Time really does fly! I can’t quite believe it’s just over two weeks until the start of the Business Analysis Conference Europe 2017 (#BA2017) in London. As I plan the final practice runs of my presentation which is entitled “Systems Thinking: A Crucial BA Skill in an Uncertain World , I can’t help but get a little excited about the event – it’s always a real highlight of the BA calendar. Every year the conference attracts such a wide variety of delegates and speakers, it’s such a great place to meet people and hear new ideas.
The conference gets bigger every year and, I’m pleased to say that there are still tickets available — so if you’ve been thinking about attending, it’s not too late! You can find out more details about the conference by clicking the link below. And remember, IIBA UK members are entitled to a 15% discount.
I highly recommend attending the conference, if you can. There are fantastic presentations from real-world practitioners, and there’s also the opportunity to relax and chat over a beer (or two) after the conference has closed. If you haven’t been before, I’d highly recommend taking a look.
If you’re attending, drop me a mail or tweet and we can catch up.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I am somewhat of a self-confessed “BA Geek”. I can’t help but see processes, systems, data, interconnections and opportunities for analysis everywhere I go. I find it fascinating how different industries approach things so differently, and I can’t help but peek ‘behind the curtain’ and try and work out how different businesses operate.
I was recently travelling with work and was eating in a quiet (but very nice, if slightly pricey) restaurant. I went to pay, and found that unfortunately they weren’t able to accept credit cards—so I paid in cash. The meal and a couple of drinks came to about 30 Euros, I didn’t have change so I put down a 50 Euro note. The waitress soon brought back my change, which was placed on a small silver plate with a receipt.
Now, what I found interesting was:
1. Rather than giving change as a 20 Euro note, she gave me one 10 Euro, one 5 Euro and some change
2. Right next to the change was a card reminding me that tips are discretionary, but appreciated for good service (with a smiley face drawn on it to grab my attention)
It struck me that this seemingly random split of change was probably really quite a subtle and clever way of maximising tips. By breaking up my change, the waitress had ensured that I had a range of coins/notes to give whatever tip I felt appropriate, along with a reminder that a tip would be appreciated. This might be considered a gentle ‘nudge’. There was no compulsion to tip, and no pressure at all, but the waitress made it as easy as possible for me to do so if I wanted to. I smiled, put down a tip, and left. I was mulling this over on the way back to my hotel.
Equipping Our Stakeholders: Do We Remove Barriers?
Ultimately, what that waitress had done is made a request and made it as easy as possible for me to fulfil that request.
A week or so ago, I found myself suffering from a severe head-cold and fever, which left me feeling exhausted. I was so exhausted I wasn’t able to function normally for a few days—at its worst, I was unable to get out of bed. I spent a day drifting in and out of sleep, oscillating between sweating with a fever and feeling cold and shivering. I suspect everyone reading this will have experienced a similar illness during their lifetime—and thank goodness these things are temporary! I am pleased to say that rest, rehydration and paracetamol worked and I am now feeling so much better.
Yet I was left reflecting on how, as individuals, we treat problems and ailments quite differently to the way that organisations do. If we wake up one morning and a minor symptom has emerged, perhaps a sore-throat or headache, as individuals our first response is probably quite understated. In fact, there may be times when we deliberately do absolutely nothing. We may suspect that our symptoms are a normal fluctuation in health, and nothing to worry about—we monitor the situation, and, if the sore throat goes away in a couple of days that is just fine. If new symptoms appear, or things do not improve, then of course we’d seek professional medical help.
The Allure of the Knee-Jerk
Yet, in organisational situations, it seems that there is an all too often knee-jerk reactions to issues that occur. This almost seems to be a form of organisational hypochondria where deliberate inaction is seen as some form of weakness in leadership, and we just have to ‘be seen to be doing something’ constantly.
You can imagine a manager saying:
“Our web sales dropped? Quick, launch a project to initiate targeted discounting! Plus I’ve heard about this new CRM system… let’s buy it!”
Yet how sure are we that we know the reason for the sales dropping? And are we really confident that a new ‘targeted discounting’ scheme will actually work any better? Couldn’t it be something in the business environment that is completely outside of our control? And if so, wouldn’t we be better off finding that first? Underlying this issue is a desire for stability and predictability, which although understandable, is unlikely to prove feasible in many of the types of complex environment that today’s businesses operate within.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been listening to a really interesting audiobook. Entitled ‘Shoe Dog’, it is the autobiography of Nike’s founder Phil Knight. It’s an interesting story on so many levels, and I was really interested to hear how Nike (or Blue Ribbon as it was then) was reportedly one of the first US shoe companies to partner with a Japanese manufacturer.
This was five or six decades ago, long before e-mail, satellite communication links and it was even before fax machines were commonplace. When working internationally everything took longer—the author describes sending important messages by airmail, or if it was really urgent by telex. Conversations could take weeks, or even months, and sometimes there was no option but to get on a plane to resolve an issue. Looking back, this seems like a completely different world. It is easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago that the world ran on intra-office (typed) memos, with a typing pool that banged out communications as fast as it could.
This is a massive juxtaposition with the world we live in now. We have moved to quite a different extreme where communication is easy. Communication is ubiquitous. You can’t blink without finding there are 25 new e-mail messages, 7 new WhatsApp messages, 12 Facebook updates and a whole plethora of LinkedIN connection requests. And this connected world provides us with so many opportunities; you wouldn’t be reading this blog if the technology didn’t exist.
Yet, it has a darker side too. Over-communication can become a habit—instant messengers set the expectation of an ‘instant’ response. With easy, cheap communication we are bombarded with interruptions 24 hours a day, and as much as we can switch them off, it is a difficult discipline to do so. But if we spend so much time communicating, so much time fielding and fire-fighting our multiple inboxes, what do we lose? And in particular, what does this mean for the quality of decisions that are made in organisations?
As many of you know, I’m enthusiastically believe in the value that good quality Business Analysis can bring, and I love speaking, writing and presenting on this and many other topics! In a break from my normal ‘blog style, I have a very quick update for you.
Attending the conference is always one of the highlights of my year, as it provides a real melting pot of ideas. It’s a great place to meet other BAs and exchange knowledge. There are fantastic presentations from real-world practitioners, and there’s also the opportunity to relax and chat over a beer (or two) after the conference has closed. If you haven’t been before, I’d highly recommend taking a look.
The conference is being held in London, from 25 – 27 September. You can find full details of the conference here:
PS — if you can’t make it to London, I’m equally excited to say that I’m speaking at some other fantastic events. I’ll be at the BA Summit Southern Africa in Cape Town earlier in September. Here are my sessions:
I’m very pleased to say that my presentation at BA Summit Southern Africa (2016) entitled “The Indispensable BA and the Surprising Truth: You Work In Sales” was recorded. You can watch the session below, which is around 41 minutes long. A massive thank you to the conference team for videoing the session, and for providing me with a copy!
Here is a brief abstract describing the session:
Business analysis is an essential discipline for organisational success. Our discipline spans not just projects, but also the definition of strategy and much more. As organisations mature, BAs are often seen as internal consultants acting as a liaison amongst stakeholders and our scope for engagement widens.
As this happens, the skill-set and capabilities required by BAs and BA teams subtly shifts. We might not be guaranteed early engagement on every project and proving our worth becomes essential. The art of sales—building awareness and interest in the holistic nature of the consultant analysis services we provide—becomes paramount.
In this presentation, Adrian Reed will explore the importance of softer “sales” skills, avoiding the clichéd “shiny-teeth-and-cufflinks” sales approaches that we all dislike. You’ll hear practical tips including how to:
Gain wider engagement for the team by articulating a BA value proposition
Sell the benefits of engaging an internal consultant business analyst
Foster and manage ongoing stakeholder relationships
Understanding tricky business situations often requires us to draw upon our modelling skills. There are a wide range of types of model that we might utilise, ranging from conceptual models that help us understand how stakeholders think the situation ought to be operating, right through to process models, data or information models, state transition diagrams and many, many more beside.
Yet with this plethora of models comes a challenge: how do we create ‘views’ of the situation (or requirements) that are actually meaningful? How can we convey tricky and complex information in an understandable way, to a whole range of interested stakeholders, each of whom have different preferences and needs?
This is a perennial challenge. Executive stakeholders often want a “helicopter view” of a situation, and a detailed process or data model may disengage them. I remember working with one senior manager whose mantra was “one slide”. She took the view that if an idea or proposal couldn’t be distilled to a single slide, then it probably wasn’t well enough thought through (yet). She was probably right.
Yet, as well as executive and senior managers we need to communicate effectively with end-users, subject matter experts, vendors, third parties, middle managers and so on, each of whom will have different interests and concerns. Can ‘modelling’ really help us with this? Don’t we risk creating something that is too high level to be useful, or so detailed that it will swamp and overload our stakeholders?
Precision and Accuracy
I was recently discussing this challenge with a client when a useful analogy emerged. We could perhaps consider communication—of any type, but including communication using models—along two dimensions: Precision and Accuracy
It may surprise some readers to know that, although I am from the UK, I spent part of my life growing up in the USA. I have fond memories of Rochester, Minnesota which was the place where I learned what “winter” really means (the British view of what constitutes ‘snowfall’ is very different to a Minnesotan’s). I enjoyed learning about the cultural differences, and learned a lot about how quirky British people really are. Being outside of my own national culture made me realise how over-politeness and an obsession with ‘fair play’ and queuing really does typify the British psyche.
It was a fantastic opportunity, and I enjoyed studying at a US school. The curriculum was different and when I moved up to the next grade at an age of ten or eleven years, there was an increased focus on learning music. I remember, vividly, speaking to one of my trusted classmates who told me:
“This year you have to choose an instrument, and get good at it. If you don’t choose an instrument, you have to join the choir”.
A Common Response: “Choosing the Best of a Bad Lot”
As practitioners of business analysis, we help facilitate valuable change in organisations. We help our organisations strive towards their organisational objectives, and in doing so we help to define, instil and reinforce change. Yet, whilst we may be progressing objectives that seem exciting and empowering to us, we might find that some stakeholders resist the change. We might even sense that some people fear change altogether.
When talking about resistance and fear of change, I am always reminded of a situation I observed over a decade ago, which is as relevant now as it was then. A contact centre was rationalising its processes and office space, and started to standardise workers’ desk space. It was seemingly positive and non-contentious—people would get new equipment—yet one seemingly insurmountable issue emerged. Yet it seemed so minor…
Say the word ‘strategy’, and many people will respond with a glazed look and a sigh. Seen as a Dilbert-esque ‘corporate’ buzzword, people throughout organisations often disengage, seeing strategic thinking as something for those in a ‘corner office’ or an ivory tower. It is often seen as disconnected from the real-world, with bland internally-focussed vision statements and strategic plans festering away twenty-six links deep on a corporate intranet.
Yet as business analysts, we know that pursuing change and innovation without a cohesive set of strategic principles is like setting sail without a planned destination, a compass or a map. All important change requires co-ordinated effort, and this cohesion can be achieved with a clear, crisp, concise strategy. Done well, this ensures we have a laser-like focus on delivering products and services in a way that our customers love. Yet a question that we might often ask is what actually is “strategy”, and what is our role (as BAs) in relation to strategy?
Strategy: A Definition
There are many useful definitions of strategy out there (For example, Michael Porter has written some very useful material on competitive strategy). Yet, the definition I come back to time and time again is from a 2011 book ‘Good Strategy Bad Strategy…*’. By Richard Rumelt. In this book, Rumelt describes strategy as: