October 2016

The Illusion of Progress: Half a Job Is No Job

Cartoon of business analyst spinning plates, with a manager coming with more plates (metaphor)Working on projects can be challenging at times. It can feel like we are spinning a number of plates, desperately trying to keep them from falling to the ground. Add in human factors, power and politics and it is more like spinning plates in a storm (in the dark), with different stakeholders having different views over which plate is most important. This dynamic is one of the things that makes the role so interesting and varied.


In this challenging landscape, part of our time is spent planning and monitoring the analysis work. If you are a Principal or Lead BA this may involve leading and managing the work of others, else it may involve planning and structuring the crucial day-to-day work that we do individually. It is easy to overlook this part of the job as it is something we probably do without thinking, yet it is a crucial enabler for the efficiency and effectiveness of our work. When things get busy, it can become tempting to stop planning and monitoring—there may be a pressure to “just get going”. There can be an unstated pressure for us to spin our plates without considering how many we are tending to (and how long we’ll be spinning them).


This can lead to a significant danger. Without an appropriate plan, we can get caught in a never-ending loop. It is easy to end up over-committed, as it is so temptingly easy to take on just another ‘small task’. But each task takes time, and before long we find ourselves flip-flopping between activities with an uncomfortable sense that things aren’t quite under control. The more tasks we take on, the more this insidiously uncomfortable feeling grows—we’re worried that we’re going to drop a plate without even knowing it! Perhaps you recognise this feeling?  I know I do!


The Illusion of Progress

The Illusion of “Busyness”

Busy office scene -- cartoonI have recently returned from a very relaxing holiday which gave me plenty of time for reflection. For me, part of a good holiday is always that juxtaposition and uncomfortable jolt that happens when you return home.  The rhythm changes, the environment changes and it feels very different.  The jolt of returning to normality isn’t always easy, but it is a sign of a holiday well spent!

This time I experienced this jolt when landing back into London.  As the plane descended, I noticed how green the UK is.  There seemed to be miles and miles of green fields (as opposed to the dust and palm trees that could be seen in my holiday destination).  As we got closer I saw rain.  Then cars.  Lots of cars.

I was pondering these sights as the plane landed—quite firmly—on the grey and rainy runway.  Having just had a ten-night break where I hadn’t followed much of a schedule at all, it was a culture shock to have seen cars queuing on the motorway with people trying to dash around, presumably desperate to get to their destination.

It struck me quite suddenly that what I could see was “busyness”.  Of course, the airport itself was the epitome of busyness—people coming, going—some on holiday, some on business—each with different concerns, priorities and aspirations.  And what I was returning to was a busy world.

Now, I just know some of you right now are thinking “You’ve had too many Mojitos Adrian.  Of course the world is busy”.  Yep, I agree. Sort of.  But what if busyness was a choice?