Adrian Reed

Communication Isn’t Free: The Burden Has Shifted

One of the first jobs I had was at a small insurance brokerage firm.  As archaic as it sounds, back in those days, memos were physically printed and sent between offices in the mail (in fact, there may have even been the occasional handwritten memo sent). We didn’t have email, so if something was urgent, the only real options were to pick up the phone or send a fax. Every day, the post arrived in a big batch, and at the end of the day outgoing correspondence was collated and sent out in a big batch.  If you wanted to keep a copy of something that you’d received you had to, well, make a copy of it and decide where and how to file it. 

Communication: A drawing with people standing together talking. There are icons flowing between them (lightbulb, question mark,  magnifying glass etc) symbolising communication
Image credit: © melita — stock.adobe.com #300197089

In that type of environment the cost of communication was very transparent. Every single inter-office memo sent increased the company’s postage cost, required additional paper etc. If you were replying to a memo sent to multiple recipients, you’d think long and hard about who needed to receive the reply.  Absolutely nobody wants to spend any longer at the photocopier than they need to (and let’s face it, photocopying anything back then was potluck, with seemingly a one in ten chance the machine would jam or destroy your carefully printed original document in the sheet feeder). Because there was an inherent cost (and inconvenience) in communicating between offices, this type of communication tended to be considered, concise and some might say overly formal.

Fast forward to today and the economics of communication have changed drastically. I can send messages to friends all over the world by WhatsApp instantly at no additional cost beyond my usual internet connection fee. It’s possible to hit ‘reply’ to an email, and it’s no more expensive to send a reply to one or one hundred people (both are free).  The frequency and velocity of communication has increased.  We’re all dealing with more and more correspondence every day.  There’s email, Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, SMS, Telegram, Facebook, Twitter and the hundred other ‘apps’ that have probably launched in the time it took me to write this blog… And this is a positive thing, it breaks down boundaries and enables people to easily collaborate.  Nobody would want to go back to the inefficiencies of relying on post and fax.

However free messaging isn’t really free—done badly, it shifts the cost from the sender to the recipient.  Let me explain what I mean…

Reply All: The Bane Of The Corporate World

Questioning The Unquestionable

The music video was set on a desert island (Image credit:  ©12ee12 — stock.adobe.com #105027014)

One thing you probably don’t know about me is that I was a backing dancer in the video for the  2001 hit ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child.  One of the reasons that you probably aren’t aware of this is that it isn’t something that I talk about much as 2001 seems a lifetime ago and I’ve made a major career shift since then. However the second (and most important reason) that you probably don’t know this about me is that it absolutely isn’t true.  Literally none of it.

That’s right, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I didn’t make the career change from backing dancer to business analyst (if only).  Yet, there was probably part of you that read that opening line and thought ‘wow, backing dancer, I wasn’t expecting that, how interesting!’. After all, it is a bizarrely specific claim isn’t it? And you’d be forgiven for thinking “what possible motive would Adrian have to try to convince me that he was in a music video if this isn’t true?”.

This is actually one of my go-to ‘bluffs’ for those unimaginitive ice-breakers where you have to list two truths and one lie. I’ve even created an entire backstory for it (and again, I cannot stress this enough: this is not true and it is a complete bluff):

Digital Transformation: The Emperor Is Naked!

Image Credit: © everettovrk — stock.adobe.com #104450030

A term that seems to have taken increased prominence over the last decade or so is digital transformation.  It has become such a frequently used part of the organisational lexicon that it is rarely questioned.  It’s a term that is accepted, it sounds like something that is self-explanatory and somehow obvious.  I mean who doesn’t want a digital transformation?  In the next breath there will be the inevitable cliches of Blockbuster, Netflix, Uber and others (cliches, by the way, that I am just as guilty as anyone as using…).

Within the business analysis community I hear a lot of discussions about how to work within a digital transformation programme, whether the tools and techniques are different to “other” types of initiative. I occasionally hear debates about whether there should be a “Digital BA” role. These are sensible questions for us to ask ourselves—but shouldn’t we start by asking what does digital transformation actually mean anyway?

Far be it from me to reinvent the wheel.  A bit of research will uncover scores of books and papers about this topic, here are two definitions that I find particularly interesting.  

Digital transformation:

Legislative Agility, E-Scooters and Organisational Change

In recent years, it seems that many organisations have become blindsided into maximising the speed of technological change.  Being able to get technological innovations to the consumer quickly is of crucial importance, but in some cases it appears that technology is moving much faster than the rest of the organisation.  Put differently, whereas once technology was seen as ‘the bottleneck’, this really doesn’t have to be the case today, and other parts of the wider organisational architecture and business context appear to be the things that are slower to adapt.

Close up of young man ready to discover the urban city at sunset with electric scooter or e-scooter
Image Credit: © InsideCreativeHouse — stock.adobe.com #334265158

One illustration of this phenomenon is the electric scooter.  Where I live, in Portsmouth (on the south coast of the UK), these things are ubiquitous.  You can’t walk more than a few hundred metres down a sidewalk without one whizzing past you.  The technology is very well-established now,  however the legislation, regulation and (arguably) enforcement are lagging behind.  You see, technically speaking, it is illegal to use privately owned electric scooters in public spaces.  Or, it is probably illegal, unless they fulfil the requirements of a motor vehicle (car/motorbike), have the necessary lights and mandatory safety equipment and are insured and the relevant vehicle excise duty (‘road tax’) has been paid.

This creates a bizarre situation where it is legal to sell an electric scooter, it just isn’t legal to use one, unless you are using it on private land.  To confuse things further, certain local councils (municipalities) have created bylaws allowing e-scooter rental schemes to be deemed legal.  Meaning you can ride a rental scooter on the road (but not the sidewalk), but you can’t ride a privately owned scooter on the road or the sidewalk.  Confused? I’m not surprised!

Why Don’t We Talk About ‘Legislative Agility’?

This illustrates a situation where the pace of change of the technology (the e-scooter), the processes to sell them and appetite for people to use them has far outpaced the speed of:

Disco Lights, Hybrid Facilitation & Early BA Engagement

Image Credit: © alexlmx — stock.adobe.com #162566687

In college, I bought a set of disco lights.  They were fairly basic by today’s standards, essentially consisting of a box with four coloured bulbs that would respond to the beat, flashing in a fixed pattern.  However, they helped to create a real party atmosphere. There’s something about colourful flashing lights that just invites people to dance.  Throw in cheap beer and Britpop and you’ve got a classic 1990s house party.

Although I bought the lights to use at my own house parties, I found that owning them had an unexpected (but positive) side effect.  It meant that I got invited to more parties too.  We could perhaps question the motivation of those inviting me (did they really value my presence, or was it just that they wanted to borrow the disco lights?), but back in those days I didn’t really care: a party was a party, and once you were in the door you could meet people, dance and have fun.  And generally when people realised the lights were yours, you’d get invited to another party….

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I’d stumbled upon a really important lesson: Some things are seen as highly desirable, but expensive to obtain and are only used occasionally.  It makes no sense for everyone to invest in them, but those that do will be in constant demand from a string of different people.  In this example it was disco lights—at the time they seemed hugely expensive (I had to save up for them), were fairly scarce (there were only a few shops you could buy them from) and it just wouldn’t make sense for everyone to have their own set. 

Zooming out, we could say that this pattern holds true of many other things too, including skills and competencies.  Properly mastering a skill takes time, and nobody can be a master of everything. Skills that are essential or highly desirable can sometimes be a way of getting a ‘foot in the door’ with stakeholders that might not otherwise engage.  This becomes interesting for those of us that practice business analysis.  I’m sure we’ve all been in situations where stakeholders have involved us too late.  Perhaps having our own (metaphorical) ‘disco lights’ is the way to gain earlier engagement.  But what would those ‘disco lights’ be?

Sharpening Up Hybrid Facilitation

Facilitation is a core skill for business analysis.  It is hard to imagine how any BA could function without conducting different types of facilitation amongst a community of often conflicting stakeholders.  Facilitating in a virtual and hybrid environment is nothing new, I suspect many people reading this will have worked in dispersed teams for years, but the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 have changed the expectation of what ‘work’ will look like.

Mindful Stakeholder Engagement

This post is written by Kathy Berkidge of Mind at Work Consulting. I first met Kathy at a conference and I was absolutely blown away by her presentation, and I’m so pleased she agreed to write an article. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! — Adrian


Effective stakeholder engagement can mean the difference between successful project delivery and project failure. We BAs work closely with stakeholders to understand their needs and ensure they are translated into solution requirements. If we don’t engage with our stakeholders successfully, requirements may be missed or misinterpreted leading to products and services that fail to deliver the outcomes expected.

There are many barriers that may affect a stakeholder’s engagement, including:

  • Lack of vision or not understanding the project context
  • Resistance to share information
  • Failure to understand what’s in it for them
  • Misinterpretation of their needs
  • Lack of available time
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of trust
  • Previous history or negative perceptions from past experiences and projects
  • Fear of change

Also, stakeholders often have very different expectations on what is, or is not, going to change. Something that seems like an improvement to one group of stakeholders may be perceived as a retrograde step for others. For example, an energy company that wants householders to download an app to submit meter readings and receive bills – the householders just want to keep things the same as they are now – it’s much easier!

The Snowman Fallacy

Snowperson holding clapper board
Image Credit: © Steve Young — stock.adobe.com #58847555

When I was in primary school, some of the most exciting lessons were the ones taken in the “television room”. Upon entering the room, a seemingly giant CRT TV stood on a metal stand on wheels, and the lesson inevitably started with the teacher fiddling with cables and working out how to use the VCR

I remember one year in late December a teacher showed us “The Snowman“. For those of you not familiar, The Snowman is an animated children’s film focussing on a snowman that comes to life. It has no dialogue, but features the signature tune “Walking in the Air”.

I distinctly remember me and my friends watching in a state of ambivalence and confusion. I mean, as a five or six year old it seemed like there were much better cartoons out there, and although the animation was certainly more artistic it didn’t seem as colourful and exciting as other programs.  Without dialogue it requires the capability to interpret a story arch and subtext that, well, I’m not sure I had at that age. In fact I don’t think I had the attention span at that age either!

Then, much to my confusion suddenly The Snowman seemed to be everywhere. Friends parents would put it on. It became inescapable.The signature tune was forever on the radio. All the adults seemed to think that children loved it, but I just didn’t understand why people thought it was a big deal. “Maybe it’s just like Star Wars. You either like it or you don’t” I can imagine myself thinking as I build another spaceship out of Lego. 

I was reminded of this experience a few months ago when discussing the film with someone who had the exact same experience. Which led me to wonder if any kids liked it at all!

(Of course, I’m being provocative here, I’m sure many kids did, but roll with me for the rest of this blog 😃)

It’s About The Customers/Beneficiaries 

In situations like this, it’s worth asking “who are the real customers here?” and “who are the beneficiaries?”.

Ostensibly, the kids watching the film are the beneficiaries. But, given a choice, how many kids in the early 80s would really choose The Snowman over The Smurfs, Masters of the Universe or Jem? If the supposed target audience doesn’t value the film, then we should probably look more broadly. Perhaps we might argue the following stakeholders are likely to be the real customers or beneficiaries, in addition to (or even instead of) kids:

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’