May 2012

Sign in Russian with a symbol that is recognisable

How a wet floor in Belarus convinced me that diagrams beat text!

I’ve always found using pictures, diagrams and models an effective way of describing and communicating ideas.  I was fortunate enough to be visiting Minsk, Belarus recently and it struck me how useful pictures and diagrams really are.  Being in a foreign country, with a completely different language and even a different alphabet means that it’s difficult to find a frame of reference.

However, pictures transcend language.

Take the example below.  Even if you can’t speak Russian, I’d hazard a guess you can make an educated assumption about what this sign is trying to convey:

Does your CEO think the world smells of fresh paint?

Imagine the situation.  It’s 9am on a Monday and you receive an e-mail from the head of your department:

FROM: Joan Jones, Head of function

Subject : CEO Visiting area at 11:00

Dear All,

Please be aware that Stacey South, the group CEO will be visiting the office today.  She will be touring the building, and is due to visit our department at 11am.  Please ensure your desks are clean and tidy, and that all walkways are clear.  Coats and jackets should be placed in the cupboards and not on the back of chairs.

Stacey often asks questions, please ensure you respond appropriately and positively, and please refer to your manager if you are unsure. Remember, your response could reflect badly on our department, so please refrain from being controversial.

Thanks in advance,


Clearly a fictional example, right?  Well… maybe!

I’m surprised at the number of people I meet who say they’ve received e-mails of this nature during their career.  Whilst it is completely understandable that one would want to make a good impression to a CEO (or any other visitor for that matter), it’s more important that senior stakeholders see and experience the authentic working environment.  In particular in our role as professional Change Practitioners, we should not be reticent in stating our concerns and laying out the “cold hard facts” for our stakeholders to see.

Paint Brusg

Painting over the cracks helps no-one...

Treating visits from the CEO as “royal visits” encourages the wrong behaviour and value-set.  It reinforces the belief that senior stakeholders are inaccessible, special, and far too important for the likes of you or me.  This kind of behaviour subverts genuine concerns; if the CEO is royalty, so are the board.  Project members may be reluctant to raise genuine issues or concerns for fear of being perceived as negative.  After all, if the CEO can’t even cope with seeing a stack of papers on a desk, how will they react when they find out their £20 million project is severely behind schedule……

People holding up happy and sad face signs

Does your organisation know its VIPs?

People holding up happy and sad face signs

Not all customers are equal....

What do you think of when you hear someone described as a VIP?  If you’re anything like me, the term VIP conjures up images of celebrities in exclusive private clubs quaffing champagne, eating caviar, and trying to avoid the paparazzi!  However, not all VIPs are celebrities, and not all VIPs are easy to identify.  Think about your organisations customers – you’re likely to have a whole range.  If you’re lucky you’ll have some customers some that are “Excellent”, some that are “Good” and hopefully only a few that are “Bad”.

You probably have a great relationship with some customers; they come to you time and time again, and pay their invoices on time.  Others might treat you like a commodity, pay their bills late and drop you at a moment’s notice.  Amongst your best customers, there are likely to be a sub-set of real stars – your real VIPs.  These are your most profitable, sweetest, and most important clients.  To maximise profit, it’s important to focus on the VIPs and treat them well (without forgetting about your other customers of course)!

Book Review : Made to Stick (by Chip and Dan Heath)

One of the core competencies of any business analyst is communication.  This covers a vast array of tasks; from communicating requirements to stakeholders right through to preparing a presentation for the CEO.   If a BA can’t communicate succinctly, accurately and precisely, then they aren’t going to last very long in the job!  And it’s not just… 

Picture of man listening

Listen to the things your customers don’t tell you!

Product development is an important task for companies of all sizes.  Carried out effectively it is an essential way to stay one step ahead of the competition.  Deciding which projects, products enhancements and new inventions to invest in, however, is difficult.

When deciding which product to launch, or which product/service to tweak and enhance, managers and executives quite rightly ask a number of questions.  They’ll want to understand the strengths and opportunities that the organisation enjoys, as well as the environmental threats which might apply.  What is the “next big thing” in the market, what are the analysts saying, what is the zeitgeist?  They’re also likely to ask “which of our products are selling the best, and which are tailing out”.  After all, if a product line is selling well, our customers are sending a strong message that they like it.  It’s often a quick win to tweak an existing product or service.  If people love cheesecake, why not develop 5 new flavours to broaden the options?  Why not develop new packaging, perhaps develop a take-out service, or a special premium “birthday” cheesecake?

This is a logical approach – hear what your customers are telling you, and build more of what they like.  Find new angles, and deepen your niche.  Nobody can argue with that.

But what about the products you don’t provide and the things your customers don’t explicitly tell you.  Could you be missing a huge opportunity?


Picture of man listening

It's important to listen to those things that are *unsaid* as well as said!