Brainstorming: A Great Tool for Business Analysts and Everyone

I’m pleased to say that one of my recent blog articles 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.

A short excerpt is shown below:



Arrows coming from a persons head representing brainstorming

In “Using the Brainstorming Technique in Business Analysis,” Morgan Masters explains the benefits brainstorming throughout the project lifecycle. Brainstorming can certainly be a useful technique for eliciting ideas, requirements, or even potential solution options. Providing stakeholders with a creative environment in which they can take time out to share ideas can yield extremely useful results.


However, brainstorming works best when a safe and creative environment is created.  It’s important that the facilitator works to create this safe environment, and it can be helpful to define—and get attendees to agree on—a set of ground rules. Common rules include suspending judgment, remaining focused, and feeling free to build on the ideas of others. On Josh Linkner provides a useful set of suggested rules in “The 10 Commandments Of Brainstorming.”


Preparing and planning a brainstorming session is key…”


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How to Push Through When You “Don’t Feel Like Dancing”

I’m pleased to say that one of my recent blog articles 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.



Woman with briefcaseA few months ago one of my favourite bands, The Scissor Sisters, were playing in my home town here in the UK.  I bought some tickets as soon as they were released, and I wasn’t disappointed – they put on an excellent show.


During the show, just before they sang one of their most popular songs, they thanked their crew and the “roadies” that help keep them sane throughout the tour.  As they were introducing their song  “I don’t feel like dancing”, Jake (the lead singer) explained that when they are on tour, visiting countless venues in different countries, sometimes they just don’t feel like dancing. They love their music, they love what they do, yet some days they just don’t feel like performing.  It’s those around them that give them the energy to continue.  This support allows them to get psyched up and put on an outstanding show every night.


I wouldn’t for one moment compare the art of Business Analysis to the art of surviving a world tour… however, sometimes it does feel like there’s an element of performance in our work.  There are times when we need to be “on stage” facilitating a workshop, playing back a requirements document or meeting stakeholders for the first time.  All of this requires an element of extraversion and an element of energy.  To do it well, it’s necessary to build rapport and build relationships.  Yet it has to be said that not all analysts are natural extraverts (I know I’m certainly not).


This leads to a challenge.  Sometimes you might be on your way to work on a Monday morning knowing you have a couple of stakeholder interviews booked, followed by a workshop that you’ll be facilitating, followed by a week of stakeholder interactions.  If it’s raining, you’re tired and you just aren’t in extravert mode (or, as the Scissor Sisters might say, you “don’t feel like dancing”) what can you do?


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The hidden substitution threat

A picture of a magnifying glass on a 3D pie chartOrganisations constantly need to adapt to survive, and in today’s environment they often launch projects or products to seize opportunities or to respond to threats in their business environment.  A key question is “how can organisations establish which new projects, products, or opportunities they could consider focusing on?”


When faced with a dilemma like this, organisations often look towards their direct competitors.  What sort of innovations are going on in the marketplace?  How are any competitors behaving, and would it be best to follow suit or follow a different strategy?  Whether it’s an informal market analysis, desk-based Internet research or a thorough and formal analytic benchmarking exercise, the aim is the same: To understand your position against that of your direct competitors.


Whilst this is undoubtedly a useful activity, it exposes only part of the picture and understanding the customer is vital.  I was thinking about this as I sat at my local airport a few weeks ago.  I was waiting to take an internal flight between Southampton (in the South of the UK) and Manchester (in the North).    Since Southampton airport is relatively small, there is only one airline that flies this route, and on the surface this would seem like a monopoly.  After all, if you want to fly from Southampton to Manchester, you have to fly with them.  In that comfortable monopoly position, it might seem that the logical thing to do would be to invest in maximising capacity to meet demand. It might also seem logical to focus on providing premium services and finding ways to maximise passenger spending by offering additional in-flight meals and snacks.


Well, sort of.  As the famous quote (attributed to Havard Business School’s T. Levitt) reminds us:  “People who buy drills don’t need drills; they need holes.”   In my case, people who book air-travel don’t need air travel; they need to reach their destination in relative comfort in as short a length of time as possible.


This introduces an interesting and sometimes overlooked aspect of business: If you understand the value that your product is adding to the customer, you can start to understand what substitute products they might buy instead.  If I was a regional airline in the UK, I’d be paying close attention to the new high speed rail link that is being built.  When it is built, it is quite conceivable that passengers might choose to travel by rail rather than train.  There’s no “checking in”, no need to wait around at airports, and a train is likely to get you closer to a city centre location.   However, it doesn’t stop there: I’d also be paying attention to the growing acceptance of home-working and remote working.  Perhaps online conferencing software is yet another competitive pressure, particularly for those airlines that cover short-haul “arrive in the morning, back home by 6pm” routes.  These two substitutes are very different – if people continue to travel, but choose rail over air, an airline might console themselves with the fact that they are still travelling (so can be won back through marketing or by enhanced service).  In a world where online meetings became the norm, it might be much harder to win them back.   Michael Porter described these competitive substitute forces as the “Threat of substitute products or services” in his 5 forces model.


Understanding substitute products and services is important to organisations, whether mid-size or multinational, for two reasons:


1. You can adapt, develop or differentiate your product and adopt other strategies to encourage your customers not to switch

2. You might find new markets (as you might be able to market to customers who traditionally purchase the substitute product).


It’s important for organisations to scour the external landscape, understand how things are changing, and ensure that they are able to generate and use actionable data and insight in order to make the strategic decisions that will make them stand out from the crowd.  Understanding likely substitute products and services is an important part of this.


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. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Fix it before they tweet it

Woman with megaphone shouting to a globeIn the past, being a retail consumer may have felt like somewhat of a one-way street.  If a company wasted your time or delivered you with a poor experience, your options were limited.   You could complain (but would the company genuinely listen?) You could take legal action if the issue was severe enough (but do you really have the time and money to do that?) Or you could write to newspapers and consumer magazines.   If you’re anything like me, 15 years ago if you received poor service you probably just quietly switched to a competitor, and then told a few friends too.  If the organisation was large enough, it probably didn’t even notice you leaving – it carried on churning customers, probably unaware at the collateral damage created along the way.


Fast forward to today and things feel extremely different.  As a consumer, I’m able to compare prices and propositions far easier than ever before using online comparison technology like Google Shopping or LoveMoney.  Not only that, I can very quickly share my opinion about any product or service on any number of consumer forums or “gripe sites” that exist as well as letting hundreds of people know through social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc.


Quite sensibly, organisations of all sizes – whether large corporate or mid-size – are engaging with social media in a proactive way.  They are analysing sentiment and may even tap into social business intelligence.  All of this is extremely valuable, but I want to ask one question:


Why wait until a customer Tweets it before fixing issues?


I saw an exchange on Twitter recently from a customer and a budget hotel chain.  The exchange went something like this (I am paraphrasing, and have changed the names to protect the identities involved):


Continue reading Fix it before they tweet it

BA Conference Europe 2013 – See you there?

I’m really excited to announce I’ll be speaking at the BA Conference Europe 2013.  My presentation is entitled “Avoid the dark, dead-ended rabbit holes: A thin slice of Problem Analysis and it covers the challenges that we sometimes face as BAs in understanding why a project is necessary in the first place!


Adrian speaking at the BA Conference Europe 2011


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.


The conference is being held in London, from 23 – 25 September. You can find full details of the conference here:


And if you’re on Twitter, you can keep tabs on the preparations for the conference (and the conference itself) using the #BA2013 hasthag.


I hope to see you there…