Interview: Curtis Michelson on Innovation and Culture

Curtis headshot AltIn today’s blog post, we break from our usual format to bring you an interview with Curtis Michelson, a consultant specialising in business analysis, architecture and change.  Curtis’ career has spanned a wide range of industries from mobile apps to pharmaceuticals, and now heads-up Minds-Alert LLC, an innovative consulting company based in Florida, USA.

I first met Curtis when we were both blogging for bridging-the-gap.com.  Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Curtis on a number of projects and have always enjoyed his innovative style.

I recently caught up with Curtis for a ‘virtual’ chat and he shared some really useful insight:


Curtis, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed! So, tell us a little about your background….

We have an expression here in the States that might be apt – I’m a “jack of all trades, master of none”.  Though I dislike the pejorative connotation of mastery over nothing, I’ve made peace with my Jack’ness and found its strength by realizing that curiosity and adaptability bode quite well for living in fast changing times.

Lately I’ve been doing some business model concept work for a large non-profit association of publishers here in the States and bringing some strategic support to a local group called GameChanger Orlando.  And of course there’s IIBA and my local Orlando chapter, where I have worked in the Marketing role, then as Chapter president and now peacefully enjoying retirement as Past-President with Corona beer in hand in Acapulco.

Ha, just kidding! They’ll never let me go.

 

You’ve always struck me as a really innovative person. How would you describe innovation, and how does it fit within the discipline of business analysis?

Continue reading Interview: Curtis Michelson on Innovation and Culture

Announcement: BA Conference Europe 2016 — 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 2016. My presentation is entitled “And then the Magic Happens”: What BAs can Learn from the World of Magic.

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.

Adrian speaking

The conference is being held in London, from 19 – 21 September. You can find full details of the conference here:

http://www.irmuk.co.uk/ba2016/

And if you’re on Twitter, you can keep tabs on the preparations for the conference (and the conference itself) using the #BA2016 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, I’m equally excited to say I’ll be presenting at BA Summit in South Africa earlier in September with a tutorial entitled “Pre-Project Problem Analysis” and a conference session entitled “The Indispensable BA and the Surprising Truth: You Work In Sales!” as well as at BBC Conference in Las Vegas, USA on 31st October running a workshop entitled “Strategic Business Analysis: Identifying the Business Need Before the Project Starts”and again on 3rd November with a session entitled “And Then The Magic Happens”: What BAs Can Learn from the world of Magic”.  Hope to see you there!

What Projects Could Learn From Aviation (Part 1): Declaring “Pan-Pan”

Cartoon with a person spotting a problem surrounded by others hassling themAlthough I don’t watch a lot of TV, one of my “guilty secrets” is that I am fascinated by the “Air Crash Investigation” series. This factual TV series catalogues a range of near misses and miraculous landings, as well as some very unfortunate and tragic air disasters.

 

Over the years, the commercial aviation industry has become safer and safer—and the fact that every mistake, disaster and near-miss is scrutinised in detail has undoubtedly led to a culture of safety (see the fascinating book ‘Black box thinking *‘ by Matthew Syed for more about this).

 

I was recently catching up with an old episode of the show, which focused on a case where a skilful pilot successfully landed a plane with almost every automated system failing. Many things fascinated me about this case, but one thing that really stuck with me was when the pilot described the concept of declaring “Pan-Pan“.

 

Pan-Pan: We’re dealing with an emergency, leave us alone (for now)!

It turns out, that when a pilot is dealing with an emergency situation (which doesn’t yet require a ‘mayday’), they will declare Pan-Pan to Air Traffic Control.  According to the pilot on the show, and articles I’ve read elsewhere, this has several useful functions:

 

1. It prevents Air Traffic Control from communicating or relaying any non-urgent radio traffic. They leave the pilots to focus on resolving the emergency,

2. Air Traffic Control can clear the way and be prepared if a ‘mayday’ call is subsequently made.

 

When you think about this logically, it makes sense. When the Captain and First Officer are desperately trying to diagnose the problem, referring to the in-flight computer and completing emergency checklist after checklist, the last thing they need is constant interruption. I cannot even begin to imagine the intense focus that must be required on a flight deck in such circumstances, and have the greatest of respect for those that work in the aviation industry.

 

If a project was a plane…

As I listened to this case study, it struck me that on projects, a very different approach is taken when potentially dangerous news emerges.  When bad news emerges on a project, it is all-too-common that the following things will happen:

Continue reading What Projects Could Learn From Aviation (Part 1): Declaring “Pan-Pan”

Interview: Sonja Klopčič on Leadership

Sonja mIn today’s blog post, we break from our usual format to bring you an interview with Sonja Klopčič, a leadership expert based in Slovenia.  Sonja’s career has been broad and varied—including engineering, board chair/CEO and crisis manager—but through it all Sonja has found that inclusive leadership is crucial.  Leadership is key in so many business, project and change situations.

I first met Sonja at a conference where we were both speaking, and even though she presented in Slovenian (which I don’t speak), I found the images on her slides really intriguing and interesting.  We stayed in touch, and I was really pleased when Sonja agreed to be interviewed for this blog.   Our virtual chat is published below—I hope that you find this useful!


1. Sonja, Thanks so much for being interviewed! I know from our conversations that you’ve had a wide and varied career. In your book, you mention that you shaped a personal style of inclusive leadership. Can you explain a bit about what this means, and why it’s important?

My core values are ethics, curiosity, openness, cooperation and freedom. I do not like to work in an environment where everything is specified and you have no space for your own creation. I always wanted to work with powerful, creative and responsible people and my aim is to develop leaders around me. I believe that such people also want to have their hands and their minds free, to co-create the common vision on their own way. I wanted to build the environment in which they (and me) would enjoy to create and be a part of the team. So for example, when I was a general manager of an IT company with 80 employees I selected a team of five young potentials (two of them were women, and it was not so easy to find them, but I wanted to create equal opportunities for both gender). I supported them in their development first in good managers and later in authentic leaders, each with her/his own personal leadership style.

I see management and leadership as a path of personal development for both the leader and their co-workers. It is a path that offers learning opportunities to everyone who wishes to develop as a leader – it opens up space for trying out new things and gaining new personal experience while, of course, taking on the primary responsibility for the achievement of business goals.

 
2. How important is leadership—and inclusive leadership—when progressing change within an organisation?

Continue reading Interview: Sonja Klopčič on Leadership

Business Analysts: Are You Dementia Aware?

Confusion: PIN or PIN?If you’re based in the UK, you may have heard that it is Dementia Awareness Week. One organisation that does fantastic work in this field is the Alzheimer’s Society, and while reading through their website my mind suddenly jolted back to the day job.

I suspect many people reading this article will have a friend, family member or acquaintance who suffers from some form of dementia. The term ‘dementia’, it turns out, is actually an umbrella term for a wide range of conditions—if you aren’t familiar with the symptoms I’d thoroughly recommend reading this set of articles.  Dementia affects various faculties at different stages, but one key concern is memory. And of course the very people using the systems and processes that we help implement and change may well include people who are living with various stages of dementia.

 

As business analysts, when working on changes to organisational systems and processes, we’ll often focus on non-functional requirements—and of course useability and accessibility are core considerations. Yet, how often in our projects and change initiatives do we really consider the detailed nuts and bolts of accessibility? How often do we ask things like:

 

  • What if the user can’t remember or retain a 4 digit PIN
  • What if the user forgets multiple pieces of information and gets frustrated that they can’t access their account
  • What if the user cannot digest a large ‘terms and conditions’ page, and perhaps needs it in a different format (video, audio) or needs the information explained to them so that they can ask questions?
  • Do our processes work if somebody loses mental capacity and a representative with Power of Attorney needs to take over?
  • Have our front line staff been trained to be empathetic to customers who may need a little more time?
  • Are task and process measures and KPIs appropriate or are management setting ‘maximum call length’ targets and penalising staff that allow customers extra time?

 

Although I have no doubt we all try to keep accessibility and useability firmly in mind I suspect, if we are being honest, the answer will often be ‘we don’t consider these things as much as we could’.

 

Statistics show that we have an ageing population. With people living longer, it is likely that organisations will be serving more and more customers living with dementia and other conditions. What was once perceived as an ‘exception’ may well become more frequent. As business analysts, we have the opportunity when improving processes, IT systems and broader organisational structures to ask questions like:

Continue reading Business Analysts: Are You Dementia Aware?

Did You “Show Up” Today?

Not long ago, I was walking passed a parked van, and the signwriting on the side of the vehicle attracted my attention.  The van was advertising a small business that helps people to lift and shift heavy items, and it’s possible to hire the van and a driver for a fee.  The part which attracted my attention is highlighted below:

Van with the words "We Show Up" on the side, amongst other signwriting

 

The phrase “WE TURN UP!” was displayed proudly in capital letters on the side of the vehicle.  I stopped for a moment.  I found it amazing that the van owner felt it necessary to mention the fact that if a booking was made, she or he will actually show up.   Surely that is something that could be taken for granted?  Surely this is a fundamental part of the job and something that a customer can expect?

 

When Showing Up Isn’t The Norm…

Continue reading Did You “Show Up” Today?

It’s Time To Ditch The Bridge

Bridge Cartoon showing a bridge between business & IT -- with a presenter stating this view is out of dateI suspect many people reading this article will, at some time in their career, have had the challenge of explaining what business analysis is.   We’ve all had that dreaded moment when we meet someone for the first time, explain we’re a Business Analyst, and we’re met with a blank stare (often with a slight look of confusion… ‘Business…what?’).  I am sure that we have all developed our own elevator pitch to explain the value that good business analysis enables.

 

In the dim and distant past, it was common to hear people use the ‘bridging’ analogy of analysis.  Perhaps you’ve heard (or even used this) yourself.  There are many variations, but one that is commonly used is:

 

“Business analysis is the bridge between the business and IT

 

Whilst this statement has its uses—it is certainly very succinct and conveys at least some of what good business analysis can achieve—in reality it describes only part of the BA roleAnd there is a danger that this analogy may be setting misconceptions.

 

The Trouble With The BA Bridge 

To explore the trouble with the ‘bridging’ concept, let’s take an example outside of analysis. Imagine you saw an advertisement for a private doctor’s surgery.  The advert has an authoritative looking doctor smiling, and a number to call to make appointments.   Beneath the telephone number, there is a strapline:

Continue reading It’s Time To Ditch The Bridge

The Importance Of A Clear Destination

Imagine the scene:  You’re waiting at a coach-station, about to embark on a long (and expensive) trip.  It’s 4am in the morning, it’s dark and raining so the visibility is poor—meaning you can’t read any of the timetables or travel information.   You’re expecting a coach will arrive soon.  And, after a short wait, it does.

However, the front of the coach has a route number but no destination name, so you aren’t sure whether the coach is heading in the right direction.  You scan the coach station and see a variety of other people and members of staff mulling around.   What would you do? 

Coach in Grey Background

If you are like many people, I suspect you would ask a member of staff, a fellow passenger or the driver to confirm which destination this coach was headed towards.  You might also ask for information about the route it is taking, the cost, and when it is due to arrive.  Yet, whilst cost and time will be important to you – getting to the right destination is the key.  A cheap, quick coach ride in the opposite direction will likely be a bad thing—you’d end up further from where you want to be!

 

Agreeing the destination is crucial

This focus on destination is important on business initiatives and projects too.  When initiating a project or initiative, an organisation wants to get somewhere; there is a desired outcome that our stakeholders are seeking.   Yet often, when time is short (as is so often the case), there is a temptation to skip over (or race through) discussions which refine the outcome.  Indeed, as BAs and change practitioners we may find our stakeholders press for estimates, requirements and solutions first.

 

Yet a trap awaits organisations and teams that do not spend time concisely and precisely agreeing the outcomes that they are seeking.   So often there can be tacit agreement on project outcomes—on the surface it appears that everyone agrees.  Yet, when we get into the detail of the project we discover very different perspectives on what should be delivered.  This difference may have bubbled beneath the surface for weeks or months, and by this point may be costly to resolve.  If it had been resolved up front it would have saved time and effort.

 

Take this theoretical example.  Imagine two senior stakeholders on a project in an insurance company:

 

Continue reading The Importance Of A Clear Destination

Breaking the fire-fighting doom-loop

I am certain that many people reading this will have come across the traditional Eisenhower matrix.  This useful prioritisation tool helps us assess tasks, activities or even projects based on their relative importance and urgency.  One version of the diagram is shown below:

Important Urgent Matrix

If there is one quadrant on this matrix that we are all familiar with, it is the “important and urgent” quadrant.  I suspect many of us spend our working lives in this quadrant, working judiciously to hit the relevant project deadline, and doing everything that we can to progress the most important and urgent projects.   There are probably some very long days, late nights and an element of pressure when working in this quadrant; everything is time critical.  And this often results in a lot of pressure, and it may sometimes feel like we are fire-fighting.

 

Fire Fighting (putting out a small fire with an extinguisher)Yet, the reality is that when a task, project or problem, is both important and urgent, often the options available for undertaking/solving it are limited.  We may well find that we are placing metaphorical sticking plasters over large, systemic issues—we never seem to have time to “do the thing right”.  In an extreme case, it may feel like we are blundering from crisis to crisis; as soon as one fire is damped down we move straight on to the next.  But we never actually find out the root cause—we never find the person with the matches who is starting the fires!

Continue reading Breaking the fire-fighting doom-loop

A Mechanic, A Dot-Matrix Printer And Customer Experience

Mechanic with SpannerI have never been particularly interested in cars. I have always taken the view that I want a car that just works  with minimum fuss.  I’ve never been interested in how it works; and although I have some theoretical knowledge of the workings of an engine, I certainly wouldn’t know enough to tune or maintain my car – and for that reason I take it to a local garage to get it serviced, and I try to get any potential problems fixed as soon as I can.

 

The dilemma, for people like me (who know nothing about cars) is deciding which mechanic to take the car to. A quick Google search of local garages in my city finds seemingly hundreds of garages—and all of them appearing very similar.   With very little knowledge of how the car works, how can I be sure they won’t try to charge me for unnecessary work?  How can I be sure that they will do the work safely? Perhaps you’ve faced the same dilemma.

 

Tractor-feed paper and attention to detail

As it happens, I’ve been going to the same mechanic’s garage for years now.  They’ve always been able to help me out, always quote me for any work in advance and always keep their promises.

 

I recently collected my car from the garage, and something that the mechanic did really grabbed my attention.   He printed the sales invoice out on an old dot-matrix printer (using multi-part stationery).  But before handing the paperwork over to me, he tore off the perforated edges of the paper so it is neat.  He then stapled it together, attaching the receipt and added a leaflet with some useful information and the garage’s opening hours. Once everything was assembled he put it in a folder and handed the paperwork over to me in a nicely presented bundle.

 

This attention to detail—on something so seemingly ‘unimportant’ as the invoice—is an almost invisible but potentially important part of the overall customer experience.  Printed documentation clearly isn’t the core service that the garage offers, but it adds re-assurance.  You can imagine a customer thinking:

 

“If they pay that much attention to the presentation of the paperwork, they must be really thorough when they work on an engine!”.

(This is almost the opposite of the coffee stain theory of branding).

 

Of course, attention to detail on paperwork is actually no indication of mechanical thoroughness at all, but it may be perceived as a proxy measure—and customer’s perceptions matter. A lot.  Particularly when there are tens of competitors within a 1 mile radius.

 

Organisations often fall down on these ‘little’ details.  Imagine having a great meal in a restaurant, only to find the bill is wrong and then it takes them 20 minutes to correct it.  You’d feel let down; the smallest of errors has ruined a whole experience.

 

What this means for business analysis

Continue reading A Mechanic, A Dot-Matrix Printer And Customer Experience