Don’t become a “dinosaur”!

Back in the dim and distant past, when I was at university, I remember studying the theories of Schumpeter.  You might already be familiar with Schumpeter’s work, but if you’re not, he theorised that innovation was at the heart of competitive advantage.  It would be possible for nimble new entrants to overtake slow and established companies, as new companies can innovate and respond more quickly as they don’t have the ‘baggage’ that larger companies have.  This brings to mind the idea of large, immovable “dinosaur” companies who can’t innovate or respond to their customers or their environment. These companies have systems and processes that are inflexible, rigid and take forever to amend.  I’m sure we’ve all had experience with large and even mid-sized organisations that seem to move at a glacial pace.

 

Nobody wants to be a dinosaur.  I firmly believe it is possible to grow a business yet still remain nimble and innovative.

 

Picture of plastic dinosaur
What separates the winners from the "dinosaurs"?

What separates out the winners from the dinosaurs?  I believe the answer lies in the discipline of business analysis.  There are a number of aspects of business analysis that help a business to stay efficient, innovative and able to stay ahead of their competitors.  In this article, I’m going to discuss three key pillars:

 

  1. Process
  2. Data
  3. IT Applications & Technology

 

Process


All businesses have processes and procedures that their staff follow.  During periods of rapid growth, these processes often “evolve” by coincidence rather than design.  Often, front-line staff make pragmatic changes to their procedures to meet customer needs.  The trouble is this can cause problems down-stream.  What is efficient, say, for a front-line sales agent might be incredibly problematic for the manufacturing department.  Take a theoretical example:

 

  • Sales: “I can’t find the part code – so I’ll leave it blank. The storeroom guys will figure it out.”
  • Storeroom: “I have no idea what this is – I’ll send it to admin to ring the customer”
  • Admin: “I can’t get hold of the customer I’ll try later.
  • Customer: “I’ve already explained what I want. Why are you ringing me again?  It’s already a week late!”
  • Admin: “Right, you need a 132-7.  I’ll send the order back to the storeroom for picking and packing.”
  • Storeroom: “Wrapped, packed and dispatched….  Although it’s a week later than the customer wanted!”
  • Customer: “I’m never using this firm again…  I’ll go online and buy from a competitor….”

 

As processes evolve, they can often become wasteful, as illustrated by the example above.  The million dollar question: How can this be avoided?

 

As a starting point, there is significant value in mapping out each of your core processes and looking for improvements.  A great low-tech way of doing this is to grab a roll of brown packing paper, stick it to a meeting room wall, and use sticky notes to capture the detail and sequence all of the different steps.  Work with a team to understand:

 

  • Are all the steps really necessary?  Are they valuable from the customer’s perspective?
  • Can any steps be eliminated?
  • Can any ‘handovers’ be eliminated (this is when things fall between the cracks)
  • What might go wrong (the “exceptions”) and how do we handle them?  Remember, it’s the exceptions that cost you time, slow you down, upset your customers and (if not handled correctly) can damage your reputation.

 

Once you have done this, also keep in mind that processes should have a feedback mechanism built in.  If customers are asking for a green version of your widget, and you only produce it in blue, you need to know!  Insight from real customers is gold dust.

 

Data

How integrated is your data?  Data is the life-blood of many organisations.  The term “data” could represent any information your organisation captures and records.  A customer order, a sales lead, or even payroll information.

 

Growing organisations often find that their data is dispersed amongst multiple systems and databases.  Data might be embedded with Excel Spreadsheets, PDF forms or even in paper ledgers. When your organisation is small, you can “keep it in your head”, but as it grows this becomes increasingly difficult.

 

A key challenge for mid-size and growing businesses is to keep data clean, correct and making it accessible.  It’s important to have a “single source of the truth”.  Just one example of this is Customer Relationship Management (CRM).  It’s extremely important that all relevant stakeholders within an organisation can see an up-to-date record for your key accounts.  This won’t happen if contact information is hidden away in paper journals, personal e-mails and employees’ mobile phones.

 

A consistent and coherent view of data allows you to have accurate oversight.  Done well, it’ll help you to spot opportunities (“We’re selling more and more of xyz range into Asia –  should we start offering more products…”) as well as threats, exceptions and abnormalities.

 

A key question to ask is “What data is important to the business, and how do we store and access it?”

 

IT Applications & Technology

A key stumbling block for organisations that have grown quickly can be the technology.  Organisations can find themselves in a situation where they have a sprawling IT architecture, with dozens of systems that don’t talk to each other.  In some cases, a new innovation or product launch will be reliant on a technical change, and if the IT estate is messy, it can slow down or inhibit innovation.

 

This isn’t inevitable – with forward planning it can be avoided.  When considering a new system, it is extremely valuable to consider current and future requirements.  These will be broad and varied, but will include:

 

–          Scalability (can it grow?)

–          Functionality (what does it do – will it meet my needs tomorrow?)

–          Extensibility (can I extend it?)

–          Interfaces (will it talk to other systems?)

 

Conclusion: Avoid the dinosaur syndrome

 

In summary, I firmly believe that organisations of all sizes (whether small, mid-market or large) can stay nimble as they grow.  By understanding and carefully defining and selecting their processes, data and their IT applications they can create a situation where they can respond to customer demand quickly.

 

What are your views? Do you work for a “dinosaur” company – or perhaps a “nimble” company – what are your experiences?

 


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

 

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Is your management dashboard deceiving you?

As businesses grow, decision making can become more and more difficult.  In today’s complex business environment, knowing how your business is performing is absolutely essential.  The management dashboard has become a common tool for companies of all sizes.  It helps avoid information overload by presenting key metrics in a digestible format.

 

Dashboards allow managers to make complex decisions with confidence.  You can see the current situation, much like a dashboard on a car.  You can see your organisations profit, loss and perhaps even some customer satisfaction indicators.

 

But here’s the deal….  It can be tempting (and enticing) to measure the wrong thing and to reward people in the wrong way.  In doing so, you inadvertently drive the wrong behaviours; disengage your staff, and even worse you might even end up making the wrong decision with confidence.

 

As the old adage states “you get what you measure and inspect”. But that’s not necessarily what you want or expect!

 

Car speedometer
Dashboards can be misleading if they are measuring the wrong things

An example: Hiding work makes a middle-manager’s dashboard useless.

 

I remember a brief spell working with an organisation back in the days paper files were kept. Each file had a “review date” written in pencil, and every evening an army of file handlers would come in and sort the files due for that particular day.

 

One if the core metrics measured by that particular organisation was “length of work in backlog”. This was seen as a key measure that would contribute to customer satisfaction, and it was taken extremely seriously. The backlog consisted of all customer correspondence – letters, faxes, forms etc, including the files. It was increasing and increasing and departmental heads were asked to solve the problem. Bonuses were at stake, so it was a politically sensitive discussion!

 

A suggestion was raised. Why not reduce the number of paper files by simply combining them together? If we have, say, 100 files outstanding, let’s batch them together and count them as one item. We’ll have one file per review day, and the work will be reduced.

 

With my head in my hands, I strongly disputed and challenged this suggestion.  It fudges the numbers; it doesn’t reduce the amount of work.  If that proposal had been adopted, the middle manager’s dashboard would simply have been defective.  Work would have been hidden.  Senior management would have been inadvertently misled and might have made the wrong decision (“Hey, the xyz office have cleared their backlog…. No need to recruit those extra employees.).  The reality is that 100 work items are still 100 work items whether you try to pretend they are 1, 17 or 20,000.  Imagine if a mechanic took a similar approach when calibrating the speedo on your car.  You’d look down and feel reassured that you’re doing 55 MPH, but motorists behind you would be honking their horns because you’re actually doing closer to 25!

 

A far better solution in these circumstances is to study demand.  Why do you hold so many paper files?  Do you need them?  Why are you getting so much customer correspondence?  Is it driven through value demand or is it the result of mistakes?  In this specific example a review of the paper files found that a significant proportion could simply be pulled and shredded.

 

The conclusion: Track meaningful KPIs

 

Whether your organisation is mid-market, or multinational, there is no doubt that dashboards are useful and can help provide clarity and can give you a 360 view of your business.  But remember, numbers are abstract.  They might show you where a problem lies, but you’ll need further analysis (and probably more data) to get to the root cause. Process and data are intertwined.

 

If your organisation has grown from a small enterprise to a mid-market size enterprise, then you may well be developing and relying on Key Performance Indicators and Dashboards to keep track of your business.  After all, now your company has grown, it’s impractical for you to have direct oversight of every area.  If you’re in this category, here are some tips that will help you to get the most value out of your KPIs:

 

  • There is a danger that “You’ll get what you measure”:  As organisations grow, there’s a danger that people focus too much on the numbers and KPIs themselves rather than the intention. By making the metrics visible, people focus on them — think of the backlog example above.  Be aware of this, and define a range of KPIs – perhaps using a balanced scorecard that examines the business from different angles.
  • Numbers locate but don’t diagnose a problem:  Raw data will often give you an indication of where a problem lies, but it won’t diagnose or solve the problem. Knowing sales have dropped and customer satisfaction is reducing is useful, but the root cause might be something extremely complex.  Knowledge of process analysis can really help here. It’s well worth considering some business analysis expertise to help you, or develop a BA capability in-house.  This will pay dividends in the long term.
  • Search for the opportunity:    Don’t focus purely internally; make sure you have a selection of metrics and KPIs that are specific to your external market.  If the market changes, and you see it first, you can seize opportunities before your competitors!

 

Dashboards are only useful if they represent the actual conditions that your business is facing.  Set the indicators and metrics carefully, and ensure your teams do the same.  And if the indicators show there’s a problem, you’ve found the perfect opportunity to study the process and fix it!

 

Does your organisation use “management dashboards”, and if so, how do you choose what KPIs to measure? What problems have you faced? I’d love to hear from you – please feel free to add a comment below.

 


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

 

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8 tips for passing your CBAP or CCBA exam

I have always been an avid note-taker, and this weekend I have been clearing

out a folder full of old notes.  I came across an absolute gem which I thought you might find valuable.

 

I took my CBAP exam a year or so ago.  On the train home from the exam centre, I wrote down my impressions of the exam itself.

Close up of day planner with pen on desk
Note taking - useful to remember insight!

 

I used the title: Notes made immediately after CBAP exam. AKA “Things I would tell myself if I was sitting this again”

 

I hope you find this insight useful!

 

My (largely unedited) notes are pasted below:

 

 1.    You have plenty of time: You have 3.5 hours to complete the exam (150 questions), this is more than adequate and allows time for re-visiting questions that you weren’t sure about.

 

 2.    RTFQ (read the ‘full’ question):  The questions use very specific wording, and it would be incredibly easy to misinterpret them if you read them quickly.  So read and re-read the question (and the answers) before submitting!

 

3.    Watch out for negative phrasing:  E.g. “Which is the LEAST appropriate reason……..”.

 

 4.    Terminology:  It proved incredibly useful to know the exact terminology used in the BABOK.  This comes in useful when trying to respond to a question you’re not sure about… you can eliminate some answers simply by realising that they aren’t proper BABOK terms:

 

Example:  “Which techniques are used for xyz”.  If an answer includes “Organisational diagramming” then it’s probably wrong… as the BABOK term is “Organisational modelling”

 

 

5.    Ignore what other people are doing:  In the exam I sat, there were two other candidates, one who was scribbling quite intensely on his scratch pad.  I can only assume he was sitting another exam… although it was a little unnerving at first!

 

 6.    Be prepared for background noise:  When I sat the exam, a class started in an adjoining room and I could clearly hear the instructors voice… which was a little distracting.  If I was sitting it again, I would seriously consider bringing ear-plugs in case that happens again.

 

7.    Don’t focus purely on 3rd party practice questions:  IIBA do not issue past papers or practice questions, but a number of training organisations offer study guides or courses.  The only way to prepare is to know the BABOK cover to cover.   Practice questions from a reputable training supplier will be indispensable, but also reserve time for re-reading your BABOK study or training course notes

 

8.    Plan for fatigue:  I hadn’t sat an exam for a while, and started to suffer from fatigue where my mind wandered.  It is worth preparing for this… e.g. more exam practice.  And if it does happen, ask to take a bathroom break to get fresh air and re-focus the mind!

 

 

 

I hope you find these tips useful.  Have you recently sat your CBAP exam? What tips would you give?

Business Analyst: The plumber of the organisation?

I’m pleased to say that my most recent blog article has been published on “Bridging-the-gap.com”, where I have contributed as a guest author.    I’d love to hear what you think, so please take a look and add a comment on the site.

 

Excerpt:

Explaining the role of the Business Analyst to those not involved in Change can be a real challenge.  I have always found it useful to use analogies, but I’ve never been able to find an analogy that quite fits the BA role.

 

I’ve heard and used many – from a BA being like a nurse (reading organisational symptoms and proposing treatments) to a BA being like an architect in the building trade (figuring out what the client needs, and engaging with a developer/builder).   Whilst these analogies are extremely useful, I’ve always felt they could be improved. The challenge is how to improve them!

 

Then a chance incident triggered an unexpected thought……

 

Wrench
Are BAs like plumbing engineers, following the flow of information around an organisation?

Read the rest of the article by clicking the link below:

http://www.bridging-the-gap.com/business-analyst-the-plumber-of-the-organization/

 

BA Certification – ISEB or CCBA/CBAP?

 

A recent study showed that 80% of UK BAs surveyed hold at least one BCS (ISEB) module.  What are you doing to differentiate yourself?

 

A regular topic of conversation within the BA community is one of certification, and specifically which certification route is best.  Within the UK the two qualifications that are often compared are:

 

Man holding stack of books 2
ISEB or CBAP/CCBA? There’s benefit in both!
  • BCS (previously ISEB) diploma in Business Analysis
  • IIBA CCBA or CBAP

 

There are keen advocates of both qualifications, and the debate is often framed around which qualification is best.  I take a different view and believe there is benefit in an experienced Business Analyst holding both.

 

 

The two qualifications have different structures, and they have their own strengths. Certainly the BCS (previously ISEB) diploma is most widely recognised in the UK as of 2012, with CBAP currently gaining recognition and traction.  CBAP has an advantage that the holder must demonstrate experience in a BA role, which acts as some level of assurance to any potential employer.

 

Here’s a quick comparison of the two:

ISEB CBAP/CCBA BCS Diploma
Experience requirement Both CBAP and CCBA require evidence of the applicant having carried out a BA role.(7,500 hours for CBAP3,750 hours for CCBA) No direct requirement for the applicant to have experience.
Flexibility in material No flexibility: The BABOK is the mandatory text book. Flexible structure: There are core modules, but an applicant can choose which optional modules they want to take. Therefore study pathway can be tailored.
Self-study vs Classroom Available as both – self study is not for the feint hearted and there are real benefits from structured learning.
Examination One multiple choice exam. Modular approach.written exam per module, then a final oral exam
Recognition Up-and-coming.Gaining momentum. Well established.Well recognised.Employers ask for it.
Suitable for CBAP : Experienced BAs (5 yrs +)CCBA: BAs building their experience (2.5 -3 yrs +) Aspiring BAs.New BAs.Experienced BAs looking to formalise their knowledge.

The BCS (previously ISEB) diploma covers some useful ground. It provides a common baseline of knowledge that all BAs should have.

 

The CBAP and CCBA require that attendees prove their experience. As an applicant, this can seem like a painful process, but it demonstrates that the holder has hands-on experience within the BA role.

 

CBAP and CCBA are based on the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), which is split into different ‘knowledge areas’.  This provides usable framework that is supported and developed by the IIBA. It also provides a common language – it sets out the scope of areas like Enterprise Analysis, Requirements Elicitation.  This helps to ensure that BAs speak in precisely the same language from organisation to organisation. The BABOK is a dry read – I won’t lie.  BUT, having studied for CBAP, I do find myself referring back to the BABOK.

 

So.. the million dollar question… which should you choose?

 

Well, here’s my view:

 

If you’ve recently become a BA:

If I was a BA starting out today, I would take my BCS diploma first. However, I would also study the BABOK and understand the framework, and I’d consider taking a course to help me achieve that.

 

If you’re wanting to make the transition to a BA role

AspiringBAs should be aware that employers look for experience as well as the diploma.  Holding the diploma alone is unlikely to get a foot-in-the door.  If you are looking to make a transition to the BA role, then perhaps consider how you can gain experience alongside structured learning.  Look for the course that covers the right learning objectives, that will allow you to “hit the ground running” when you get your first job. Look for a course that offers practical material and make sure you leave the course with a practical, hands-on understanding of how to select and use BA tools and techniques.  Ask the training company “how will this course help me to get a BA job?”.

 

If you already hold the ISEB BCS diploma

But to those of you experience BAs out there who have the ISEB BCS diploma, my message is “don’t stop developing!”  I would highly recommend considering CBAP as your next qualification – I believe it’s a great way of future-proofing your career.  It’s also a way of differentiating yourself from your peers.  The recent UK IIBA survey showed that 80% of respondents held at least one BCS (ISEB) Diploma module.  By holding both qualifications, you might just give yourself the edge.

 

The job market can be hard, and in my view CBAP is a great investment.

So… the choice shouldn’t be ISEB or CBAP.   There is benefit in holding both!

 

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and views.  Please feel free to add a comment below.  And if you like my blogplease subscribe.

 


PS — If you liked this article, you might also like to read “Tips for forming a CBAP/CCBA study group“, and you might even be interested in our CBAP/CCBA Accelerator Course.


 

About the author:

Adrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions (including a CBAP/CCBA Accelerator Course). Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit www.blackmetric.com

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