IT landscape and use purpose-built tools – Apptio, for example – to provide the detail required for effective decision making.  The MBR ensures that IT leaders have a common understanding of IT’s performance and direction.  If this doesn’t sound like your MBR, or if you aren’t running one regularly, here is a proven approach to help get the most out of your MBR.

Ensuring your MBR runs smoothly and is valuable for all participants requires thoughtful preparation. At Apptio, we’ve seen dozens of MBR decks and reports, and of course our CIO runs his own MBR.  Out of all these, we have distilled best practices and have documented an approach to MBR preparation called the IT Leadership TBM Review (ITLTR).  ITLTR maps out a methodical process by which the MBR participants use Apptio to carefully inspect their areas of responsibility.  From this review, the MBR participant gets a clear understanding of the “state of the union” for their domain, and identifies issues and anomalies early so that they can be further researched and explained when it comes time for the review meeting. Think of ITLTR as the study guide for your monthly IT exam; it’s a concise methodical guide that helps you find and understand what’s most relevant in your parcel of the IT estate.

If ITLTR is the study guide then think of the MBR meeting agenda as the course syllabus, detailing the topics that will be discussed at the meeting with the CIO.  A typical MBR meeting agenda will have two types of topics:

  1. “New” business – the recurring topics where the focus will be on current period performance, changes in circumstances and noteworthy anomalies; for example:
  2. Major events and mandates – e.g., regulatory changes, M&A activity
  3. Outages and SLA achievement – e.g., app or platform outages, security breaches
  4. Financial Review – e.g., budget variance analysis, spending benchmarks
  5. Customer Review – e.g., distribution of spend by Business Unit or application/service
  6. Operations review – e.g., unit cost targets and trends, cloud adoption
  7. Investment review – e.g., status of major projects in-flight, portfolio alignment
  8. Vendor review – e.g., distribution of spend by vendor, contract events
  9. Labor review – e.g., performance to hiring plan, labor mix
  10. “Old” business – items discussed at previous meetings that required follow-up; e.g., presentation of a remediation plan prompted by a previous period outage.

It’s probable that you will not cover all of these topics at each MBR meeting. The agenda evolves over time to fit the priorities, maturity, and performance of the organization.  Since ITLTR is a flexible process you can tailor your preparation to match the agenda.  If you know which agenda items will be covered, you can use the guidance at the appropriate steps of ITLTR to prepare for each agenda item.  If you aren’t sure what will be covered (after all, most final exams don’t give you the questions ahead of time!) you can use ITLTR as a means to methodically review each topic and be prepared to answer the likely questions.

Without smart preparation, conducting a MBR can be labor-intensive and contentious, resulting in an unproductive session which impairs rather than improves IT’s understanding of its own performance.  On the other hand, done well the MBR can be a powerful tool for ensuring alignment of the whole IT team, unambiguously discussing achievements, issues and items for follow-up.  Using Apptio and the ITLTR process as part of MBR preparation greatly improves the odds of an efficient and productive MBR, accelerating the meeting prep and giving you the confidence to enter the meeting room well-prepared.  The MBR is a great opportunity to embed TBM disciplines in your IT organization by operationalizing a high-value process on a regular cadence that provides value to a wide range of stakeholders.

You can learn more about ITLTR on TBM Connect, where you’ll find a blueprint for the process as well as videos demonstrating in detail how to use Apptio’s standard out-of-the-box reports and KPIs to inspect your IT organization through a variety of lenses (e.g., financials, projects, applications).  Use the appropriate process steps to prepare for the items on your MBR meeting agenda and you are well on your way to an organized and well-informed Monthly Business Review.

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