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

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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The “obviousness” danger that kills projects

Picture of runway with sign "danger aircraft"

I was recently boarding a flight, and whilst I was waiting to climb the steps to the aircraft, I happened to look around the runway.    I saw, at the edge of the tarmac, what appeared (initially) to be a rather obvious sign.  The sign read “Caution Aircraft”.  I smiled – and I sensed others around me found the sign entertaining too.   In fact, I could hear a couple chuckling behind me – I mean, come on.  It’s a runway.  It’s obvious that there are going to be planes there.  Why on earth would we need a sign to remind us of that?

 

The couple behind me continued to chuckle about the “obviousness” of the sign as we boarded the plane.  As I climbed the steps and boarded, curiosity got the better of me and I looked down from the steps.  From this new vantage point, I noticed that the tarmac was buzzing with activity.  Not only were there planes, but there were trucks carrying fuel, buggies carrying luggage, food delivery vans and more.   When planes landed, these support vehicles rushed over to get them ready for the next flight.  Many of these support vehicles seemed to come onto the tarmac around where the sign was located, so presumably the sign was a ‘reminder’ for vehicles that were entering an active part of the runway. With this in mind, perhaps the sign was reminding them of something that might seem obvious from some vantage points – but something that is crucially important.  The sign only looked obvious from our perspective because we were looking from the tarmac outwards.  If you were driving onto the tarmac from a support road, it might not be clear where the road finishes and the airfield begins.   What’s blindingly obvious from one perspective might not be intuitive or “obvious” at all from other perspectives. 

 

The danger of “obviousness” on projects.

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Never let the customer see into the kitchen. It ruins the magic.

The small differences that make the difference

Pizza

A few weekends ago, I spent some time catching up with some friends I hadn’t seen for a while.  After spending an enjoyable few hours chatting and drinking coffee, we decided to continue catching up whilst grabbing some food at a local restaurant.  It was a busy Saturday afternoon, and we were worried that the restaurant might be full–but the waiter was extremely helpful and quickly found us a table.  As he seated us he apologised that the table was really near to the kitchen door, and it might be a little noisy.  This didn’t really bother us – we were happy chatting and generally catching up.

 

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever sat right next to the kitchen door at a busy restaurant, but it’s quite an interesting experience.  Every time the door opened, I could hear orders being shouted.   The head waiter seemed to be doing an impression of Gordon Ramsey, barking orders across the kitchen which were then relayed by the chef with equal gusto.   I heard everything – how previous customers had received the wrong meals, how table 29 were still waiting for their drinks order—and how one of the other waiting staff just “wasn’t up to the job” in their opinion.   I learned about their booking process, that they hadn’t ordered enough of one particular ingredient and that they were running out of house wine.  I have to say it somewhat spoiled the magic.  A potentially fun experience was made less-then-acceptable by seeing too much of the ‘behind the scenes’ detail.  It would be a bit like seeing a mall worker in a Santa outfit take off his beard and light up a cigarette as he opens the door to a 1980s rusting estate car.  Some things should just be hidden from public view.

 

It’s not just about kitchens or Santas…

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Tips for forming a CBAP/CCBA study group  

Business person standing in front of black-board with arrows pointing in conflicting directionsIt seems that more and more people are becoming interested in IIBA’s CBAP and CCBA certification.  Many teams combine formal training with self-study to maximise their chances of passing the exam first time.  This is an excellent idea, as forming a CBAP/CCBA Study group can be a great way of  getting people together to share knowledge.  It will help you keep up the momentum as you head towards the exam, and will also provide you with the forum to discuss any queries that you have.  In fact, I was part of a study group and this really helped me feel more confident when sitting my CBAP exam!

 

The challenge can be knowing how and where to start.  If you’re considering forming and running a study group in your organisation or BA community, you might find the following tips helpful:

 

How to form a study group

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