Mid Sized Enterprises

Several pocket watches

Manual workarounds: There’s no such thing as a “few seconds”

Several pocket watchesLet’s face it, we’ve all been there.  Whilst working on a project which will deliver some kind of change within an operational area, we face unexpected difficulties late in the delivery lifecycle.   Perhaps we find out that something we were hoping to do is much more complex than we’d anticipated, or maybe time and budget are running out.  The project manager and sponsor are on the case:  We must deliver on time, so yet another round of prioritisation meetings are called.   We need to take a metaphorical machete to our project and our requirements with a view to delivering something smaller and cheaper that is still “fit for purpose”.     That is quite a challenge, but one that I’m sure will resonate with many readers!

 

A hypothetical example…

Let’s build on this idea and imagine for a moment that we work in a mid-size organisation that is progressing a project to launch a brand new customer self-service portal.   The objectives are to encourage customers to submit changes online, rather than ringing through to the call centre.   The project’s business case is built around efficiency savings, reduced number of phone calls and intangible benefits including better customer satisfaction.   The original intention was that when a customer submits their information via the web, it’ll automatically feed through to the master customer database, updating the details immediately.

 

However, we face a sudden and unexpected problem — we’ve suddenly had our project budget cut by 30%, and there are pressures to deliver even quicker than originally planned.   So, we convene an urgent prioritisation meeting.  We take up our role as facilitator and start to discuss what we could do differently, or which features or functions we are going to de-scope from the project.

 

The conversation gets heated remarkably quickly – our stakeholders egos start to show themselves.  Different stakeholders have different worldviews and are politically exposed in different ways.

The sponsor opens the meeting sternly:

 

“We absolutely must deliver on time.  We’ve announced the delivery date to the press, and we simply can’t be seen to have yet another delayed project.”

 

Discussion continues.  People start to ask how this situation has occurred.  A range of potential  re-scoping options are discussed, but it isn’t possible to get agreement.  One stakeholder suggests that we should seriously consider cancelling the project altogether, but this voice is quickly quashed. The conversation is moving on quickly when one of the other senior stakeholders (who used to be an operational team leader 20 years ago) interjects:

 

 “Right, I think I have a solution.  We can deliver everything on time and within budget”.

 

The room’s attention is immediately drawn to the stakeholders face.   She waits a moment and then breaks the silence.

Figure at red intersection of arrows

More data doesn’t (always) mean more insight: The old chestnut of “MI Requirements”

Figure at red intersection of arrowsI hazard a guess that many of us have worked in organisations where data is, quite understandably, seen as the crucial “life blood”.  Data can be an important asset that not only keeps the operation ticking over but also drives informed decision making.  Not only can good quality data help us to benchmark organisational (and individual) performance, it also helps us to spot trends and anticipate future customer needs.  Managers and executives need reliable and accurate data to make tactical and strategic decisions—and in some cases this may lead to repeated requests for more and more data.  We might find that a mini-industry is created in crafting internal “Management Information” reports, often involving triangulating data from multiple, disparate systems, with an associated risk of error.   We may well initiate projects to automate the creation of reports so that we can get them to our stakeholders quicker, faster and in greater quantity.

 

This addiction to data is understandable – after all, organisations need to rationalise and justify the decisions they make.   Whether a company is multinational, mid-size or even a small entrepreneur, it’s vital to know how things are performing and where improvements can be made.   However, there’s a real danger that a dependency on misleading data can lead to delays, indecision and could even damage decision making.  Put simply, more data doesn’t always create more insight.  And this has a significant impact for businesses, projects and business analysis.

4 ways to inadvertently sabotage communication

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 5 min read

Blue person in silhouette with red question markIn my last blog post, I wrote about some of the challenges associated with communicating in organisations.  In organisations of all sizes –from mid-sized to multinational—ensuring the right people have access to the right information at the right time is somewhat of a challenge.  In fact, it’s so easy for teams and organisations fall into patterns that are almost guaranteed to cause communication difficulties, frustration and information overload.  It’s almost like the communication channels have been sabotaged…

 

In fact, sometimes, our colleagues and stakeholders may inadvertently sabotage communication.  I’m sure they don’t do this deliberately, but there are some common pitfalls that can seriously hurt the ability for teams to communicate effectively.   Four pitfalls are listed below. These certainly aren’t the only pitfalls, and I’m sure they won’t be a surprise to you.  Yet they are four of the most important, and they occur time and time again.   If you see these warning signs, it might be time to take some action…

 

Common pitfalls:

Do your customers trust you?

Angry GirlI recently read an intriguing article on the Studio@Gawker site, which described how two remarkably different organisations solved two very different  business problems through gaining a better understanding of their customers.  They achieved this by using analytic and CRM solutions to help anticipate their customers’ needs—but most importantly of all by considering and addressing the thorny issue of trust amongst their customer base.

 

It struck me when reading this article that trust is something that we don’t talk about enough in business and business analysis circles, yet it is key for retaining customers. Foster a high trust culture with customers and you’re more likely to hold on to them— and this is true irrespective of whether you’re a small, midsize or multinational enterprise.     Yet in many organisations, the issue of trust might not be considered at all when developing new products, services, systems or processes.  This can be a recipe for disappointment. Without considering the impact on customer trust, changes may be made that have an adverse effect to existing customers, leading to damaged or destroyed relationships.

 

An example: Trust and relationships

Trust is key to relationships.  I’m willing to guess that if you drive a car, you take your car to a mechanic or garage that you trust when you need a repair or service.  In fact, people often stay with a mechanic or garage that they trust for years – even if they know they can get a cheaper deal elsewhere.    Trust helps build customer loyalty, which is extremely beneficial as it’s often stated that signing up a new customer costs on average 4-6 times more than keeping an existing one.  Clearly, this will vary by organisation and industry, but this highlights the importance of retaining customers and continuing to meet or exceed their needs and expectations.

 

It’s also generally accepted that trust takes time to build, but can be destroyed in a second.  I remember dealing with a telecommunication company as a consumer where I’d received excellent service for years.  They made a small billing error – and when I contacted them it was so  traumatic to put right that I eventually left.  This inconsistency in experience shook my trust.  They had provided excellent service for years, but one inconsistency in service meant that I left.   If they’d made the correction I’d asked for in a more straightforward manner, I’d have stayed.

 

What does this mean for business and business analysis

We often talk about the “customer experience” in our businesses along with the importance of representing the customer in our projects and product design activities – and there is no doubt this is an exceptionally important factor.  It’s crucial that the customer gets their product or service at the right quality and that they have a valuable experience.  But how often do we talk about the consistency of service?  Perhaps not enough; particularly given this consistency can affect trust.

Drawing of people waiting in an airport

A muddy airport floor and the forgotten link: People and Process

Drawing of people waiting in an airportI don’t know about you, but one of my least favourite parts of travelling by air is the experience of queuing for security.  I understand that it’s necessary, but the queues always seem so long, and inevitably the process involves removing shoes, belts and other random items of clothing.  Not only this, I clearly must look suspicious as I always seem to get singled out for a more thorough ‘pat down’ – which is never the most pleasant of experiences.

 

I was travelling back after a business trip recently, and I entered the dreaded security queue.  I was travelling with hand-luggage only, so I knew I needed to separate out my overnight bag (which contained liquids, deodorant etc) for inspection separately.  I knelt down to open my bag to grab my liquids, and when I stood up I was absolutely caked in mud.  I couldn’t believe it – the floor was so dirty that if you touched it the mud would cling like a magnet!

 

I was extremely surprised.  Being a keen Twitter user, I thought I’d give the airport some instant feedback.  They probably weren’t aware – perhaps a cleaner was off sick.  I won’t mention the airport, but I tweeted:

 

“You need to clean the floor in the security queuing area. I kneeled down and my suit trousers are now caked in dirt!”

 

I forgot about this, brushed myself down, boarded my flight and got on with some work.  When I landed, my phone chirped as I’d received a reply.  However, rather than looking to resolve the issue, the airport staff tweeted me back to describe how “challenging” it is to keep the surfaces clear (!).  I would have assumed that they would have used the insight I provided them to provide feedback to the cleaners or the cleaning manager – but it seems they didn’t, they just offered an excuse. An opportunity for continuous improvement was missed.  What a shame!

 

What this means for business and business analysis

Now, you might think I’m being rather self-indulgent by blogging about my airport gripes…and you might well be right… but there’s a serious point to be made about business and business analysis here.

A glass of soda

Don’t mix soda with strategy

A glass of sodaI recently visited a pizza buffet restaurant with some colleagues.   It had been a long day, so I had no hesitation in piling my plate high with a whole range of different pizza slices (well, everyone likes pizza, right?).

 

As I returned to my table, I saw a young kid at the self-service soda machine.  He grabbed a cup and his eyes lit up – there were so many choices of soda that he could choose.  After half a second of hesitation, he made his choice.  He was going to have all of them!  He took his cup and mixed all the sodas together:  Cola, lemonade, orange-fizz and more.  Next he went over to the dessert aisle and added some maple syrup and chocolate chips to his soda.     What happened next was rather unfortunate: He took one gulp of the brown, sludgy concoction that he had created, and his face contorted and frowned.  He’d created something virtually undrinkable – and it certainly wasn’t what he was expecting.

 

Luckily, a friendly waitress helped him to dispose of the sticky and sugary soda he’d created, and he went back choosing a single soda this time.  As he did, it struck me how some organisations inadvertently and quite unintentionally treat their business strategy in this way.  They flounder from market to market and from project to project in an unplanned and uncontrolled way, without seeking internal or external feedback.  They launch all sorts of contradictory projects, products and initiatives and just end up creating confusion.  They ‘mix their sodas’ too far.  All options seem attractive, so rather than choosing just a few they try to choose all of them – and end up with an outcome they certainly didn’t desire.

Business person standing in front of black-board with arrows pointing in conflicting directions

Customer vs. Strategy vs. Sales

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 6 min read

I’d like to welcome Debbie Laskey to my blog. We met as a result of our work for the IBM Midsize Insider Program and I’ve been really interested in Debbie’s blog articles about marketing and customer-focus. Debbie has 15 years of marketing experience and an MBA Degree. She developed her marketing expertise while working in the high-tech industry, the Consumer Marketing Department at Disneyland Paris in France, the non-profit arena, and the insurance industry. Currently, Debbie is the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Exceptional Children’s Foundation in Los Angeles, California, USA – and she’s also been recognized as one of the “Top 100 Branding Experts” to follow on Twitter (@DebbieLaskeyMBA).  You can read Debbie’s blog at debbielaskey.blogspot.com

 

We recently discussed the importance of the “customer’s voice” in business, and the following collaborative post is the result.  Enjoy!

 


Customer vs. Strategy vs. Sales

 

Business person standing in front of black-board with arrows pointing in conflicting directionsHow often does your organisation truly consider the customer before making a strategic decision? Many, if not most, organisations would answer that question with the response that they place the customer at the heart of what they do. Yet as companies grow and become more successful, it’s easy for the customer’s voice to get lost in day-to-day operations.

 

Companies may intend to represent and consider the customer’s viewpoint, but they rely on layers of management (many of whom may not have spoken to a genuine customer in years) to provide feedback on behalf of an increasingly complex and sophisticated customer base. In some scenarios, this may lead to new product launches that are initially considered successful (as they are on-time and on-budget) but are actually complete failures (since no one buys them).

 

What can be done to avoid these types of situations? The following tips can create better alignment between your business products/services/processes and your customers:

 

A list of questions: Where, what, when, why, how, who

4 of the best “naïve” yet strategically probing questions you can ask in business

A list of questions: Where, what, when, why, how, whoOne of the things I absolutely love about my role as a business analyst is that I get to ask all sorts of naïve questions of my clients.   Being a business analyst creates the permission to call out the ‘elephant in the room’ and to ask those deepest, darkest political questions that others might be avoiding.  Clearly, this must always be done with respect, rapport and from an angle of curiosity – and when done well, those “naïve” questions can yield some extremely interesting outcomes and can create debates that help solidify and clarify organisational or project direction.  It helps avoid problems before they occur.

 

Even when working on projects, a group of apparently harmonious business stakeholders might suffer from invisible and insidious conflict bubbling away beneath the surface.  It’s just waiting to jump out – and if it isn’t exposed and dealt with early, it will grow and grow until it reaches an explosive proportion.  The conflict may have been festering for weeks, months or even years.  Naïve questions are a great way of exposing this conflict, ensuring everyone is on the ‘same page’ and pushing in the same direction.   Having some external challenge can be a great way of exposing this conflict and creating contentious yet productive debate.  In this article,  I’m going to share a few “naïve” questions with you that can help in these situations.

 

There are many questions that we could ask; here are just a few of my favourites.  These questions work in many situations – whether you’re working in a mid-size, small or multinational organisation.  They work when undertaking projects, as well as when considering business changes, challenges and business strategies.  They are useful for business analysts and business stakeholders alike:

Man standing in front of confusing arrows -- represents lack of focus

The importance of focus for projects: Avoiding the turkey, the zombie and the blimp

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 6 min read

Man standing in front of confusing arrows -- represents lack of focusI recently saw an intriguing LinkedIN thread relating to quotable quotes – or more specifically, quotes or proverbs that sum up an individual’s business philosophy.   I have been thinking a lot recently about my work in my ‘day job’ and also my voluntary work at IIBA UK, and a phrase that has been really resonating with me recently is:

 

“You can achieve anything, but you can’t achieve everything”

 

Being a stereotypical analyst, I’d be tempted to expand this statement to make it clear that it’s possible to achieve anything feasible.  Clearly, however much we try we probably can’t achieve time travel, teleportation or perpetual motion (yet!). Although that might not be a reason to stop trying…

 

However, the main thing that I take away from this statement is the importance of focus.  And in my experience, focus is crucial in just about any business and is particularly important for businesses that are progressing change projects.   It’s an under-rated adjective that is easily overlooked in some small, mid-sized and even multi-national organisations.  There’s always another opportunity, another idea just temptingly around the corner. Perhaps someone sees a shiny new solution that they just can’t wait to go out and buy… without truly understanding or analysing why they need it.  It’s extremely easy to get blind-sided by the solution illusion.  I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of this pattern to some extent (I bet you have at least one ‘gadget’ collecting dust that seemed like a great idea to buy at the time!)

 

Sometimes the difficult thing is to pick a direction and stick to it until the environment changes (or until it’s necessary to make a conscious deviation). Laser-light focus, combined with the ability to read the business situation, get the data & know when to change direction is vital.

 

It’s better to do a few focussed things well than have 100s of half-finished products and projects.

 

A danger for project teams

 

There are a number of pitfalls here for project teams in this area, and I dare say that we’ve all seen instances of this.  Three patterns I’ve seen include the turkey project, the zombie project and the blimp project.

Avoiding dangerous ‘forced data’ decisions

Picture of a pie chart, figures and a calculatorAsk any senior leader whether they make decisions based on data or on intuition, and you’ll get a mixed response.    In my experience, experienced leaders will talk about a mixture of data/insight and “gut” – a combination of hard facts and intuition.  Often they’ll talk about how hard it is to get timely information from their systems and processes, and they’ll talk about how they can’t always trust the data that they receive.  They might mention their frustration that they can’t get access to data quickly enough, that they are constantly looking in the ‘rear view mirror’ and they fear that the data they see is flawed.

 

There’s no doubt that making a decision on flawed, incomplete or misrepresented data or insight can be dangerous.  Understandably, many organisations of all sizes – whether mid-size or multinational – are focussing on improving or implementing systems that provide timely and accurate data to business stakeholders.   However, in this article I want to explore something that is rarely spoken about:  The danger of forced data and I want to make the argument for data transparency and conviction transparency within organisations.