Breaking the fire-fighting doom-loop

I am certain that many people reading this will have come across the traditional Eisenhower matrix.  This useful prioritisation tool helps us assess tasks, activities or even projects based on their relative importance and urgency.  One version of the diagram is shown below:

Important Urgent Matrix

If there is one quadrant on this matrix that we are all familiar with, it is the “important and urgent” quadrant.  I suspect many of us spend our working lives in this quadrant, working judiciously to hit the relevant project deadline, and doing everything that we can to progress the most important and urgent projects.   There are probably some very long days, late nights and an element of pressure when working in this quadrant; everything is time critical.  And this often results in a lot of pressure, and it may sometimes feel like we are fire-fighting.

 

Fire Fighting (putting out a small fire with an extinguisher)Yet, the reality is that when a task, project or problem, is both important and urgent, often the options available for undertaking/solving it are limited.  We may well find that we are placing metaphorical sticking plasters over large, systemic issues—we never seem to have time to “do the thing right”.  In an extreme case, it may feel like we are blundering from crisis to crisis; as soon as one fire is damped down we move straight on to the next.  But we never actually find out the root cause—we never find the person with the matches who is starting the fires!

Continue reading Breaking the fire-fighting doom-loop

A Mechanic, A Dot-Matrix Printer And Customer Experience

Mechanic with SpannerI have never been particularly interested in cars. I have always taken the view that I want a car that just works  with minimum fuss.  I’ve never been interested in how it works; and although I have some theoretical knowledge of the workings of an engine, I certainly wouldn’t know enough to tune or maintain my car – and for that reason I take it to a local garage to get it serviced, and I try to get any potential problems fixed as soon as I can.

 

The dilemma, for people like me (who know nothing about cars) is deciding which mechanic to take the car to. A quick Google search of local garages in my city finds seemingly hundreds of garages—and all of them appearing very similar.   With very little knowledge of how the car works, how can I be sure they won’t try to charge me for unnecessary work?  How can I be sure that they will do the work safely? Perhaps you’ve faced the same dilemma.

 

Tractor-feed paper and attention to detail

As it happens, I’ve been going to the same mechanic’s garage for years now.  They’ve always been able to help me out, always quote me for any work in advance and always keep their promises.

 

I recently collected my car from the garage, and something that the mechanic did really grabbed my attention.   He printed the sales invoice out on an old dot-matrix printer (using multi-part stationery).  But before handing the paperwork over to me, he tore off the perforated edges of the paper so it is neat.  He then stapled it together, attaching the receipt and added a leaflet with some useful information and the garage’s opening hours. Once everything was assembled he put it in a folder and handed the paperwork over to me in a nicely presented bundle.

 

This attention to detail—on something so seemingly ‘unimportant’ as the invoice—is an almost invisible but potentially important part of the overall customer experience.  Printed documentation clearly isn’t the core service that the garage offers, but it adds re-assurance.  You can imagine a customer thinking:

 

“If they pay that much attention to the presentation of the paperwork, they must be really thorough when they work on an engine!”.

(This is almost the opposite of the coffee stain theory of branding).

 

Of course, attention to detail on paperwork is actually no indication of mechanical thoroughness at all, but it may be perceived as a proxy measure—and customer’s perceptions matter. A lot.  Particularly when there are tens of competitors within a 1 mile radius.

 

Organisations often fall down on these ‘little’ details.  Imagine having a great meal in a restaurant, only to find the bill is wrong and then it takes them 20 minutes to correct it.  You’d feel let down; the smallest of errors has ruined a whole experience.

 

What this means for business analysis

Continue reading A Mechanic, A Dot-Matrix Printer And Customer Experience

News: Call for Speakers (BA Conference Europe 2016)

Each year, the BA Conference Europe connects together hundreds of BAs from around the world.  It has grown year-on-year, and this year will be held in September, in London.  The conference is a great place to share knowledge, exchange ideas and meet other BAs.  I really enjoy attending the conference, and it has formed a very useful forum for the BA profession in Europe and beyond.

Continue reading News: Call for Speakers (BA Conference Europe 2016)

Podcast: Strategy and its Role in Business Analysis

Audio Tape SpoolI recently took part in the ‘Mastering Business Analysis’ podcast series, and I am pleased to say the recording is now available to download.

Click here to visit site & podcast

The Podcast episode is entitled “Strategy and its Role in Business Analysis”.  In the Podcast, we discuss topics including:

 

  • Why understanding organizational strategy is critical
  • How to trace projects back to an organization’s vision and mission
  • How to better understand your organization’s strategy and gain alignment

 

A huge thanks to Dave Saboe for inviting me to participate in the Podcast!

 

I hope that you find the Podcast useful and enjoyable, and if you do, be sure to subscribe.

Kind regards,

Adrian Reed

 

 

 

Adrian

 

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About the author:

Adrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Strategic Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit www.blackmetric.com

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Becoming a Business Analyst

Magnifying glass over icon of a personA common question that gets asked at BA events and forums is “How do I become a business analyst”. Often people wanting to enter the profession feel that they are stuck in a chicken-and-egg scenario: They want to get their ‘first’ BA role—but all the job adverts they can find ask for 3 (or 5 or 10) years of experience. It can be a frustrating dilemma—without experience, it’s difficult to get a role—and without a role it is difficult to get experience!  In this article, we’ll explore seven tips for breaking this cycle.

 

1. Becoming vs discovering – maximise your current experience

A fundamental point to start on is that, when it comes to business analysis, one thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to be employed as a ‘business analyst’ to do business analysis.  There are many people in organisations that undertake a sub-set of the business analysis role who have very different job titles.  This leads to an interesting pattern—rather than consciously setting out to become business analysts, some people discover they are already undertaking business analysis!

This is an important subtlety.  Often, those seeking a BA role for the first time actually have more BA experience than they are giving themselves credit for.   Take the following examples:

Continue reading Becoming a Business Analyst

Getting “Quacked”: The Good, The Bad & the Ugly

unhappy bag paper manI recently met with a good friend for a coffee and catch-up.  We were discussing all sorts of business analysis related topics, and our conversation quickly moved on to projects, careers and jobs.  As we started to discuss jobs and careers, I sensed unease in my friend’s voice.  This was unusual—he is the kind of guy who is normally really up-beat.   I asked what was wrong. He took a long sip on his coffee and his forehead contracted into a temporary frown.  He took a deep breath:

 

“Adrian, I’m really not happy in my current job.  I’ve made some suggestions on how they could run projects better, but management see this as ‘rocking the boat’.  I’ve been sidelined.  They’ve put me on a dull, boring, pointless project, which will deliver a pointless outcome.   It’s a train-wreck. I am so bored.  I think they’re hoping I’ll leave.” 

 

This came as a complete shock to me.  My friend is  one of the most innovative and positive BAs I know.  He’s the type of person that you can imagine fitting in just about anywhere, with the ability to quickly build rapport with stakeholders and really start delivering effective change.  Clearly moving someone to the right place for the right reasons can benefit the individual and the company—but in this case it seemed to be a pure case of sidelining.

 

Why would anyone sideline him?  

 

Getting “quacked”

If you have worked for large corporate organisations for long enough, you’ll probably know someone who has been sidelined in this way.  Someone who has been seen as too ‘radical’ for the status-quo—they raise positive ideas which could make a significant difference but challenge the tunnel-vision of established middle-managers.  Rather than reward them, the organisation responds by moving them to another role, another team so they are less inconvenient. They never seem to fit, so they are moved around and around — after a while they get moved to a remote outpost somewhere, in the hope they will give up, keep quiet or leave.  Maybe it has even happened to you.

 

This is an example of what I call getting quasi-sacked – or “quacked”

 

Why people get ‘quacked’: The good, the bad and the ugly

Continue reading Getting “Quacked”: The Good, The Bad & the Ugly

Strategy: The Crucial Enabler

I’m very pleased to say that my recent presentation at the Building Business Capability Conference entitled Strategy: The Crucial Enabler was recorded.   You can view the presentation below, complete with slides and audio — in total it’s around 55 minutes long.

 

Here is a brief description of the session:

The words “strategy” and “strategic” are frequently used in organizations and might be seen by some as “corporate buzzwords”. Yet in reality, having a clearly articulated strategy is a crucial enabler for organizational alignment and success. As BAs, we need to ensure that our projects and programs align with strategy–else we may end up with different departments and teams pulling in different directions (and we may end up getting caught in the cross fire!)
The BA toolkit is broad, and there’s a huge opportunity for us to contribute. If we seize this opportunity we may get involved in shaping or defining organizational, project, program or business unit strategy.
In this presentation, Adrian Reed explores strategy through a business analysis lens, covering:

1. What is strategy?

2. The role of strategy and strategic thinking in Business Analysis

3. What can we do when strategy is “cloudy”?

4. A ‘whistle-stop tour’ of useful strategic analysis tools and techniques

I hope you find the presentation useful and enjoyable, and if you do, be sure to subscribe.  

Kind regards,

Adrian Reed

 

 

 

Adrian

 

Subscribe to Adrian Reed's Business Analysis Blog

 

What a Root Canal Taught Me about Decision Making

X-ray of a person's mouth and teethA few weeks ago, on a cold Tuesday morning, I made my way reluctantly out of the office and towards my dentist’s surgery. I reluctantly walked up to the dentist’s door, subconsciously slowing down my steps as I approached – my fear was trying to force me to delay entering the building! I have a great dentist—she is patient and friendly—but nevertheless, I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to visiting. Particularly as this was the second of three planned appointments to have dreaded root canal therapy. It was my first ever root canal, and I had heard many horror stories from friends and family. As much as my dentist had told me it would be fine, the fear still set in.

 

Within 20 minutes I was settled in and lying in the dentist’s chair. She had put me at ease and was going about her work. As it turned out, my fear was unfounded, I felt no pain whatsoever.  Discomfort, yes—but nothing like I had feared. She was giving me regular updates about what she was doing, and how the procedure was going. I was actually feeling quite relaxed. At several points she took X-rays to see how the procedure was progressing.

 

As time progressed, it turned out that the procedure was more complex than she had expected, and she was struggling to fill to the very end of one of the affected roots. She had taken a couple of X-rays but was concerned that she couldn’t verify whether the filling reached the end. After looking quizzically at the X-ray on her screen, she turned to me and said:

 

“Adrian, I know I’ve taken a few X-rays already—I need to see from a different angle—is it OK if I take another X-ray? This will, of course, expose you to another small dose of radiation.”

 

I paused—I know nothing about the cumulative effect of X-ray radiation. I have no idea how many are safe—in fact I wasn’t even sure how many had been taken previously. I felt unsure how to respond—and a little confused. My gut feeling was that there was little risk, so I composed myself and replied (as best I could, given my mouth was full of wadding):

 

“I’m happy to go with whatever would be your professional recommendation.”

 

She nodded, took the X-ray. I am pleased to say that she completed the treatment successfully.

 

On the way back to the office, this situation was buzzing around my head. It struck me that the dentist had asked me to make a crucial decision, but hadn’t given me a specific recommendation or a context in which to make my decision. In a dentist’s chair this is completely understandable as ‘the heat was’ on and she needed an immediate decision in seconds—and in no way do I want to criticise my dentist. Yet, in business, we work with our stakeholders and clients to make high stakes decisions all the time. Are we giving our stakeholders all the information they need? Are we packaging the information up to a digestible format, and providing an actionable recommendation?

 

The importance of a decision package

Continue reading What a Root Canal Taught Me about Decision Making

The uncomfortable truth: We all work in sales

Picture of a car with a price in the windowSay the world “sales” to many people and you’ll get a negative response.  Perhaps they’ll remember a time that a desperate salesperson tried to “hard sell” them an expensive extended warranty that they didn’t want or need, or perhaps they’ll remember a time when an unethical sales executive sold them a car that turned out to be completely impractical, unreliable and not fit for their needs.  In fact, for many people the whole idea of “sales” and “selling” is uncomfortable.   It conjures up negative images of unethical and unfair behaviour.

 

Yet selling is a crucial part of what organisations do, particularly those organisations that sell ‘big ticket’ items or complex services.  The reality of sales can be very different from the cliché—it really doesn’t have to be murky and unethical.  Good sales involves understanding the customer’s needs, finding a solution that meets their real needs and ensuring that solution is deployed successfully within any relevant constraints.  It involves building relationships , providing advice and advocating what is best for the customer whilst keeping the organisation’s needs firmly in mind too.  Clearly this is quite a broad definition!

 

But do you have to have the title of sales executive or salesperson to work in Sales?  I would argue not—in fact, there is an element of sales in just about everyone’s role.    Whatever your role—whether you’re an internal business analyst or whether you work for a solution provider or managed service provider (MSP), it is likely that an element of your role involves “selling”.   Just about every role involves building relationships, understanding stakeholder/customer needs, and so forth. If we are not selling products or services we are probably selling ideas.   Imagine the project sponsor that has to ‘sell’ the idea of their project to the board.  Or the business analyst that ‘sells’ the benefits of an idea or option to their business stakeholders.  Or even the consultant within an external managed service provider that convinces their client to change tact and invest in a solution that is a better fit than the one the client had in mind.  All of these are variants of selling and sales.  But I suspect many of us haven’t thought of it this way before!

 

What this means for business and business analysis: Customer and Benefit

Continue reading The uncomfortable truth: We all work in sales

Benefits Realisation Shouldn’t Be A Witch-Hunt!

Unhappy/angry office worker with head on deskOrganisations that initiate projects generally do so to embed some kind of favourable change into their operation. The types of outcome and benefits desired will vary depending on the organisation’s situation and strategy, but might involve increasing revenue, reducing costs, achieving regulatory compliance, improving customer service or any other combination of goals. Let’s imagine that a financial services organisation decides to streamline its ‘customer sign-up/on-boarding’ process. Possible benefits might include providing enhanced customer service (leading to an increase in sales) and lower processing costs (leading to higher profits). There are likely to be many different ways of achieving these outcomes—and those options are likely to be examined in some form of business case. For small projects this might be a very lightweight document, with larger projects and programmes needing a more thorough and formal document. Either way, the relative pros/cons of various approaches will be considered—including the tangible and intangible costs/benefits, and also the risks.

 

The business case is often the gateway to getting a project off the ground. In many organisations it is like a key to the cheque-book—until the business case has been signed off work cannot start with any vigour. This leads to a useful focus on a business case early in the project lifecycle—which is a good thing of course—but once the cheques have been written, interest can start to evaporate very quickly. There is a danger that the business case will fester away, collecting dust in a document repository rather than being seen as a ‘living document’ that is central to the project and change initiative. This can lead to some very unfortunate outcomes.

 

A business case shouldn’t be “one and done”

Continue reading Benefits Realisation Shouldn’t Be A Witch-Hunt!