Part 4 Align with the Business


The Road to Responsible Collaboration


By Robin Hornby

Alberta, Canada


In this series, Robin Hornby argues that the effectiveness of project management is improved by driving project responsibility into the organization and creating conditions favorable to ‘responsible collaboration’. But this collaborative environment will not naturally fall into place without the support of senior management and the adoption of enabling frameworks, guidelines, and techniques. In this fourth article, Robin investigates the illusive issue of business alignment, an essential step towards a collaborative goal. He determines the need for techniques to align project and business objectives and explores a structure to ensure proper business communication and control.


Business alignment is not a well-defined term. Given the primacy of business goals, it implies the owner and provider know what each other are talking about, understand each other’s priorities, and can negotiate productively. In other words, good communication and complementary objectives. It’s not so easy, as experiences of communication failure demonstrate. One stands out because I learned so much from it. Our Australian client (I was with an international IT consultancy) had just signed the contract and I was meeting with the plain-spoken sponsor to discuss their quality requirements. After a laborious description of the options, he cut me off and said, “one of the reasons we hired your firm is you do a quality job. That’s right, isn’t it? So just get on with it”. One immediate lesson was don’t negotiate quality after the contract is signed. And the second? That was one of my preoccupations for the next few decades and forms a chapter in the reference text1.

The delivery of project benefits has also been fertile ground for poor communication and misalignment. Lack of effective cost control is another. The provider denies any responsibility for benefits and blames the owner for not declaring the scope, the level of complexity, and the need for quality. Meanwhile the owner blames the provider for negligence, incomplete analysis, and incompetence. An absence of business alignment may seem like an understatement in these scenarios.

Statement of Requirements

Business alignment requires two structures to connect provider and owner. The first is a method to link the objectives of the owner with the objectives of the provider. I am appalled at how few multi-million-dollar projects devote any significant effort to this linkage. The second is a meaningful framework for communication. Communication tends to occur on the provider’s terms, using the provider’s perspective, and ignores factors that allow the owner to assess real progress and apply business decision-making criteria.

Fundamentally, owner and provider do not speak the same language. The provider’s primary method to communicate their work is the project lifecycle (aka the application, or development lifecycle), usually expanded into a methodology. Providers have taken justifiable pride in developing this vital technique to deliver projects with increasing effectiveness. Methods have evolved from the earliest “let’s get coding”, through waterfall, fast track, iterative, spiral, prototyping, and agile lifecycles. Although essential for team communication and project management (PM), this framework is of interest to only a handful of Collaborative StakeHolders2 (CSHs) and means very little to the owner. Rather than educating the owner on project methods, which are forever changing, the provider’s work should be placed within a universal business framework to meet the following requirements:


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Editor’s note: This series of articles is by Robin Hornby, author of four books including A Concise Guide to Project Collaboration: Building a Delivery Organization (Routledge 2023) and Ccommercial Project Management: A Guide for Selling and Delivering Professional Services (Routledge 2017). Learn more about the author in his profile below.

How to cite this work: Hornby, R. (2023). Part 4 Align with the Business, The Road to Responsible Collaboration, series article, PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue VIII, August. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/pmwj132-Aug2023-Hornby-4-align-with-the-business-collaboration-series-article.pdf

About the Author

Robin Hornby

Alberta, Canada


Robin Hornby worked in Information Technology for over 40 years, taught project management at Mount Royal University for 12 years and maintained a consulting practice. He worked across Canada and internationally, was a long-time holder of the PMP designation, and presented frequently at PMI symposia. He pioneered many delivery management practices and is the author of four books. His latest book titled A Concise Guide to Project Collaboration: Building a Delivery Organization was published in 2023 by Routledge.  For more information, visit www.tmipm.com. Robin Hornby can be contacted at rchornby@shaw.ca

To view other works by Robin Hornby, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/robin-hornby/