Enterprise Analysis

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:

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:

The Tricky Question of “Purpose”

When creating or ‘improving’ some kind of product, business process or service, a question that will often crop up is that of purpose.  We might (quite logically) ask what the underlying purpose of the thing is, and we might even be tempted to define some kind of measures around what ‘success’ looks like.

As outlined in my previous article, what ‘success looks like’ is very likely to vary depending on who we ask.  It stands to reason that the perceived purpose (i.e. what ‘ought’ to be) is likely to vary too.  Ask ten people what an insurance company’s primary purpose ought to be and you’ll get ten different answers—probably all of which are valid.  (“Make money”, “protect policyholders”, “provide information so as to reduce risk” might be three possibilities).  If the insurance company is to be successful an ‘accommodation’ 1 between a range of possible and valid perspectives is likely to emerge.  Lurch too far to one extreme and the viability of the organisation comes into question.  The challenge is understanding which perspectives are key—which form environmental constraints (e.g. regulation) and which others lead to strategic choices (e.g. which markets or customer segments to focus on).

These types of considerations apply at a more granular level also.  Not only can we ask ‘what is the purpose of this company’ we can also ask ‘what is the purpose of this product/service/process’.  Almost certainly the same types of differences in perspective will occur.  Don’t believe me?  Ask three people what the underlying purpose of the “Issue parking ticket when someone has parked illegally” process is (i.e. why it is done).  You’ll likely get a range of opinions from “make money”, “increase safety” or “to ensure the rule of law is respected”. 

Beware “Ruthless Efficiency”: You Need Slack To Adapt

Within some organisations there seems to be a management mantra of “pursuing ruthless efficiency”.  On the face of it, other than sounding like something that ought to appear on a “buzzword bingo” sheet, this seems like a sensible thing to aim for—I mean if we can hit the “sweet spot” of being more efficient (i.e. incurring less costs) whilst also being effective and delivering what our customers want, that has to be a good thing, right?

Well yes, this statement is probably true—to an extent—but there are some important nuances that are easily overlooked.  Efficiency is crucial, but like most things in life, it becomes problematic when taken to an extreme.  Balanced efficiency can be an excellent thing to aim for—it can actually mean you exceed customers’ expectations (“You can deliver quicker than I expected? Awesome!”).  Ruthless efficiency, on the other hand, where an organisation cuts, cuts, cuts without looking and thinking holistically at the impact is far more problematic.

An example of Ruthless Efficiency: A Gym

I was mulling this over recently when working out at my gym.  I’ve been a member of this particular gym for over 15 years, and I’ve seen managers and gym staff come and go.  The gym itself has changed ownership in that time, and in the past five years it’s pretty obvious that they have been cost cutting presumably with the aim of being “ruthlessly efficient”.  In fact, a few years ago they even lowered their monthly subscription charges, to make them more in line with their competitors.  Something that is pretty rare!  So how has the drive for ruthless efficiency affected them (and their stakeholders)? Read on….

The Importance of “Zooming Out”: Elephants and Trains

If you have ever used the tube (metro) system in London during rush hour, you’ll know it isn’t  the sort of place where you can stand around and admire the surroundings.  Like most bustling cities, there is a focus on movement; there is a sea of people filling every conceivable space.  Anyone who dares move at a glacial pace is at risk of getting swept along with the crowd like a twig in a fast flowing river, or even worse they might be greeted by the passive-aggressive ‘tut’ of an exhausted commuter.  It seems that everyone is determined to get to their destination, trying to edge further and further forward without pushing or making contact with anyone else.  Like some kind of silent and choreographed ‘commuter dance’, It is fascinating to watch, and fascinating to be part of. 

I have travelled on the Jubilee Line from Waterloo Station countless times.  Most times, I am navigating my way through the crowds, with my brain and eyes focussed mainly on the immediate few feet in front of me.  Only fairly recently, when travelling very late at night (when the station was empty) did I look up and notice there is literally an elephant in the room.  More specifically, there is a sculpture of an elephant above the escalators.  Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture 🙂

Hotel Orange Juice: The Problem You ‘See’ Affects The ‘Solution’ That You Consider

Breakfast on a table: Toast, pastry and orange juice

Image Credit: © Alex Tihonov – Fotolia.com #207827018

Problem solving and organisational learning are two topics that are closely related to each other.  So often, organisations appear to be ‘hard-wired’ in a way that they means they focus on solving immediate problems without spending time assessing root causes.  It is all-too-easy to get caught in a fire-fighting doom-loop where symptoms are addressed rather than root causes, and everyone is consumed with tactical ‘busy-work’.  This is akin to a motorist who keeps topping up their car with engine oil but doesn’t look for a leak.  This works well for weeks until the leak suddenly gets worse and the engine is ruined in a catastrophic and expensive failure.

 

I was mulling this over recently whilst eating at a breakfast buffet in a hotel. I went to get a glass of juice, only to find there were no glasses left.  No problem, I thought, I’ll let one of the hotel staff know and they’ll get it fixed.  I caught the eye of a friendly waitress and explained the predicament, she apologetically looked at the empty shelf and immediately went away to put things right. She came back within minutes, clutching a single glass—passing it on to me.  I said thank you, and before I could say anything further she smiled and scurried off to her next task.  It was very busy, and I suspect she was under quite a lot of pressure to ensure her list of tasks were completed.

 

Problem solving and Organisational Learning

The Danger of “Partial” Feedback

Unhappy Person - Unhappy Face

Image Credit: © blacksalmon – Fotolia.com #206499440

One of the challenges we face when looking to build organisations that can remain viable in an ever-changing environment is the need for organisations to ‘appreciate’ (look for) and respond to feedback.  The term ‘feedback’ is broad, and in practice it can take a whole variety of forms.  We might immediately think of compliments or complaints as sources of feedback, and whilst this is true, there are many other sources beside.  Some might be quantitative feedback signals and trends (“Product X has experienced a sustained drop in demand”) others might be qualitative (“Look at all these suggestions from customers that are in our mailbox!”).  The challenge for organisations is knowing which areas to focus on—which elements of feedback to action, and which to disregard.  A bigger challenge is to come up with a hypothesis as to why the trend has occurred and what needs to be done.    Traversing this tricky road requires ongoing strategic business analysis, establishing what is happening in the external environment, and aligning potential opportunities against existing strategy (or in some cases considering a change of direction).

 

Partial Feedback: A Restaurant in Toronto

When it comes to analysing feedback—whether qualitative or quantitative—one particular challenge that should be kept in mind is the fact that partial feedback can be very misleading and can lead to costly mistakes.  I was reminded of this recently when eating in a restaurant in Toronto, Canada (a very vibrant city that I hope to visit again soon!).  One thing that varies a lot by culture and nation is the approach to tipping in restaurants.  In the UK, tipping is normally considered optional, with 10% being usual for satisfactory service.  I gather in the USA it is much higher, and in Canada I am told 15% – 20% is customary (although different people appear to have different views!).

“Do you see what I see?” What constitutes a problem anyway?

Optical illusion: Perspectives: Two faces or a goblet?

Image Credit: © Imagewriter – Fotolia.com #118921627

In business, we often point at examples of “problems” and “problematic situations” as if they should be universally known and agreed upon. Certainly, if revenue is dropping, customers are leaving and there’s not enough money to pay staff wages then it’s likely that there would be fairly unanimous agreement that something has to be done and there are clearly a whole set of “problems”! Yet, most of the day to day situations we find ourselves in are far more subtle and nuanced, and defining and pinpointing issues can be much more challenging . Different stakeholders may interpret a situation very differently, viewing particular aspects of that situation  more or less significantly than we do.

 

Two examples really brought this idea to life for me, and being from the UK, these are of course weather related (if you’ve never been to the UK, talking about weather is like a national sport!).  During September last year, I attended the fantastic BA Summit Southern Africa in Cape Town.  While I was there I was able to see some of the sights, and catch up with my friends and contacts at IIBA SA. Being a British person, I would start just about every conversation with small talk about the weather.  I’d drone on and on (boring even myself) about how we have so much rain, and how it’s great to be somewhere so sunny…

 

I was floored when a friend of mine said (with complete respect and rapport) “If only we could find a way of swapping your rain for our sun”. They explained that Cape Town is suffering a severe water shortage, with a lack of rain in the winter, and a real chance that the reservoirs will simply run dry.  Water rationing is now in place, with calculations being regularly updated over when “day zero” will be reached—the day that domestic taps are shut off. Wow. Clearly, and quite understandably, my friends in Cape Town have a very different perspective on rain, and I felt pretty insensitive when I realised what I’d said!  That single experience led me to limit my water usage as much as I could. It also made me think differently about the amount of rain that we get in the UK.

 

What’s Your (And My) Problem?

Webinar Recording: Systems Thinking – A Crucial BA Skill in an Uncertain World

I recently presented a webinar, hosted by IIBA®, focussing on the importance of systems thinking.  The webinar is entitled Systems Thinking: A Crucial BA Skill in an Uncertain World and I’m pleased to say that the recording is available to watch below. The recording is around an hour long, so grab a coffee, sit back and enjoy.  I hope that you find the webinar interesting!

(NB: If you find this webinar useful, you may be interested in our Systems Thinking Course)

Webinar Description

It has often been said that we live in an increasingly volatile, complex and ambiguous world. The external business environment is complex and fast-moving, yet often our stakeholders are blindsided by ‘silver-bullet’ solutions that assume a neat linear relationship between cause and effect.

In reality, things are rarely neat and linear. More often we’ll find that situations are devilishly difficult, requiring us to understand and engage with a whole range of messy interconnected issues and perspectives.

In this practical presentation, Adrian Reed discusses the importance of systems thinking in business analysis. During the presentation you will hear:

  • What systems thinking ‘is’, why it matters, and the conditions in which it can be relevant in an analysis environment
  • A range of practical techniques from the world of systems thinking that have direct applicability in the BA world
  • How systems thinking and systems practice, when embraced by a range of complementary practitioners and stakeholders, can help an organisation ‘learn’

A Crucial BA Skill: “Making Space” And Avoiding Mud-Digging

Excavator digging mud

Image Credit: © rpferreira – Fotolia.com #126024037

Now, more than ever, the business world seems like a hectic, fast-moving and sometimes volatile place. Businesses operate within fast-moving environments and the rate of change can be phenomenally high.  Data flows around organisations, and in many organisations decision makers can see more and more data about their business and its environment than ever before.  Emerging technology means that previously unimaginable things become plausible, and societal changes and trends mean that customers expect better and better service.

 

It is an exciting time to be alive, and as business analysts we are front and centre of this ever-changing world.  I suspect many people reading this article will be working on some type of initiative that is responding to (or pre-empting) an external change—perhaps a competitive force, a regulatory edict, or a change in customer need.

 

Yet with such a fast-moving environment, we risk being a generation of knee-jerk decision makers. With so much information and data zooming around an organisation, it is easy to perceive a trend—to see urgency—when we are actually looking at a “blip” or outlier.  Or if a trend is emerging, it is easy to make a tacit assumption as to the causation. You can imagine a Sales Manager demanding to know why sales from the website are down 30% in the last few weeks, asking for an urgent analysis of the technology (as she fears the server must have been down). This might lead to a whole “infrastructure refresh” programme and significant levels of investment.  But perhaps the real reason (and the bigger problem) is a new competitor has emerged, or an existing competitor ran a temporary promotion.  Jumping straight to solution—without appropriately and holistically thinking through the problem—can be a recipe for wasted effort.

 

This is where business analysis is essential.  Of course, I could write about pre-project problem analysis and strategic business analysis techniques—but instead I want to discuss something ‘softer’ that is often overlooked. Namely, our ability as professional change agents to create space.

 

Making Space and Stopping the Storm