What An In-Flight Meal And The Cookie Monster Can Teach Us About Business Analysis

Cookie which says "Anytime Cookie" on the labelI’ve always thought that one of the ‘fun’ parts of travelling by air is the in-flight meal.  When packed in economy, there’s a real art to opening the foil or cellophane wrapped food items without showering the contents over yourself or a fellow passenger.  This is made even more problematic if, like me, you enjoy the occasional beer in the airport before the flight…

 

On a recent trip, I was given the usual choice of chicken or pasta, and alongside the main course there was a cookie.  After ravenously demolishing the main course (I always seem to sit in an area that is last to be served) my attention turned to the cookie—which was curiously labelled as an anytime cookie. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw this as it immediately triggered an image in my mind of the Cookie Monster saying “All cookies are anytime cookies! Me eat cookies all day!”.  But, being the self-confessed BA geek that I am, my thoughts then immediately came back to business analysis and logic

 

As BAs and professionals that help enable value to be created and captured, we deal a lot with logic.  We use models and other ways of communicating that allow us to convey complicated concepts concisely and precisely.  Yet when eliciting information we typically have to rely on everyday language—and if we are not careful these conversations can be filled with tacit assumptions and misunderstandings when we play them back.

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Hotel Orange Juice: The Problem You ‘See’ Affects The ‘Solution’ That You Consider

Breakfast on a table: Toast, pastry and orange juice
Image Credit: © Alex Tihonov – Fotolia.com #207827018

Problem solving and organisational learning are two topics that are closely related to each other.  So often, organisations appear to be ‘hard-wired’ in a way that they means they focus on solving immediate problems without spending time assessing root causes.  It is all-too-easy to get caught in a fire-fighting doom-loop where symptoms are addressed rather than root causes, and everyone is consumed with tactical ‘busy-work’.  This is akin to a motorist who keeps topping up their car with engine oil but doesn’t look for a leak.  This works well for weeks until the leak suddenly gets worse and the engine is ruined in a catastrophic and expensive failure.

 

I was mulling this over recently whilst eating at a breakfast buffet in a hotel. I went to get a glass of juice, only to find there were no glasses left.  No problem, I thought, I’ll let one of the hotel staff know and they’ll get it fixed.  I caught the eye of a friendly waitress and explained the predicament, she apologetically looked at the empty shelf and immediately went away to put things right. She came back within minutes, clutching a single glass—passing it on to me.  I said thank you, and before I could say anything further she smiled and scurried off to her next task.  It was very busy, and I suspect she was under quite a lot of pressure to ensure her list of tasks were completed.

 

Problem solving and Organisational Learning

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