Professional Development

Is ‘The App That Chimes The Loudest’ Robbing Your Attention?

One of the first jobs I had was in an insurance broker’s office.  This was back in the day when (believe it or not) people used to buy home and motor insurance face-to-face or over the phone from a local broker.  I sat in front of a monochrome ‘green-screen’ monitor in an office full of folders, secure filing cabinets and a lot of physical paperwork.  Many of the “information systems” we used were entirely manual, including a ‘date file’ that was nothing more complex than an expanding folder with 31 pockets.  If you wanted to remind yourself to review a particular item on the 28th, you’d put it in the pocket marked ‘28’…

Image Credit: © stokkete — stock.adobe.com #297320833

A lot of my work was administrative and customer facing.  It was a small office, and work was triggered by information or requests arriving. When I started work, we didn’t have e-mail, so the primary ways that information got in or out of the office were by:

  • Post (delivered daily, batched and sent daily)
  • Fax
  • Phone call
  • Face-to-face
  • Occasional courier/urgent document delivery

Since many of the processes were manual, work was very tangible and visible.  Motor policies were applied for via a ‘Proposal Form’, at which point a handwritten ‘Cover Note’ was written. The proposal form was then sent to the insurance company by post. They then sent a ‘Certificate’ back a few days later.  I am aware of how frighteningly archaic this all sounds, but it really wasn’t that long ago…

This tangibility somehow meant that there was an inherent hierarchy of attention.  Let’s imagine it was first thing in the morning and I’ve sorted the post and I’m working through it (based on the urgency of the items).  The phone rings, I’ll pick that up because it requires an urgent response, it’s synchronous and somebody is there waiting for attention.  If somebody walks in, I certainly won’t hang up the phone, but I’d gesture to the person to take a seat so they know I’ll be with them as soon as I can.  If a fax came, or if a second bundle of mail arrived whilst I was on the phone or speaking face-to-face with someone, so what? It’s asynchronous, it can (probably) wait.  I certainly wouldn’t let a newly-arrived fax or letter interrupt a face-to-face conversation with a customer (unless there was a very, very good reason to do so).

Technology and Intangibility Disrupts the Perceived Hierarchy

BA Trends: Predictions for 2020

Crystal Ball

Image Credit: © Ezume Images – Fotolia.com #91099334

I have never been good at predicting the future.  In fact, I suspect all of us find predicting future trends difficult—and predicting medium and longer term futures is even more difficult.  As Steve Davidson observed:

 

“Forecasting future events is often like searching for a black cat in an unlit room, that may not even be there.”

 

Yet, inaccuracy and uncertainty doesn’t stop predictions being useful for some applications.  If nothing else, predicting (one) possible future creates the opportunity for a conversation, for agreement, disagreement and refinement.   My intention with this article is to do just that—to set out one possible future and to create debate.  So once you have read this, I’d love it if you added a comment below! What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? Be sure to let me know.

 

So here goes. My top 6 predictions for Business Analysis in 2020:

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

Getting “Quacked”: The Good, The Bad & the Ugly

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 6 min read

unhappy bag paper manI recently met with a good friend for a coffee and catch-up.  We were discussing all sorts of business analysis related topics, and our conversation quickly moved on to projects, careers and jobs.  As we started to discuss jobs and careers, I sensed unease in my friend’s voice.  This was unusual—he is the kind of guy who is normally really up-beat.   I asked what was wrong. He took a long sip on his coffee and his forehead contracted into a temporary frown.  He took a deep breath:

 

“Adrian, I’m really not happy in my current job.  I’ve made some suggestions on how they could run projects better, but management see this as ‘rocking the boat’.  I’ve been sidelined.  They’ve put me on a dull, boring, pointless project, which will deliver a pointless outcome.   It’s a train-wreck. I am so bored.  I think they’re hoping I’ll leave.” 

 

This came as a complete shock to me.  My friend is  one of the most innovative and positive BAs I know.  He’s the type of person that you can imagine fitting in just about anywhere, with the ability to quickly build rapport with stakeholders and really start delivering effective change.  Clearly moving someone to the right place for the right reasons can benefit the individual and the company—but in this case it seemed to be a pure case of sidelining.

 

Why would anyone sideline him?  

 

Getting “quacked”

If you have worked for large corporate organisations for long enough, you’ll probably know someone who has been sidelined in this way.  Someone who has been seen as too ‘radical’ for the status-quo—they raise positive ideas which could make a significant difference but challenge the tunnel-vision of established middle-managers.  Rather than reward them, the organisation responds by moving them to another role, another team so they are less inconvenient. They never seem to fit, so they are moved around and around — after a while they get moved to a remote outpost somewhere, in the hope they will give up, keep quiet or leave.  Maybe it has even happened to you.

 

This is an example of what I call getting quasi-sacked – or “quacked”

 

Why people get ‘quacked’: The good, the bad and the ugly

Picture of a car with a price in the window

The uncomfortable truth: We all work in sales

Picture of a car with a price in the windowSay the world “sales” to many people and you’ll get a negative response.  Perhaps they’ll remember a time that a desperate salesperson tried to “hard sell” them an expensive extended warranty that they didn’t want or need, or perhaps they’ll remember a time when an unethical sales executive sold them a car that turned out to be completely impractical, unreliable and not fit for their needs.  In fact, for many people the whole idea of “sales” and “selling” is uncomfortable.   It conjures up negative images of unethical and unfair behaviour.

 

Yet selling is a crucial part of what organisations do, particularly those organisations that sell ‘big ticket’ items or complex services.  The reality of sales can be very different from the cliché—it really doesn’t have to be murky and unethical.  Good sales involves understanding the customer’s needs, finding a solution that meets their real needs and ensuring that solution is deployed successfully within any relevant constraints.  It involves building relationships , providing advice and advocating what is best for the customer whilst keeping the organisation’s needs firmly in mind too.  Clearly this is quite a broad definition!

 

But do you have to have the title of sales executive or salesperson to work in Sales?  I would argue not—in fact, there is an element of sales in just about everyone’s role.    Whatever your role—whether you’re an internal business analyst or whether you work for a solution provider or managed service provider (MSP), it is likely that an element of your role involves “selling”.   Just about every role involves building relationships, understanding stakeholder/customer needs, and so forth. If we are not selling products or services we are probably selling ideas.   Imagine the project sponsor that has to ‘sell’ the idea of their project to the board.  Or the business analyst that ‘sells’ the benefits of an idea or option to their business stakeholders.  Or even the consultant within an external managed service provider that convinces their client to change tact and invest in a solution that is a better fit than the one the client had in mind.  All of these are variants of selling and sales.  But I suspect many of us haven’t thought of it this way before!

 

What this means for business and business analysis: Customer and Benefit

Benefits Realisation Shouldn’t Be A Witch-Hunt!

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 6 min read

Unhappy/angry office worker with head on deskOrganisations that initiate projects generally do so to embed some kind of favourable change into their operation. The types of outcome and benefits desired will vary depending on the organisation’s situation and strategy, but might involve increasing revenue, reducing costs, achieving regulatory compliance, improving customer service or any other combination of goals. Let’s imagine that a financial services organisation decides to streamline its ‘customer sign-up/on-boarding’ process. Possible benefits might include providing enhanced customer service (leading to an increase in sales) and lower processing costs (leading to higher profits). There are likely to be many different ways of achieving these outcomes—and those options are likely to be examined in some form of business case. For small projects this might be a very lightweight document, with larger projects and programmes needing a more thorough and formal document. Either way, the relative pros/cons of various approaches will be considered—including the tangible and intangible costs/benefits, and also the risks.

 

The business case is often the gateway to getting a project off the ground. In many organisations it is like a key to the cheque-book—until the business case has been signed off work cannot start with any vigour. This leads to a useful focus on a business case early in the project lifecycle—which is a good thing of course—but once the cheques have been written, interest can start to evaporate very quickly. There is a danger that the business case will fester away, collecting dust in a document repository rather than being seen as a ‘living document’ that is central to the project and change initiative. This can lead to some very unfortunate outcomes.

 

A business case shouldn’t be “one and done”

The Art of a Difficult Conversation

Two children ignoring each otherImplementing any kind of meaningful change in an organisation is rarely easy. Even the most successful project is likely to hit a rough patch now and again where something unwelcome and unexpected happens. Good risk management can minimise the problems, but even with this in place there can be unanticipated situations that hit us from the left-field.

 

Colin Powell is quoted as saying “Bad news is not like wine. It does not improve with age”.  In situations where problems occur, it’s crucial that we assess the impact, understand the available options, engage and communicate with our key stakeholders, sponsor or client. This can often be a difficult conversation – but much better to have a difficult conversation early than an awkward conversation later! Bringing issues to the table early allows us to discuss a range of options that might not be available if we hold fire until the fire burns out of control. The longer we wait, the more time we burn – and the options we have start to evaporate.

 

However, when working as an internal business analyst, or even when working for a vendor or managed service provider (MSP) delivering a solution for a client, situations can be complicated. Some environments can be politically charged, and there might be the perception that speaking openly can be rather career limiting. When working with an external client there may be the added risk of losing an entire series of contracts—which would not land well!

 

Yet, in most circumstances it is best for us to heed Colin Powell’s advice. A diplomatic, open and honest conversation now, while the news is fresh, is better than an awkward and embarrassing conversation in six months’ time when the situation has festered.

 

So how can we ensure that these conversations are fruitful? The following tips can be useful:

Interview: Change Alchemy, Changing Mindsets & Organisational Diseases with with John Hackett

John Hackett of Franklin-Hackett (Organisational Change Alchemists)In today’s blog post, we break from our usual format to bring you an interview with John Hackett of Franklin-Hackett. I first met John at a business analysis conference a year or so ago, and I’ve really enjoyed hearing about his innovative approaches and reading his blog.  I recently caught up with John for a ‘virtual’ chat, and John shared some really interesting insight:


 

So, John, you engage in a rather intriguing discipline that you describe as “Organisational Change Alchemy”.   Can you tell us a bit more about what this involves?

 

Well firstly, thanks for inviting me to contribute to your fantastic blog, Adrian!

 

Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to talk about how change in organisations has been carried out historically.

 

Organisations tend to think of change in a very structured way, which means they usually try to implement it in the form of a time-limited, specific and managed approach. Hence why we have “change projects”. It’s an attempt to implement change in a controlled way.

 

This situation exists because the dominant mindset within organisations states that change is a short term phenomenon that has to be planned and structured in order to avoid disruption and reduce “risk”. It treats change as something that comes in, does stuff and then goes away again.

 

So traditional change methodologies accommodate this mindset by being heavily structured and focusing purely on specific areas such as business processes or purely on IT.

 

The problem is that in reality, change is actually a constant and emergent phenomenon. It is also complex, in that there are multiple elements that work together to create a situation, all of which have to be considered when implementing change. The structured approach of traditional change interventions is at odds with the emergent nature of change. The tendency towards a narrow focus when implementing change means that many traditional change interventions fail to address all elements and result in poorly embedded outcomes.

Tips for forming a CBAP/CCBA study group  

Business person standing in front of black-board with arrows pointing in conflicting directionsIt seems that more and more people are becoming interested in IIBA’s CBAP and CCBA certification.  Many teams combine formal training with self-study to maximise their chances of passing the exam first time.  This is an excellent idea, as forming a CBAP/CCBA Study group can be a great way of  getting people together to share knowledge.  It will help you keep up the momentum as you head towards the exam, and will also provide you with the forum to discuss any queries that you have.  In fact, I was part of a study group and this really helped me feel more confident when sitting my CBAP exam!

 

The challenge can be knowing how and where to start.  If you’re considering forming and running a study group in your organisation or BA community, you might find the following tips helpful:

 

How to form a study group

 

Helping Stakeholders to Take a Step Back and Avoid the “Solution Illusion” : Webinar recording available

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 3 min read

I recently presented a webinar, hosted by IRM UK, focussing on the importance of avoiding early solutioneering during projects.  The webinar is entitled Helping Stakeholders to Take a Step Back and Avoid the “Solution Illusion” 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!