Adrian Reed's blog

Articles, thoughts & blogs from a UK based Business Analyst

Adrian Reed's blog - Articles, thoughts & blogs from a UK based Business Analyst

Update: White Papers & Conferences

Blue Speech BubblesAs 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 few quick updates for you:

 

1. Some additional (free) white papers

I’ve recently written some white papers for Orbus software.  Two are available for download right now, and more will follow in the coming months.  You can access them for free here:

http://www.orbussoftware.com/resources/authors/adrian-reed/

Currently the following papers are available for download:

I hope you find these useful. Please do get in touch if you’d like to discuss the content further.

 

2. See me speak @ BA Camp, Vienna, Austria 9-10 May 2014:

I’m really excited that I’ve been invited to deliver a keynote presentation at the first ever BA Camp in Vienna.  I’ll be speaking about the importance of promoting the value of business analysis, which is a topic I’m really passionate about.

The team who are organising the conference are so enthusiastic about business analysis, I am certain this is going to be a landmark conference.

You can find out more about the conference here:

http://www.ba-camp.org/en

Plus, for a limited time if you use the code APRIL15, you’ll get a ticket for just EUR 150 (down from EUR 180).

 

3. Keynote at PAM Summit, Kraków, Poland, 23-24 June 2014

I’m also really excited to say that I’ve been invited to deliver a keynote address at the Project & Analysis Management Summit in Kraków, Poland.  This well-established conference brings together the complementary disciplines of project management and business analysis to discuss the synergies, challenges and “hot topics” that affect us.

My keynote is entitled “Avoiding the dark, dead-ended rabbit holes: The importance of BA and PM collaboration before a project is initiated.”

You can find out more about the conference here.  

http://www.pamsummit.com/index.php/site/page?view=speakers

 

4. Still time to see my presentation at Intel BA Web 2014

For those of you that missed Intel BA Web, a virtual event in co-operation with IIBA UK, there is good news.  The presentations were recorded, and you can still access them! If you’d like to see my presentation (or any of the other presenters), take a look here.  It’s completely free, and you can access it from the comfort of your PC:

https://intelvs.on24.com/vshow/IBAW2014/registration/5748

 

6. Business Analysis Conference Europe 2014

Ok, Ok, I’m a self-confessed BA geek… but the Business Analysis Conference Europe 2014 really is one of the highlights of my calendar.  I’m really pleased to say I’ll be speaking. My presentation is entitled “The indispensable BA and the surprising truth: You work in sales!”.   If you can make it to London in September, this conference is well worth attending.

http://www.irmuk.co.uk/ba2014/

 

7. An idea for a new book…watch this space!

I’m also in the very early stages of working on a new book with three awesome colleagues.  I’m not ready to say too much yet — other than it’ll be on a topic that hasn’t been written about very much at all.  We’re in the final stages of putting out pitch together for a publisher — I’ll keep you posted (and in the meantime, don’t forget to take a look at  Business Analysis & Leadership – which was written by an enthusiastic group of 26 practitioners, including me…).

 

8. And finally…

Thanks for continuing to read and comment on my blog.  This started as an experiment back in 2009, and it’s grown ever since.  Please feel free to contact me at any time if there’s an article you’d like to see, or even if you’d just like to have a conversation or a coffee.  I could talk about business analysis all day!

And do remember to subscribe — that way you’ll get my blog articles delivered freshly to your inbox as soon as they are written.  And if you’re ever in need of a speaker for your team event, give me a shout.

Have a great day, and I look forward to catching up with you soon.

Kind regards,

Adrian Reed

Adrian Reed
Principal Consultant
Blackmetric Business Solutions

Insight for change: Cultivate your company’s complaints

Acorn sproutingIt’s never a pleasant subject, but chances are whether you work for a small, a mid-size or large company, your organisation probably receives and deals with complaints. Even the most careful and credible of organisations is likely to receive a complaint now and again, and organisations are often (quite rightly) keen to ensure they are resolved well.  In fact, you may well have a specialist team of complaints handlers who carefully pore over each case and ensure that the customer gets a fair outcome.

 

We often hear complaints referred to as an opportunity.   There’s a school of thought that handling a complaint well can increase customer loyalty.  Whilst this is an important consideration, there is another opportunity for us too.  It’s possible that we could use our complaints and complaints data to inform customer insight. Or, put differently, there could be advantages to using customer complaints as a catalyst for systemic change.  We could use complaints as one element of insight into what works and doesn’t work when we are thinking of kicking off business change initiatives.  On projects, we could use complaints and complaint data to predict potential customer and user needs and requirements by understanding what doesn’t currently work—before we validate this from other sources.  This could be another extremely useful aspect for us to consider when conducting business analysis.

 

This probably sounds rather abstract, so let me give you an example:

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Manual workarounds: There’s no such thing as a “few seconds”

Several pocket watchesLet’s face it, we’ve all been there.  Whilst working on a project which will deliver some kind of change within an operational area, we face unexpected difficulties late in the delivery lifecycle.   Perhaps we find out that something we were hoping to do is much more complex than we’d anticipated, or maybe time and budget are running out.  The project manager and sponsor are on the case:  We must deliver on time, so yet another round of prioritisation meetings are called.   We need to take a metaphorical machete to our project and our requirements with a view to delivering something smaller and cheaper that is still “fit for purpose”.     That is quite a challenge, but one that I’m sure will resonate with many readers!

 

A hypothetical example…

Let’s build on this idea and imagine for a moment that we work in a mid-size organisation that is progressing a project to launch a brand new customer self-service portal.   The objectives are to encourage customers to submit changes online, rather than ringing through to the call centre.   The project’s business case is built around efficiency savings, reduced number of phone calls and intangible benefits including better customer satisfaction.   The original intention was that when a customer submits their information via the web, it’ll automatically feed through to the master customer database, updating the details immediately.

 

However, we face a sudden and unexpected problem — we’ve suddenly had our project budget cut by 30%, and there are pressures to deliver even quicker than originally planned.   So, we convene an urgent prioritisation meeting.  We take up our role as facilitator and start to discuss what we could do differently, or which features or functions we are going to de-scope from the project.

 

The conversation gets heated remarkably quickly – our stakeholders egos start to show themselves.  Different stakeholders have different worldviews and are politically exposed in different ways.

The sponsor opens the meeting sternly:

 

“We absolutely must deliver on time.  We’ve announced the delivery date to the press, and we simply can’t be seen to have yet another delayed project.”

 

Discussion continues.  People start to ask how this situation has occurred.  A range of potential  re-scoping options are discussed, but it isn’t possible to get agreement.  One stakeholder suggests that we should seriously consider cancelling the project altogether, but this voice is quickly quashed. The conversation is moving on quickly when one of the other senior stakeholders (who used to be an operational team leader 20 years ago) interjects:

 

 “Right, I think I have a solution.  We can deliver everything on time and within budget”.

 

The room’s attention is immediately drawn to the stakeholders face.   She waits a moment and then breaks the silence.

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More data doesn’t (always) mean more insight: The old chestnut of “MI Requirements”

Figure at red intersection of arrowsI hazard a guess that many of us have worked in organisations where data is, quite understandably, seen as the crucial “life blood”.  Data can be an important asset that not only keeps the operation ticking over but also drives informed decision making.  Not only can good quality data help us to benchmark organisational (and individual) performance, it also helps us to spot trends and anticipate future customer needs.  Managers and executives need reliable and accurate data to make tactical and strategic decisions—and in some cases this may lead to repeated requests for more and more data.  We might find that a mini-industry is created in crafting internal “Management Information” reports, often involving triangulating data from multiple, disparate systems, with an associated risk of error.   We may well initiate projects to automate the creation of reports so that we can get them to our stakeholders quicker, faster and in greater quantity.

 

This addiction to data is understandable – after all, organisations need to rationalise and justify the decisions they make.   Whether a company is multinational, mid-size or even a small entrepreneur, it’s vital to know how things are performing and where improvements can be made.   However, there’s a real danger that a dependency on misleading data can lead to delays, indecision and could even damage decision making.  Put simply, more data doesn’t always create more insight.  And this has a significant impact for businesses, projects and business analysis.

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4 ways to inadvertently sabotage communication

Blue person in silhouette with red question markIn my last blog post, I wrote about some of the challenges associated with communicating in organisations.  In organisations of all sizes –from mid-sized to multinational—ensuring the right people have access to the right information at the right time is somewhat of a challenge.  In fact, it’s so easy for teams and organisations fall into patterns that are almost guaranteed to cause communication difficulties, frustration and information overload.  It’s almost like the communication channels have been sabotaged…

 

In fact, sometimes, our colleagues and stakeholders may inadvertently sabotage communication.  I’m sure they don’t do this deliberately, but there are some common pitfalls that can seriously hurt the ability for teams to communicate effectively.   Four pitfalls are listed below. These certainly aren’t the only pitfalls, and I’m sure they won’t be a surprise to you.  Yet they are four of the most important, and they occur time and time again.   If you see these warning signs, it might be time to take some action…

 

Common pitfalls:

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Mutiny and Chaos: Avoid the Communication Clash

Years ago, when I was studying part time for my degree, I remember covering a module on telecommunication systems.  My degree focussed on business, but I elected to do some technology related courses too in order to broaden my horizons, and I found the telecommunication module particularly interesting.
One model which always sticks with me was a generic model of communication that was taught.  When you’re communicating electronically you need a:

 

  • Sender  (e.g. someone speaking over a phone line)
  • Receiver (e.g. someone listening at the remote end of a phone line)
  • Message (e.g. the message being transmitted over the wire)
  • Medium (e.g. the wire or satellite carrying the message)

 

Whilst this was taught from a technical viewpoint, I remember thinking at the time that this model of communication could be applied in many different circumstances – including a business context.  Communication is a perennial issue in many organisational situations.

 

Communication Clash!

I’m sure we’ve all worked in organisations, projects and programmes where the communication just doesn’t seem to work.  The problem is rarely an absence of communication—modern corporate organisations communicate all the time. There’s the Intranet.  E-mail. Instant Messanger. Document Repositorys. Blogs.  Sometimes people even take the time to speak face to face over a coffee or a beer.  Yet still we don’t seem to get access to what we need.

 

Ironically, most organisations respond to “communication issues” by simply communicating more.  They create more messages that are sent by a wider variety of senders in a seemingly unlimited plethora of media.  But this is of little use if nobody is listening!

 

It struck me that in order to diagnose a communication problem, it’s important to know whether the sender is sending the right information (on the right channels), and whether they are monitoring to see if it’s actually being consumed.  It’s also crucial to consider whether the recipient is listening and whether they are ready to collaborate.

 

The “BCM”: A back-of-a-napkin communication model

Putting these two dimensions on a graph creates a useful model:

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Do your customers trust you?

Angry GirlI recently read an intriguing article on the Studio@Gawker site, which described how two remarkably different organisations solved two very different  business problems through gaining a better understanding of their customers.  They achieved this by using analytic and CRM solutions to help anticipate their customers’ needs—but most importantly of all by considering and addressing the thorny issue of trust amongst their customer base.

 

It struck me when reading this article that trust is something that we don’t talk about enough in business and business analysis circles, yet it is key for retaining customers. Foster a high trust culture with customers and you’re more likely to hold on to them— and this is true irrespective of whether you’re a small, midsize or multinational enterprise.     Yet in many organisations, the issue of trust might not be considered at all when developing new products, services, systems or processes.  This can be a recipe for disappointment. Without considering the impact on customer trust, changes may be made that have an adverse effect to existing customers, leading to damaged or destroyed relationships.

 

An example: Trust and relationships

Trust is key to relationships.  I’m willing to guess that if you drive a car, you take your car to a mechanic or garage that you trust when you need a repair or service.  In fact, people often stay with a mechanic or garage that they trust for years – even if they know they can get a cheaper deal elsewhere.    Trust helps build customer loyalty, which is extremely beneficial as it’s often stated that signing up a new customer costs on average 4-6 times more than keeping an existing one.  Clearly, this will vary by organisation and industry, but this highlights the importance of retaining customers and continuing to meet or exceed their needs and expectations.

 

It’s also generally accepted that trust takes time to build, but can be destroyed in a second.  I remember dealing with a telecommunication company as a consumer where I’d received excellent service for years.  They made a small billing error – and when I contacted them it was so  traumatic to put right that I eventually left.  This inconsistency in experience shook my trust.  They had provided excellent service for years, but one inconsistency in service meant that I left.   If they’d made the correction I’d asked for in a more straightforward manner, I’d have stayed.

 

What does this mean for business and business analysis

We often talk about the “customer experience” in our businesses along with the importance of representing the customer in our projects and product design activities – and there is no doubt this is an exceptionally important factor.  It’s crucial that the customer gets their product or service at the right quality and that they have a valuable experience.  But how often do we talk about the consistency of service?  Perhaps not enough; particularly given this consistency can affect trust.

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A muddy airport floor and the forgotten link: People and Process

Drawing of people waiting in an airportI don’t know about you, but one of my least favourite parts of travelling by air is the experience of queuing for security.  I understand that it’s necessary, but the queues always seem so long, and inevitably the process involves removing shoes, belts and other random items of clothing.  Not only this, I clearly must look suspicious as I always seem to get singled out for a more thorough ‘pat down’ – which is never the most pleasant of experiences.

 

I was travelling back after a business trip recently, and I entered the dreaded security queue.  I was travelling with hand-luggage only, so I knew I needed to separate out my overnight bag (which contained liquids, deodorant etc) for inspection separately.  I knelt down to open my bag to grab my liquids, and when I stood up I was absolutely caked in mud.  I couldn’t believe it – the floor was so dirty that if you touched it the mud would cling like a magnet!

 

I was extremely surprised.  Being a keen Twitter user, I thought I’d give the airport some instant feedback.  They probably weren’t aware – perhaps a cleaner was off sick.  I won’t mention the airport, but I tweeted:

 

“You need to clean the floor in the security queuing area. I kneeled down and my suit trousers are now caked in dirt!”

 

I forgot about this, brushed myself down, boarded my flight and got on with some work.  When I landed, my phone chirped as I’d received a reply.  However, rather than looking to resolve the issue, the airport staff tweeted me back to describe how “challenging” it is to keep the surfaces clear (!).  I would have assumed that they would have used the insight I provided them to provide feedback to the cleaners or the cleaning manager – but it seems they didn’t, they just offered an excuse. An opportunity for continuous improvement was missed.  What a shame!

 

What this means for business and business analysis

Now, you might think I’m being rather self-indulgent by blogging about my airport gripes…and you might well be right… but there’s a serious point to be made about business and business analysis here.

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Don’t mix soda with strategy

A glass of sodaI recently visited a pizza buffet restaurant with some colleagues.   It had been a long day, so I had no hesitation in piling my plate high with a whole range of different pizza slices (well, everyone likes pizza, right?).

 

As I returned to my table, I saw a young kid at the self-service soda machine.  He grabbed a cup and his eyes lit up – there were so many choices of soda that he could choose.  After half a second of hesitation, he made his choice.  He was going to have all of them!  He took his cup and mixed all the sodas together:  Cola, lemonade, orange-fizz and more.  Next he went over to the dessert aisle and added some maple syrup and chocolate chips to his soda.     What happened next was rather unfortunate: He took one gulp of the brown, sludgy concoction that he had created, and his face contorted and frowned.  He’d created something virtually undrinkable – and it certainly wasn’t what he was expecting.

 

Luckily, a friendly waitress helped him to dispose of the sticky and sugary soda he’d created, and he went back choosing a single soda this time.  As he did, it struck me how some organisations inadvertently and quite unintentionally treat their business strategy in this way.  They flounder from market to market and from project to project in an unplanned and uncontrolled way, without seeking internal or external feedback.  They launch all sorts of contradictory projects, products and initiatives and just end up creating confusion.  They ‘mix their sodas’ too far.  All options seem attractive, so rather than choosing just a few they try to choose all of them – and end up with an outcome they certainly didn’t desire.

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Customer vs. Strategy vs. Sales

I’d like to welcome Debbie Laskey to my blog. We met as a result of our work for the IBM Midsize Insider Program and I’ve been really interested in Debbie’s blog articles about marketing and customer-focus. Debbie has 15 years of marketing experience and an MBA Degree. She developed her marketing expertise while working in the high-tech industry, the Consumer Marketing Department at Disneyland Paris in France, the non-profit arena, and the insurance industry. Currently, Debbie is the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Exceptional Children’s Foundation in Los Angeles, California, USA – and she’s also been recognized as one of the “Top 100 Branding Experts” to follow on Twitter (@DebbieLaskeyMBA).  You can read Debbie’s blog at debbielaskey.blogspot.com

 

We recently discussed the importance of the “customer’s voice” in business, and the following collaborative post is the result.  Enjoy!

 


Customer vs. Strategy vs. Sales

 

Business person standing in front of black-board with arrows pointing in conflicting directionsHow often does your organisation truly consider the customer before making a strategic decision? Many, if not most, organisations would answer that question with the response that they place the customer at the heart of what they do. Yet as companies grow and become more successful, it’s easy for the customer’s voice to get lost in day-to-day operations.

 

Companies may intend to represent and consider the customer’s viewpoint, but they rely on layers of management (many of whom may not have spoken to a genuine customer in years) to provide feedback on behalf of an increasingly complex and sophisticated customer base. In some scenarios, this may lead to new product launches that are initially considered successful (as they are on-time and on-budget) but are actually complete failures (since no one buys them).

 

What can be done to avoid these types of situations? The following tips can create better alignment between your business products/services/processes and your customers:

 

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