Treadmills, coffee and error messages!

I was travelling on business a few weeks ago, and was fortunate enough to be staying in a hotel that had a gym.  One morning I was using a treadmill, when I inadvertently dislodged the safety key (this sort of thing often happens when I try to function before the first coffee of the day!)

As you’d expect, once the safety key was dislodged, the treadmill stopped. Trouble was, I didn’t immediately realise what I had done. The lack of caffeine was clearly affecting my neurons! I looked at the treadmill’s digital display for help — and the error message displayed was ambiguous to say the least.  I thought I’d share a photo with you:


A treadmill with a digitial display showing the word "True"
Error messages can be confusing!


The treadmill’s digital display showed the word “True”.  I have no idea what this means — perhaps “True” is the result of a logical test, or perhaps it’s the name of the manufacturer of the treadmill.  Perhaps it was a homage to the 1980’s Spandau Ballet song of the same name.  Either way to an end-user, without any context it doesn’t mean anything at all.

Continue reading Treadmills, coffee and error messages!

Announcement: Adrian will be speaking at the Business Analysis Conference Europe, 2012

I am extremely pleased to announce that I’ll be speaking at the Business Analysis Conference Europe 2012.  The conference will be held in London from 24-26 September and my presentation is entitled “From Scepticism to Advocacy: Proving the Value of the BA Role“.  I have some really useful case-study material that I’m excited to be able to share at the conference, including a really powerful visual metaphor that helps to explain the breadth of the BA role.  I won’t say too much now as I don’t want to spoil the surprise!

Those of you that have met me will know how much I enjoy speaking and presenting, and I’m very pleased to have been selected to speak at the conference for the third year running!

Be sure to let me know if you’re attending the conference, and we can catch up.

To find out more, click on the link below:

Hope you can make it!


Adrian Reed Speaking
Adrian Reed Speaking at the BA Conference Europe 2011

The importance of Proactivity, Reactivity and Data

The word “proactive” seems to be in increasing use within the business world, and “proactivity” is often seen as must-have attribute of any serious business leader.  By being proactive, a leader can foresee potential future problems, avoid them, and be one step ahead of their reactive competitors.  It is often suggested that reactivity is somehow inferior to proactivity, as if the two are at opposite ends of the spectrum with there being absolutely no middle ground.


However, can any business leader be truly proactive?  Can they really foresee every single environmental change that is going to affect their industry, their customers, and their organisation?


For me, the argument shouldn’t be whether an organisation should act proactively or reactively.  I believe the two mind-sets are completely compatible and complimentary, and it is those organisations that manage to marry the two together that can be truly successful.  An organisation needs the ability to be able to look ahead and predict changes to its environment, whilst also effectively and efficiently reacting to unanticipated and unexpected changes, as well as unexpected opportunities.


The importance of data


Woman practicing Tae Kwan Doe kic
It's important to be able to react to the current environment, as well as forecast the future environment

The key starting point for any organisation, irrespective of whether they need to be proactive or reactive, is an accurate and extensive understanding of their current operations and their current (and any future desired) market environment.  In many organisations, this view can be hard to find.  This can lead to delays in decision-making which ultimately are detrimental to the organisation itself.


One key differentiator is data.  Organisations that have carefully defined key metrics and key performance indicators, and that collect the right data as part of their ongoing operations are much more likely to be able to spot strategic opportunities, problems and threats.  By having access to the right data, the organisation can be reactive when necessary, but can also spot future potential trends and act proactively when appropriate.


This is of particular importance to mid-size organisations that are successfully growing.  Perhaps in the past, it hasn’t been necessary to formally collect, store and analyse this type of data, because it has been under the effective control of one or two key individuals.  However, as organisations grow, this type of data becomes more and more important to more and more people, and making it available on demand becomes imperative.


There are many considerations that growing and mid-size businesses will want to take into account.  Three particularly important considerations are listed below.


 1. Collect the right data:  As I outlined in my previous article, collecting the wrong data can give an inaccurate view and drive the wrong behaviours.  Organisations that take time to define their KPIs well will reap benefits.


2. Embed data collection into process:  The best way to collect data is passively.  Whenever an individual operator has to do something above and beyond their normal workload to collect data, you’ll get anomalous results.  Make collecting data as painless as possible.


3. Make meaningful data available to those that need it, when they need it:  Decision makers will need timely access to the “fresh” figures.  Whichever solution you implement (be it manual, light-weight or full-blown) make sure that you’re able to satisfy these needs.



Timely access to relevant data is important for all organisations. Done well, it’ll provide real strategic insight.  Organisations that ignore their data are likely to be heading for trouble!


I hope you’ve found this article useful.  What is your view on proactivity, reactivity and data?  I’d love to hear from you – please 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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How to Use Your Customer Service Skills to Land a Business Analyst Job

I’m pleased to say that my most recent blog article has been published on “”, 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.




Did you have a part time job when you were at college?  I can still remember mine vividly.  In order to support my studies (and my many social activities) I worked in a late-night convenience store.  Working there was an education – I learned how to handle all manner of situations involving people.

Metal shopping cart
Soft skills are exceptionally important for a BA -- think 'customer service'!

Working in a late night store you see the whole spectrum of life – from families on their way to see a movie, to friends buying a beer on the way to a party, right through to people needing chips to defeat the midnight munchies!  It is truly a customer service role.  There is no way you can avoid the customer when they are standing in front of you, 6 foot tall and angry because you don’t stock their favourite brand of breakfast cereal.  It’s a steep and strong learning curve.
So how on earth does this relate to business analysis, I hear you say…….


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

7 questions all midsize businesses should ask before buying IT

In my previous article, I referred to the theory of Schumpeter and described how growing organisations can become “dinosaurs” that seem unable to respond to market needs.  In this article, I am going to describe one specific cause of this paralysis – IT.


Some organisations find themselves unable to move quickly because their IT systems just aren’t up to scratch.  This has always seemed ironic to me…  IT is supposed to be an enabler yet it stops some organisations from seizing strong and strategic opportunities.  Perhaps their IT estate has evolved through knee-jerk decisions rather than design, leaving them with a rich cornucopia of conflicting systems.  In a worst case, these disparate and unconnected systems may appear to be held together with string, staples and sticky-tape.  A situation best avoided!


I firmly believe that organisations of all size can avoid this issue by carefully considering whether they need new IT systems, and by understanding their business and user requirements.  7 of the most important questions that any organisation should ask are listed below.


Choosing the right IT can be tricky!
  1. What problem am I trying to solve? Before buying IT software or hardware, it is essential to take a step back and focus on the business problem or opportunity that is being addressed.  Organisations all over the world have fallen into the trap of the “solution illusion”; where they end up building or buying something that they don’t need and doesn’t meet their needs.  Once they have implemented it they may find themselves “stuck” – it is too expensive to replace, and the system inhibits them or slows them down.

  1. What would success look like? After knowing what problem or opportunity you’re addressing, make sure you define some success criteria.  Will you have more spare time (because the IT system is going to automate your invoicing?).  Will it save you money?  Define these success metrics up front, and you’ll have a much better chance of selecting a solution that helps you meet them.


  1. What requirements must be met to solve that problem?  In order to choose the right solution, you’ll need to understand your businesses and your users’ requirements.  What does the system need to do in order to solve your problem or meet your opportunity?  What conditions need to be met?


  1. Which requirements are most important?  When buying anything, it’s important to focus on the “killer requirements” that meet your real needs.  This applies just as much at home as at work.  Even when buying something as “simple” as a washing machine, it’s tempting to get caught up in all the advanced features.  But how many of those 150 wash programmes will you really need?  Probably less than 10%.  Focus on your core needs, whilst paying attention to how your needs might change in future.  (If you were buying a washing machine, you may have additional requirements if you have a baby on the way – perhaps a larger drum size!).  A similar thought process should be applied to purchasing software.  How might your business plan and business strategy change over the coming years?


  1. What solutions are available?  It’s easy to be drawn in by a well articulated pitch by a charismatic vendor.  However, I would always recommend carrying out due diligence by considering a number of solutions or vendors.  A few hours of Internet research, finding vendors websites and white papers is time well spent.

  1. Which solution is most appropriate?  Having come up with a list of solutions, you’ll need to whittle it down to the most appropriate options.  Refer back to your original requirements – how well does each solution meet them?  Are there any gaps?  If so, how will these gaps be filled?  How does the licencing model work – how much will the solution cost you (in terms of hardware, software, development, support and training?).  For large and strategic solutions you might want to issue a formal Request for Information (RFI)/Request for Proposal (RFP) (You can find more information about the RFI and RFP process here)
  1. How will it integrate with my existing systems and processes?  Before choosing a solution, it is well worth considering how the new system will integrate with your existing IT systems and business processes.
  • Will you need to customize/extend the package so that it works with your business process
  • Or will you adapt your business processes so that they work with the out-of-the box package?
  • What data does the new system need?  How will it get there?  What interfaces does it need to maintain?

By focussing on the problem that you are trying to solve, understanding your requirements you will find a solution that best fits your needs. IT is an investment.  Avoid knee jerk reactions, and invest wisely.  Good luck!

I hope you have found this article useful.  How does your organisation select and buy IT?  What are your experiences of “dinosaur” companies who have been paralysed by their legacy IT issues?  I’d love to hear from you – please 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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