Business Owners

The business owners are the managers of the business functions targeted by the project. They give direction and feedback to the project and they also contribute to selling the project within the team.


The business owners are part of the team both because the project would not survive without their support, just as it won't survive without an executive sponsor, and because they need to give specific input to the requirements definition phase. To address the first point, it's pretty clear that implementing a tool that all staffers of a particular functional group will use simply cannot be done without the participation of the management team for that group. Actually, it's often the case that the business owners provide the impetus for the project in the first place, selling it upward to the executive sponsor. If that's the case, the main issue may be to restrain their enthusiasm as contract or technical issues delay the rollout of what they already believe will make their lives easier. On the other hand, if the tool project is initiated outside of the business group, a certain amount of skepticism may reign amongst the business owners. Will the tool really work? Will the proclaimed business benefits really take hold? When will the tool be ready? Will it be properly tested? Will it be easy to use? Will it make their jobs easier? (Yes, I've been on their side too!) Part of the role of the executive sponsor and of the project manager is to provide timely, realistic information to the business owners about what benefits are reasonable to expect from the project, what the requirements are for their organization, what risks exist, and what risk mitigation efforts are planned. The second aspect of the participation of the business owners on the team is to provide input and feedback, most of which is required during the requirements definition phase, but occasionally throughout the project as business decisions need to be made. Unlike the executive sponsor, who may be somewhat removed from the day-to-day routine, the business owners are directly involved with the CRM tool. It's essential that they have a say in its features and customization. Even when their teams (the super-users) make the most of the detailed recommendations, they are the ones who need to approve the decisions as they are made. The project won't get very far without the business owners getting behind it. An interesting characteristic of the business owners is that there are almost always several of them, so the decision process can be challenging within that group. One of the functions of the executive sponsor is to resolve conflicts that cannot be handled by the business owners and the project manager. The business owners also designate and make available the super-users. This is a critical function since the super-users provide the detailed functional specifications for the project. The business owners often resent having to give up key individuals to the team, even if they are generally in favor of the project. It's much easier to get the appropriate super-users assigned to the team if the business owners are well informed about the project and feel it's well run and will succeed. The project manager and the executive sponsor both may be required to invest their time and persuasive skills to convince the business owners of the wisdom of assigning solid super-users. Finally, the business owners have a responsibility to share information and enthusiasm for the project within their team. While the savvy project manager helps the business owners by providing appropriately packaged information that they can pass on, there is no substitute for the functional managers talking about and promoting the project with their team.


It's important that all relevant business owners be a part of the project team, simply so that decisions can be made quickly and are less likely to be overturned later. The good news is that business owners do not need to devote large chunks of time to a CRM project. Their time is required mostly:

  • To define initial requirements, which requires a few hours over several days, more if it's a large project or the number of business owners is large.
  • To evaluate the candidate tools, which requires a few hours for each candidate, plus travel time if required.
  • To define the implementation requirements, which is the big chunk: a day to a week depending on the complexity of the project.
  • To review and approve milestones, a few hours for each.

There is no substitute for having the business owners represented on the team. It's certainly possible to function with only a subgroup of active business owners on the team, but it's critical to get everyone's approval for each main milestone. Experience shows that business owners who don't take part in the decision process tend to raise issues at approval time, all of which must be reviewed (which takes time). Some of the issues are so pertinent as to require revisiting the decisions based upon them (which takes even more time). You might as well push to include everyone on the team in the first place. In particular, resist the tendency to include only the local business owners on the project team because it's so much easier to communicate with them than to brave distance, time zones, and language barriers to include the business owners in remote locales. If you want to reach solid decisions and to gather acceptance throughout the organization, include all the business owners. Revel in the beauty of technology such as conference calls and web conferencing, and don't hesitate to vary the meeting times so that remote participants don't always have to stay late or start early to participate. There's nothing quite like a 7a.m. Pacific Time meeting to remind Left Coasters that Europe is an important part of the world. As an added bonus, early meetings won't conflict with their other commitments! In larger organizations, it may be tempting for the business owners to delegate their role to someone on their team, and a certain amount of delegation is sometimes required and can work just fine. If decisions tend to be revisited when the delegators get involved, however, it's time to go back to the original plan and to demand that all the business owners participate on the project team themselves. Often, the reluctance of the business owners can be overcome if the project manager can ensure that their precious time is used appropriately, not taken up by long, content-light meetings. If you are working with a large group, try a level-laddering approach where the different geographies and subgroups are represented by managers from different levels in the organization. Have some director-level owners, some second-level managers, and some first-level managers, making sure all the geographies and subgroups are represented. The benefit of level laddering is that it lessens the burden on the top managers while allowing the project team to have a cross-section view of the organization, and giving developmental opportunities to lower-level managers.