Adrian Reed

Is Feedback Really A “Gift”?

Image Credit: © Jérôme Rommé— stock.adobe.com #223862658

It’s difficult to imagine how any practitioner could improve without seeing, seeking and considering feedback1.  There’s an often cited phrase that you’ve probably heard before, it’s the kind that adorns LinkedIN memes and motivational posters.  It is:

  “Feedback is a gift”

It’s difficult to argue with the underlying intent of this statement—it takes effort for someone to explicitly consider a situation and provide their feedback, and this is something we should be grateful for.  However, in this short blog I want to consider:

  • Is all feedback a gift (is it always consciously given)?
  • Is feedback always a gift?

Most Feedback Is Tacit

Gifts, I would assume, are consciously and explicitly given, they might be wrapped up with a bow added to make them look pretty.  When giving somebody feedback, there is often a similar temptation—feedback is (quite rightly) packaged into a neat box using words that are deemed constructive and appropriate.  

Yet in many cases feedback is tacit and some may even be unconsciously given.  If you or I were facilitating a workshop and  80% of the attendees didn’t return after a short coffee break then that is a form of feedback!.  The people leaving are sending a signal, even though they may not consciously be intending to provide ‘feedback’. The fact you are reading this article now (as opposed to other articles on this blog) is a form of feedback; indeed there’s an entire discipline behind understanding web analytics and continually optimising websites.

The trouble with tacit feedback is:

Cartoon Villain Or Just Misunderstood? : Don’t Judge a Stakeholder By Their Actions Alone

Image Credit: © durantelallera — stock.adobe.com #301727597

Defining and implementing change is an inherently human endeavour, and working closely with stakeholders is a crucial part of the BA role.  Different stakeholders will, quite naturally, have different perspectives on the various situations that we find ourselves trying to change and improve.   This will be no surprise to anyone reading this blog—I am certain we’ve all worked in situations where there has been stakeholder disagreement and we’ve probably all worked with individuals who seem to have ulterior motives.

When analysing the stakeholder landscape it’s very tempting to start assessing stakeholders by their actions.  This may seem a completely logical approach, after all as the saying goes “actions speak louder than words”.    

The trouble is that people are somewhat more complex than we might imagine, and if we judge people by their actions alone, without speaking with them to gain their perspective, then we risk making assumptions that may prove to be completely wrong.  “Ah, that stakeholder is rejecting all of my meeting requests therefore they must be completely uninterested in the project.” Well that might be true; equally they might be swamped with work, recovering from a long-term illness or balancing some other urgent non-work tasks alongside their project obligations.  Just because something is possible and maybe even plausible doesn’t mean it’s accurate.

Beware The ‘Cartoon Villain’

Project Outcome or Barnum Statement?

One of my more unusual “claims to fame” is that I’ve performed magic in front of a paying audience at Caeser’s palace, Las Vegas.  I’ve also performed the same act in London, Johannesburg and Minneapolis—although all of this becomes far less exciting when you find out it’s actually a presentation that draws similarities between business analysis and magic (and there are a surprising number of similarities….)

Image Credit: © croisy — stock.adobe.com #230407104

Preparing for that presentation meant that I carried out research into various branches of magic and I was particularly interested in cold reading.   This technique is used by magicians who want to appear to be able to read a subject’s mind. There are a whole range of ways of achieving this effect, from illusions and misdirection to clever language patterns and use of psychology.  One that particularly stood out to me was the Barnum Statement.

Barnum Statements can be described as: 

“…artfully generalised character statements that most people will accept as reasonably accurate” (Rowland, 2015)

A good Barnum statement may well feel personal, but it actually applies to a significant chunk of the population.  It somehow simultaneously feels specific but actually says very little.  Take the following statement:

Tactical Problem Solving: Brown Cow Revisited

If you’ve ever read the fantastic book ‘Mastering the Requirements Process’ by James & Suzanne Robertson, you’ll be familiar with the ‘Brown Cow’ model.  If you’ve not read it, I’d highly recommend you get a copy, and in the meantime you might want to watch this short video which explains it.

The ‘brown cow’ model gets its name from English elocution lessons where well-to-do students were taught to annunciate correctly by repeating ‘how now, brown cow’.  When used in a business analysis context, it reminds us that we tend to start a situation with a “How Now” view, a current state.

The brown cow model has two dimensions: it separates the ‘real world’ from the ‘conceptual essence’ (how vs what) and it separates what’s happening now from what could happen (now vs future).   Although it isn’t designed to be used in a strict order, one way of navigating it when looking to understand problematic situations and solve them strategically is to look at the situation through all four of the brown cow ‘lenses’.  It is usually the ‘above the line thinking’, the redesigning of the work between the ‘what now’ and the ‘future what’ where the innovation really starts to take shape. See the diagram below:

The Countdown: Two weeks until #BA2020

Time really does fly! I can’t quite believe it’s just over two weeks until the start of the virtual Business Analysis Conference Europe 2020 (#BA2020). I am speaking at the event with a presentation entitled “Systems Thinking: Practical BA Techniques for Business Agility.“, and so I can’t help but get a little excited about the event. It’s always a… 

Perhaps We Should Welcome ‘Process Saboteurs’?

Burglar
Image Credit: © Denis_Kavyar — stock.adobe.com #231355635

As anyone who has implemented a business process will tell you, whenever humans are involved there will be variation.  It doesn’t matter how well-documented or well-drawn a process model is, people will put their own interpretation and their own ‘flair’ onto a process.  This can lead to a temptation to continue specifying the process in increasing levels of detail until almost every movement and every keystroke are documented.  It can lead to a temptation to rigidly enforce standardisation, to ensure that all processes are consistently followed irrespective of who is undertaking them. 

There might be specific contexts when this level of control is necessary, particularly in safety critical applications.  Yet in many others it is overkill, and this level of rigidity can act as handcuffs that constrain staff from actually meeting real customer needs.  However many personas we create, however much data we collect, we will never uncover every customer need.  There will be circumstances that we couldn’t have predicted, and this might involve us needing or wanting to service customer needs that we can’t easily predict in advance. These tricky situations might be ‘moments of truth’ from the customer’s perspective.

This is when our customer-facing colleagues are faced with a dilemma: should they do what the process (and by implication the organisation) is dictating that they should do? Or should they find an option that is more suitable for the context that they find themselves in.  Should they use their own judgement to balance the customer’s needs against those of the organisation?

BA Conference Europe 2020 – Going Virtual

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.

It’s been a somewhat ‘unusual’ year for events and conferences, hasn’t it? I was very pleased to see that the BA Conference Europe is going virtual, meaning that it’s possible to attend from anywhere in the world. I’m really excited to announce I’ll be speaking, with a session entitled: Systems Thinking: Practical BA Techniques for Business Agility. I can’t wait!

The Obviousness Trap: Double Yellow Lines And The Danger Of Unrecognised Misunderstandings

Progressing change is an inherently human endeavour.  It doesn’t really matter how slick a change ‘process’ is, if people aren’t on-board with a common understanding of what needs to change then the initiative is unlikely to be as successful as it otherwise could have been. One challenge that we face when working with others is… 

A Fireside Chat: Martial Arts, Magic and Business Analysis

When people think of business analysis, they think of many things, but they probably don’t think of martial arts or magic.  In this article, Paula Bell and Adrian Reed talk about these seemingly curve-ball topics, and their relevance to business analysis.

When people think about business analysis, they probably don’t think about magic or martial arts.  Are there really similarities?

The “Solution” Is Simple, Isn’t It?

Organisational change is hard at the best of times, and one ‘warning sign’ I’ve learned to look out for is when people position a chosen ‘solution’ as logical, straightforward and somehow ‘easy’ to implement.  This is typified by the following statement:

 “But we’re just <<insert nature of change here>>, how hard can that be. It’s not rocket science is it?!”

These types of statements are often hard to rebut because they are built on logic, from the perspective of the person that expresses them.  However, they rarely embrace the complexity of the situation and environment that is being changed.  Let me explain, with a bit of a curve-ball example… the tricky issue of weight loss.

Ever Tried To Lose Weight?

One thing you probably don’t know about me (unless you’ve known me for a very long time), is I used to look quite different to the way I do now.  Going back a few decades, I was somewhat overweight.  If you saw a picture of me from back then you almost certainly wouldn’t recognise me.