“Do you see what I see?” What constitutes a problem anyway?

Optical illusion: Perspectives: Two faces or a goblet?
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In business, we often point at examples of “problems” and “problematic situations” as if they should be universally known and agreed upon. Certainly, if revenue is dropping, customers are leaving and there’s not enough money to pay staff wages then it’s likely that there would be fairly unanimous agreement that something has to be done and there are clearly a whole set of “problems”! Yet, most of the day to day situations we find ourselves in are far more subtle and nuanced, and defining and pinpointing issues can be much more challenging . Different stakeholders may interpret a situation very differently, viewing particular aspects of that situation  more or less significantly than we do.


Two examples really brought this idea to life for me, and being from the UK, these are of course weather related (if you’ve never been to the UK, talking about weather is like a national sport!).  During September last year, I attended the fantastic BA Summit Southern Africa in Cape Town.  While I was there I was able to see some of the sights, and catch up with my friends and contacts at IIBA SA. Being a British person, I would start just about every conversation with small talk about the weather.  I’d drone on and on (boring even myself) about how we have so much rain, and how it’s great to be somewhere so sunny…


I was floored when a friend of mine said (with complete respect and rapport) “If only we could find a way of swapping your rain for our sun”. They explained that Cape Town is suffering a severe water shortage, with a lack of rain in the winter, and a real chance that the reservoirs will simply run dry.  Water rationing is now in place, with calculations being regularly updated over when “day zero” will be reached—the day that domestic taps are shut off. Wow. Clearly, and quite understandably, my friends in Cape Town have a very different perspective on rain, and I felt pretty insensitive when I realised what I’d said!  That single experience led me to limit my water usage as much as I could. It also made me think differently about the amount of rain that we get in the UK.


What’s Your (And My) Problem?

Continue reading “Do you see what I see?” What constitutes a problem anyway?

A Journey to Parliament

Those of you that follow this blog will probably know I am somewhat of a self-confessed ‘BA Geek’.  When I am not blogging, I am trying to find other ways to raise awareness of our profession, and to encourage organisations to make use of BA tools and techniques.  I still find it genuinely odd that in some organisations, business analysis is not given the recognition that it deserves.  It feels like as a discipline we are (metaphorically) in our awkward teenage years.  We know that we have a huge amount to contribute, sometimes our ideas are new and challenge the norm, but we often feel misunderstood (and, if we’re completely honest, perhaps we don’t always communicate our worth in the most effective way).  Perhaps it’s not a very elegant analogy, but I’m sure you get the point!


One particular interest of mine is studying project failures.  I’ve spent a lot of time over the years delving into the detail of why governmental projects fail.  “Why focus on the public sector?” I hear you ask!  The main, practical, reason is that when a public sector project fails it tends to happen very publically—the information is made available for scrutiny.  I am certain there are just as many project failures in the private sector—certainly I’ve worked on a few ‘stinky’ private sector projects over the years—but getting at the data is much, much harder.   The irony is that there are excellent BAs in the public sector—some of them are my contacts and friends.  Yet the failure reports and research suggest (to me at least) that BAs aren’t always engaged at the right time and in some cases might not be given the voice that they desire.


This led me and some of my fellow IIBA-UK volunteers to submit evidence to a Public Administration Select Committee inquiry back in 2014, an initiative I was particularly proud of as we managed to get cross-organisational agreement from IIBA UK, BCS and the BA Manager Forum.   I have been part of committees that have made other representations to government too, hoping that a regular ‘drip feed’ of information will help raise awareness.


“But why bother with this?”, some of you may ask.  Good question indeed!  My driving motivations are:


  • Save Money: I believe that good quality business analysis in the public sector (as in any sectors) will save money. In fact, looking at some government failure reports it could save a lot of money.  This is compelling in the private sector too… but the optimist in me likes to think that public sector savings could lead to more hospital beds, more public services, in a time when increasingly decision makers are having to “do more with less”.  And creating better public services excites me a lot more than “creating shareholder value”.


  • Set a Standard: I truly believe that once a national government adopts a BA standard, the level of awareness will be raised by default. Things will be better for all  Much as all major government projects must use a particular project management methodology, how awesome would it be if they had to adopt a flexible, tailored business analysis methodology (overseen by a skilled senior BA)?  And it’s highly likely that the private sector would follow…


A Letter to an MP…

I was thinking about these goals as I sat in front of my PC screen in that quiet, reflective time between Christmas and New Year.  In conducting some research, I discovered that my Member of Parliament (Stephen Morgan MP) is a member of the Public Accounts Committee.   The very committee that is responsible (along with the National Audit Office) for providing scrutiny on government decisions and projects…

Continue reading A Journey to Parliament