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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Interview: Liz Calder on Cognitive Biases and Business Analysis

Liz CalderIn today’s blog post, we break from our usual format to bring you an interview with Dr Liz Calder of Blue Raccoon . I saw Liz’s presentation discussing cognitive biases at the BA Conference Europe 2017, and was keen to find out more (particularly as Liz had developed an entire course on the subject)! Liz has such a wide range of experience, in organisations large and small, and she brings insights from psychology and behavioural economics into her work.

I recently caught up with Liz for a ‘virtual’ chat, and she shared some really interesting insight:


1. You’ve spoken at a number of conferences about cognitive biases.  What exactly is a cognitive bias?

A Cognitive Bias is an intrinsic error in the way people think. Every day we make hundreds of decisions, some big and some small. There isn’t enough time in the day to weigh up all the facts for every decision we make so the brain uses mental shortcuts for speed. These shortcuts are a mixture of inherent behaviour and previous experience and, in order to be quick, the brain simplifies issues and throws out a lot of the information available to it. Because of this simplification the outcome is not always the one you get if you take the time to logically analyse a situation. Because they happen so quickly we aren’t even aware these shortcuts are happening; we just decide on something and move on.

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The Countdown: Three weeks until #BA2018

Adrian speakingTime really does fly! I can’t quite believe it’s just three weeks until the start of the Business Analysis Conference Europe 2018 (#BA2018) in London. As I plan the final practice runs of my workshop (Pre-Project Problem Analysis: Techniques for Early BA Engagement) and presentation (And Then The Magic Happens: What BAs can Learn from the World of Magic), I can’t help but get a little excited about the event – it’s always a real highlight of the BA calendar.  Every year the conference attracts such a wide variety of delegates and speakers, it’s such a great place to meet people and hear new ideas.

The conference gets bigger every year and, I’m pleased to say that there are still tickets available — so if you’ve been thinking about attending, it’s not too late! You can find out more details about the conference by clicking the link below. And remember, IIBA UK members are entitled to a 15% discount.

https://irmuk.co.uk/events/business-analysis-conference-europe/

I highly recommend attending the conference, if you can. 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.

If you’re attending, drop me an e-mail or tweet and we can catch up.

See you there?

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Adrian


PS — if you can’t make it to London, I’m equally excited to say that I’ll also be presenting at the BA Summit Southern Africa, in Johannesburg in October and also the Building Business Capability conference in San Antonio, Texas, USA in November.  My sessions are entitled “Leading from the Middle: Influencing & Delivery in Tricky Projects” and “Problem Analysis for Innovation: Your Practical Toolbox!”.  Then, in May 2019, I’ll be speaking at European BA Day.

All of these conferences provide an excellent opportunity to network and meet other BAs.

I hope to catch you at one of these conferences!

Dispelling the “Creativity” Myth

Image Credit: © Pavla – Fotolia.com #217166057 | Author:

One thing I find particularly curious is the assertion that some jobs are somehow inherently “creative” and others are not.  We hear people talk of the “creative industries”, and this conjures up an image of well-paid executives in huge and sparsely furnished Madison Avenue corner offices discussing what the next big ad campaign will be, yelling to their assistant through the office door. Other roles are labelled as “technical”, which conjures up an image of hard working professionals in cubicles, heads-down and headphones on, diligently analysing complex information. I am sure the reality is different, but these are the images that spring to my mind!

This distinction “technical” vs “creative ” is sometimes discussed as if the two were mutually exclusive.  This begs the question “Is there really such a thing as a non-creative role?”. Surely just about every role has the capacity to be creative… if we want it to be? Isn’t the “technical” vs “creative” distinction a false dichotomy? 

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Real Control vs “Driving the DLR”

Docklands Light Railway at Canary Wharf
Image Credit: © Zsolt Biczó – Fotolia.com #80480923

The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is an automated light railway system that helps people transit around the bustling metropolis of London. Unlike the underground “tube” and the main rail network, the DLR is driverless.  The trains shuttle about their duty, computer controlled and remotely monitored.

 

The fact that they are automated and driverless means that you can sit right at the front—and more than once I’ve seen a kid at the front pretending she or he is the driver.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some adults doing the same! Of course, the reality is that however much they pretend to control the train, however much they pretend to pull levers and look at dials, nothing they can do will affect the journey.  The only way they could immediately affect the journey is to pull the emergency stop handle (which would be a very bad idea on a busy commuter train!).

 

As I watched someone playfully “pretending” to drive the DLR, it struck me that far too many projects (and organisations) are run this way.  There is someone in charge—perhaps because they have been given the role, or perhaps by virtue of their level of seniority—and they spend time looking at reports, enquiring as to why things are “red” and “amber” and seeking to steer the project (or organisation) in a particular direction.  The challenge is that organisations are not always “wired” to ensure that the “drivers” get the feedback that they need, when they need it—meaning they can’t make the corrective action that they need to make. They only see things when it is too late, their options are limited and so often they have to take drastic and sudden action.  The only control open to them at this point is to pull the emergency brake.

 

Nested Feedback Signals

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The Danger of “Partial” Feedback

Unhappy Person - Unhappy Face
Image Credit: © blacksalmon – Fotolia.com #206499440

One of the challenges we face when looking to build organisations that can remain viable in an ever-changing environment is the need for organisations to ‘appreciate’ (look for) and respond to feedback.  The term ‘feedback’ is broad, and in practice it can take a whole variety of forms.  We might immediately think of compliments or complaints as sources of feedback, and whilst this is true, there are many other sources beside.  Some might be quantitative feedback signals and trends (“Product X has experienced a sustained drop in demand”) others might be qualitative (“Look at all these suggestions from customers that are in our mailbox!”).  The challenge for organisations is knowing which areas to focus on—which elements of feedback to action, and which to disregard.  A bigger challenge is to come up with a hypothesis as to why the trend has occurred and what needs to be done.    Traversing this tricky road requires ongoing strategic business analysis, establishing what is happening in the external environment, and aligning potential opportunities against existing strategy (or in some cases considering a change of direction).

 

Partial Feedback: A Restaurant in Toronto

When it comes to analysing feedback—whether qualitative or quantitative—one particular challenge that should be kept in mind is the fact that partial feedback can be very misleading and can lead to costly mistakes.  I was reminded of this recently when eating in a restaurant in Toronto, Canada (a very vibrant city that I hope to visit again soon!).  One thing that varies a lot by culture and nation is the approach to tipping in restaurants.  In the UK, tipping is normally considered optional, with 10% being usual for satisfactory service.  I gather in the USA it is much higher, and in Canada I am told 15% – 20% is customary (although different people appear to have different views!).

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Announcement: BA Conference Europe 2018 — See You There?

As many of you know, I enthusiastically believe in the value that good quality Business Analysis can bring, and I love speaking, writing and presenting on this and many other topics! In a break from my normal ‘blog’ style, I have a very quick update for you.

I’m really excited to announce I’ll be speaking at the BA Conference Europe 2018. Firstly, I will be presenting a workshop entitled Pre-Project Problem Analysis: Techniques for Early BA Engagement.  Later in the conference I will present a session entitled And Then The Magic Happens: What BAs can Learn from the World of Magic

Attending the conference is always one of the highlights 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.

Adrian speaking

The conference is being held in London, from 24 – 26 September. You can find full details of the conference here:

https://irmuk.co.uk/events/business-analysis-conference-europe/

And if you’re on Twitter, you can keep tabs on the preparations for the conference (and the conference itself) using the #BA2018 hashtag.

I hope to see you there…

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Adrian Reed
Principal Consultant
Blackmetric Business Solutions


PS — if you can’t make it to London, I’m equally excited to say that I’ll also be presenting at the Building Business Capability conference in San Antonio, Texas, USA in November, where I’ll present the following sessions:

I hope to see you there too!

Beyond the Hamper: Complaints as a Source of BA Insight

Complaints Filing Cabinet
Image Credit: © vchalup – Fotolia.com #163734280

Even the most customer-focussed organisation is likely to get the occasional complaint. Even the best managed organisations occasionally make mistakes, and those firms that serve a high volume of customers typically have a full-time team that deals with issues that have escalated into a formal complaint.

 

Customer complaints can be a source of significant insight.  In some cases, complaints point towards inefficiencies that have emerged in existing business processes.  Perhaps a handover between departments is not working well as there is ambiguity over the roles of each team.  Identifying this is valuable—it isn’t a one-off incident, and it is likely that many customers will receive poor service until it is resolved. It might also identify issues where training is required—perhaps a member of staff in a call centre did not record a vital piece of information that a customer gave them.  This might be because the member of staff genuinely didn’t know the significance—and if they don’t receive this constructive feedback (and the relevant training) they will likely make the same mistake time and time again, leading to even more displeased customers.

 

Analysis of complaints can also help determine where customer expectations have changed (or are changing).  In the past, it might have been considered perfectly acceptable for a courier firm to offer a delivery window of ‘8am to 6pm’.  Yet if its competitors now offer 1 hour slots, this will change the tacit expectation in the market.  This will filter through into the complaints that are received.  Of course, the firm ought to have been looking at the external competitive environment anyway, but complaints sometimes highlight things that are outside of the radar.

 

Complaints Don’t Have To Be ‘Negative’

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The Importance of the “Unhappy Path”

A road leading into a dark, cloudy future
Image Credit: © by-studio – Fotolia.com #157164548

When modelling processes and customer journeys, there is a tendency for organisations to focus on the ‘80/20’ rule and spend most of their time designing and refining the most commonly trodden  routes through the process—sometimes known as the ‘happy path’.  This ‘happy path’ typically assumes that the customer does everything at least broadly correctly, has the right information to hand and so forth—and focussing on the happy path enables us to ensure that the process is effective and efficient for a majority of cases.

 

Yet in our attempts to improve the ‘happy path’, we must not forget the alternative flows and exceptions that may occur.  The business must make a decision about the types of demand that it wishes (or is compelled) to deal with, and it is crucial that the process is built to handle that level of variety.  Just because something occurs infrequently doesn’t mean that it isn’t important.  In fact, some very ‘infrequent’ events might represent real ‘moments of truth’ where we have the opportunity to impress or frustrate the customer.

 

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