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

The countdown: Six weeks until #BA2014

Adrian speakingTime really does fly! I can’t quite believe it’s less than six weeks until the start of the Business Analysis Conference Europe 2014 (#BA2014). As I put the final touches on my presentation, I can’t help but get a little excited about the event – it’s always a highlight of my year.  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, in fact, is venturing in to a new and bigger venue this year.  I believe 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:

 

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

 

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.

 

See you there?

 

Adrian

 


PS — if you can’t make it to London, you can also catch me at the BBC Conference in Florida, USA on 6th November. Hope to see you there!

The worrying truth: The business world runs on spreadsheets

Worker struggling to hold a number of foldersI recently came across an interesting discussion on LinkedIn that highlighted the dangers of relying on spreadsheets.  The discussion made reference to an article on Fortune.com, which showed how a range of large and powerful organisations allegedly made significant analytical errors. These errors allegedly included the way they valued acquisitions and calculated risk, amongst other things.  One common cause that the article cites is simple: The organisations relied on spreadsheets for complex analytical calculations and data manipulation, and once errors had permeated into the spreadsheets, they went unnoticed until disaster struck.

 

The article reminded me of how many times I’ve seen and heard of spreadsheets being used in extremely important situations.  It never ceases to amaze me how many midsize and even multinational organisations use spreadsheets for very complex tasks, and I guess that everyone reading this will have seen at least one example where a spreadsheet is being used where a different tool would be better.  I remember once being told about a team relying on an extremely complex spreadsheet (with macros) that had been built by someone who had subsequently left, and nobody had any idea how the spreadsheet worked.  If the spreadsheet were ever to break, they would be in a very difficult situation indeed.

 

Of course, spreadsheets have their uses.  A spreadsheet’s beauty is in its flexibility, but there also lies a pitfall. It’s very easy to just start ‘building’.  If this pattern continues, then before long you are left with a plethora of separate spreadsheets maintained by disparate teams.  It can soon become someone’s full-time job to copy and paste data between the various sheets and interpret the results.  And with a veritable mixture of manual intervention and manipulation of data, there’s a real danger of errors creeping in, just as the case study above Illustrates.  These risks and these hidden costs can grow and can cause real organisational pain.  This growth in unofficial and unacknowledged spreadsheet-based applications often happens entirely under the radar, meaning that nobody really knows what it costs the organisation.

 

There has to be a better way

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The danger of ‘no brainer’ decisions in business

Person about to step on banana skinIf I were to take a guess, I’d bet that we’ve all been in situations where we need to make an important decision quickly – where one of the possible options is presented in such a compelling way, it seems like a foregone conclusion.  Perhaps the option appears to have benefits that are so hugely significant, it is seen as a ‘no brainer’ – a decision that is so ‘obvious,’ there is little point in putting much thought or contemplation into the decision making process itself.  Perhaps it’s ‘obvious’ that we should launch into a new market, slash our prices, buy a new software package or restructure a particular department.

 

This desire to make decisions quickly is understandable and rational – after all, it’s important that we avoid ‘analysis paralysis’ – yet a real danger awaits the unprepared.  In many cases, ‘no brainer’ decisions have far wider consequences than the decision maker might initially appreciate.  In fact, further analysis of the data might show that you are being duped into making a bad decision with confidence.  Let me illustrate with a hypothetical example.

 

Imagine an online retailer sees a sudden sustained drop in its sales.  It knows that competition in the market is cut-throat, and it needs to retain its market share.  It could be seen as a ‘no brainer’ to temporarily cut prices or offer some other type of incentive to increase sales volumes.  In some cases, this might be an appropriate response – but in others, it might lead to a dangerous race to the bottom – with all firms lowering their prices until they can bear it no longer.

 

In the hypothetical situation mentioned above, it would be far better to look at the business situation holistically. It would be beneficial to carry out analysis and look at the business environment and establish what data and insight is available.  Maybe there are other reasons that sales have dropped overnight, or other factors that should be considered.  For example: was there a similar drop last year?  Is there a seasonal peak in sales?  Has the weather been unusually hot/cold (which might affect the pattern of people buying or ‘shopping around’)?  Are people buying a completely different substitute product altogether (think Netflix affecting DVD sales)?  There would, of course, be many other factors to consider too.

 

In situations like this, it is hugely beneficial for organisations to look at their data and analytics for insight.  Carrying out analysis in this way – before making so called ‘no brainer’ decisions – helps to avoid the ‘knee jerk’ reactions that can lead to unexpected and unfavourable outcomes.  Ensuring that businesses move from data collecting to curating actionable data and insight is key.

 

So – if you’re presented with a ‘no brainer’ decision, what should you do?  Here are five key questions that you might consider asking:

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Forced Business Cases and the danger of faulty thinking

Picture of man at junction with mapThe humble old “business case” gets a very bad reputation in some organisations.  A good and well written business case is a crucial document that helps organisations and teams decide which projects to progress with and even which products to launch.  In many ways, a business case is a mini business plan, showing the costs, benefits, risks and impacts of adopting a proposed course of action.  It shows the reasons for the recommendation, and it shows the options considered.  Depending on the organisation it might be written at different levels of formality—in many ways the underlying thinking and analysis is more important than the document itself.  The business case draws on insight and data from within the organisation, and a good business case will draw on the organisations analytical capabilities.

 

Overall, the business case protects those making an investment in a particular project or product launch and ensures that they go into the endeavour with their eyes wide open.  It ultimately contributes towards protecting the interests of the organisation’s owners – who may as well be shareholders.

 

On the face of it, the creation of a business case sounds logical, and it sounds like a perfectly natural thing to do.  I mean why would anyone object to knowing the costs and benefits of a proposed course of action?  Yet I suspect many people reading this—from organisations of all sizes whether multinational or midsize— will have experienced situations where there was a desire to “fudge” the business case.  Perhaps you were asked to selectively ignore some data, or put a particular spin on things to “force” a particular course of action.

 

There, I’ve said the unthinkable.   Call me a heretic!  However, in reality, business cases get fudged.   And this isn’t always deliberate—sometimes business cases are unconsciously misinterpreted or misrepresented and this faulty thinking leads to organisations unknowingly taking bad decisions with complete confidence.  They might even end up with a “turkey project” that should have been culled at the outset.

 

Warning signs for a faulty business case

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The world needs more U-Turns

Motorist with mapI hazard a guess that many people reading this article will own a GPS satellite navigation system (“GPS” or “Sat-Nav“) – I know I certainly do.  I’ve always been very bad at both navigating and driving at the same time, so when driving in an unfamiliar city, I find a GPS sat-nav absolutely indispensable.  Of course, it won’t always navigate to the precise location desired, but it gets very close.

 

I was recently driving around Birmingham, which is a city I visit only very occasionally, and even with automated directions, I managed to drive right past a turning.  My sat-nav (GPS) registered my mistake immediately, and made an announcement that all drivers dread….

 

  “Make a U Turn where possible”

 

With the help of this announcement I quickly realised my mistake, found a safe place to turn, and then I was quickly back on my way.

 

As I was doing this, it struck me how in business the word “U-Turn” seems to have a uniquely negative connotation.  If leaders of organisations or projects make a “U-Turn” this can be seen as embarrassing; it is painted out as a lack of conviction or lack of leadership.  This has an interesting side effect: It can lead to stakeholders stubbornly entrenching themselves into illogical or unsustainable positions, because to be seen to change their view could be a political and organisational nightmare—and this might be seriously career limiting! This pattern happens in organisations of all sizes; whether mid-size, small or multinational.

 

U-Turns aren’t inherently bad

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Start with the outcome in mind

Diverging IdeasA few weekends ago, I caught up with some old friends at a local restaurant.  When the waiter came over, one of our party wasn’t quite ready to order – so I ended up making awkward ‘small-talk’ to fill the conversational void.  As anyone who has ever visited the UK will know, we are often seen as being obsessed by the weather – as that’s what we tend to talk about in situations like this.  So, in full compliance with that cultural stereotype, I went into ‘weather mode’ and commented on how good the weather had been over the past few weeks.  In fact, we’d had a lot of bright sunshine – and I commented on how I hoped that this is a sign of a good summer to come.  The waiter agreed, but added:

 

“Yes, let’s hope for a good summer! Although while we’re holding out for good weather and sun… the farming community will be hoping for rain… I guess only one side will get its wish!”

 

On the face of it, this is a pretty obvious statement, isn’t it?  However, extend this thinking further might lead us to conclude that there are all sorts of viewpoints and communities vying for slightly different things when it comes to weather.  If you own a reservoir, you want enough rain to keep the reservoir topped up.  If you run an outdoor amusement park, you’ll want sun to attract visitors.  If you run a shipping company, you’ll probably be fine with any weather as long as it’s not too windy or too extreme.  Actually all of these things are interlinked (not enough rain in the reservoir is a problem for everyone, and if the ships can’t arrive then we won’t have enough supplies).  There are so many different viewpoints with different perspectives, needs and wants – some of them implicit, some of them explicitly stated.  It’s a complex situation!

 

And this isn’t unique to weather… I bet you see it in your organisation too…

 

What this means for business and business analysis

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Announcement: BA Conference Europe 2014 – See you there?

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.

 

I’m really excited to announce I’ll be speaking at the BA Conference Europe 2014. My presentation is entitled “The Indispensable BA and the Surprising Truth: You Work in Sales!”

 

The conference is always a highlight 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.

 

Adrian speaking

 

The conference is being held in London, from 22 – 24 September. You can find full details of the conference here:

 

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

 

And if you’re on Twitter, you can keep tabs on the preparations for the conference (and the conference itself) using the #BA2014 hasthag.

 

I hope to see you there…

Adrian's signature

 

 

 

Adrian Reed
Principal Consultant
Blackmetric Business Solutions

 


 

PS — if you can’t make it to London, you can also catch me at PAMS Summit in Kraków, Poland on 23rd June or the BBC Conference in Florida, USA on 6th November

The great “fire and forget” fallacy

ChainAs any business analyst will tell you, having a decent set of business processes can really help an organisation to excel.  When organisations have efficient and effective business processes, supported by the right people, technology and organisational structure, there is the best possible chance of sustained success.  This applies to organisations of all sizes, from huge multinational to small or midsize enterprises.   Accordingly, many organisations spend time mapping out, analysing and measuring the efficiency of their processes.  By building in regular measurement and feedback, it’s possible to improve continuously.

 

Yet there is danger waiting for the unwary.  When thinking about processes, it is extremely easy for our business stakeholders to get blindsided by the “Fire and Forget” fallacy, and end up tweaking and changing processes in a way that might make them worse overall.  Let me explain…

 

Don’t “fire & forget” 

When mapping out, analysing or improving processes, often our end-users and stakeholders will immediately want to dive into the detail.  They’ll talk about the individual steps that they undertake for a particular task.  They might be brimming with ideas for improvement – but there is a danger that the improvements that they bring to us are extremely localised.   Each stakeholder might be telling us about only part of a wider, underlying end-to-end process.

 

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Guest Interview: Customer Service, Marketing & More with Debbie Laskey

Debbie LaskeyIn today’s blog post, we break from our usual format to bring you an interview with Debbie Laskey. I really enjoy reading Debbie’s blog, and I recently I was really pleased that I had the chance to catch up with her for a ‘virtual’ chat. I was keen to share the insight I gleaned.

Debbie is a thought leader in marketing, management and leadership with a career spanning a range of interesting and diverse organizations and industries ranging from Disneyland Paris in France to insurance to law and accounting to nonprofits. Currently, Debbie is the marketing director for the Exceptional Children’s Foundation, a 68-year-old nonprofit that provides services for children and adults with developmental disabilities in Los Angeles, California. Since 2002, Debbie has served as a judge for the Web Marketing Association’s annual web award competition, and she’s also been recognized as one of the “Top 100 Branding Experts” to follow on Twitter.

Here’s a summary of our conversation:


 

So, Debbie, you have a reputation for innovation in all sorts of areas – but one  area that I know we are both enthusiastic about is ensuring that organizations provide a great customer experience. It seems so intuitive that providing a great customer experience is a win/win, so why do you think that it is that so many organizations get it wrong?

 

First, Adrian, thank you very much for inviting me to your blog, it’s an honor. I always learn from your posts and appreciate the different insights from your side of the pond.

Some businesses think creating a great customer experience takes too much time for training and just isn’t worth the ROI, but every day, I become more and more aware of the importance of customer experience marketing in the B2C, B2B, and nonprofit arenas. Maybe, it stems from my experience at Disney, or maybe, it’s because I have a passion for brand marketing. But whatever the case, in today’s social era, one bad experience can lead to disaster for a business, so it’s critical for businesses to train employees on their brand promise and also – and this is just as important – empower employees with the authority to fix every negative situation, and even those situations that top leadership teams haven’t anticipated. As Annette Franz Gleneiki, a friend and one of our customer experience colleagues in Southern California, says, “Empower employees to say yes even before a customer makes a request.”

 

It feels to me that customers are demanding more and more. In the past, organizations could get away with giving a bad experience – but now, that just seems less and less sustainable.  What’s changed?

 

Thanks to social media, customers are more savvy. They may not use the industry lingo of “Customer Lifetime Value,” but they know the value of a dollar (or a pound), and they know their value to a business. As a result, they have higher expectations. And these expectations revolve around a pleasant experience, whether it’s a visit to a restaurant, a clothing store, a law firm, etc. No business is immune from a customer’s expectations for a positive experience.

 

Does social media have a role to play in good customer service?

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Selling an idea: Ensure your message strikes an emotional chord

Lady with sticky note showing lighbulbI’d hazard a guess that everyone reading this article has, at some point, tried to sell an idea within an organisation.   Perhaps you’ve tried to get a project off the ground, or maybe you’ve tried to convince your peers to stop working on a project that was about to go off the rails.   In all organisations we’re likely to need the buy-in and co-operation of others to get things done, so influencing—which we might consider a type of ‘selling’—becomes so important.

 

Before we try and sell an idea, we’ll often need to go and check whether the evidence and data seem to support our hypothesis – if it doesn’t, perhaps we need to go back to the drawing board.  If it does, we can use it to help strengthen our cause.  If you have an analytical mind-set, you might find that you spend a lot of time considering the observable facts and data.  And after collecting and collating our data, we will package it up to present it back to our stakeholders.

 

Yet how much time do we spend considering how we’ll present our ideas and data and how we’ll connect with the emotions of our stakeholders?  Or, put differently, how many presentations have you attended where the author has bombarded you with slide after slide of dry, dry figures – and you feel your eyes getting heavier and heavier as you reach for your seventeenth strong black coffee just to get through the session…

 

Decisions are often based on more emotion that we’d like to admit

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