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Stakeholder Management

Confessions of a BA: Deleting my ‘CYA file’

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Back in the dim and distant past, I worked in a highly political organisation.  In reality I suspect anywhere there are humans there will be politics, but this organisation had such prolific politicking it was on another level.  With so much political posturing—particularly from middle-managers—I felt really exposed as a BA.   After all, as BAs we are usually facilitating change, and quite often the sort of change that will affect the ‘empires’ of those that are playing the political game.  I started to experience situations where certain stakeholders would have ‘momentary losses of memory’ — they would have agreed to something verbally the previous day, but then all of a sudden they couldn’t recall that conversation at all.   Curious.

Being a BA in the Screen-Scrolling Economy: Business Analyst as Stakeholder Advocate

Social Media Emoji Masks Over People's Faces: Surprised, Smiling, Happy, Hearts
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There is little doubt that social media platforms have created new ways for people to interact with each other. Whether it’s staying in touch with friends, exchanging holiday snaps or “debating” the day’s hot political issues with strangers, there’s bound to be a place for it somewhere in the social-mediasphere.  In fact, if you are ever feeling brave, scroll down into the comments sections of most news articles.  Often there is a treasure-trove of opinion, ranging from well-considered and well-considered arguments and counter arguments, right through to knee-jerk assertions from people who have done little more than read the headline. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and this type of forum provides a useful space for debate.

I was recently drawn into reading the comments section on an article about snow (a relatively rare occurrence in the South of the UK, and one that tends to hit the transport infrastructure fairly hard). The comments ranged from constructive ideas, through to moral outrage, through to individuals expressing clear objection to certain political ideologies.   To a certain extent, this makes sense, but I suspect that of the hundreds of authors of those comments, precisely (or nearly) zero:

Rucksack Rules: What A High-School Bag Tells Us About BA Identity

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 5 min read
Picture of a student wearing a rucksack on one shoulder
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Although it was more years ago than I like to admit, I can still firmly remember my time at high-school (or ‘senior school’ as we call it here in the UK).  As with most schools, there were cliques and divisions, and it was a time when everyone was finding their identity and trying to prove how ‘cool’ they were.  As is common in the UK, my school had a prescribed uniform, so there were very few ways that identity could be outwardly expressed.  Some people chose to shorten their ties (rebels!), and others covered their exercise books in colourful wallpaper (shocking!).  However, one way identity could definitely be expressed was with the type of bag that you carried.

Customer Centricity Is Crucial, But It’s Not Enough

Unhappy employee or demotivated at working place.
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Many organisations position themselves as being customer-centric, and in doing so consciously put the customer front-and-centre of their decision making.  In a dynamic and competitive business environment, this is a sensible move. In many industries competition is rife and the cost of switching is low, and it may even be possible for a customer to change supplier at the click of a button.  In this type of environment, being efficient whilst also understanding customer needs is of upmost importance.

This thinking, quite logically, permeates into change initiatives too. As analysts, we have a whole range of techniques that allow us to understand customers, put ourselves in their shoes, and create exploratory models.  Perhaps we use elicitation techniques such as focus groups, market research or questionnaires.  Perhaps we develop personas, customer journeys, scenarios and use a range of other techniques that help us to ensure that we’ve fully considered the types of experience that our customers will have.  This is sensible, surely?  I mean nobody would argue against customer centricity, would they?  

It’s About More Than Just Customers 

Beyond the Hamper: Complaints as a Source of BA Insight

Complaints Filing Cabinet
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Even the most customer-focussed organisation is likely to get the occasional complaint. Even the best managed organisations occasionally make mistakes, and those firms that serve a high volume of customers typically have a full-time team that deals with issues that have escalated into a formal complaint.

 

Customer complaints can be a source of significant insight.  In some cases, complaints point towards inefficiencies that have emerged in existing business processes.  Perhaps a handover between departments is not working well as there is ambiguity over the roles of each team.  Identifying this is valuable—it isn’t a one-off incident, and it is likely that many customers will receive poor service until it is resolved. It might also identify issues where training is required—perhaps a member of staff in a call centre did not record a vital piece of information that a customer gave them.  This might be because the member of staff genuinely didn’t know the significance—and if they don’t receive this constructive feedback (and the relevant training) they will likely make the same mistake time and time again, leading to even more displeased customers.

 

Analysis of complaints can also help determine where customer expectations have changed (or are changing).  In the past, it might have been considered perfectly acceptable for a courier firm to offer a delivery window of ‘8am to 6pm’.  Yet if its competitors now offer 1 hour slots, this will change the tacit expectation in the market.  This will filter through into the complaints that are received.  Of course, the firm ought to have been looking at the external competitive environment anyway, but complaints sometimes highlight things that are outside of the radar.

 

Complaints Don’t Have To Be ‘Negative’

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

Optical illusion: Perspectives: Two faces or a goblet?
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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?

Knowing our Customers: Stop Icing the “Non-Cake”!

Iced cake with fruits and cream
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As regular readers of this blog will know, I travel a lot with my work. Travel inevitably involves living out of a suitcase, and staying in hotels a lot. Or rather, returning to a hotel after a long day at a client site ready to fall in to bed to recharge for the next day.

 

Now, the curious thing about hotels is how many seem to have been designed based on what the hotel industry thinks travellers want, as opposed to what they actually want. Plenty of very logical and plausible sounding ideas have been implemented presumably in order to enhance the customer experience. In recent years, it’s all about the scatter cushions; I lose count of the time I’ve checked in to find the bed adorned with a range of pillows and approximately 27 scatter cushions that have been thrown on the bed like confetti.

What An Airport Can Teach Us About Communication

Airport terminal with business people waiting
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Read the results of just about any large organisation’s ‘employee engagement survey’, and you’re likely to find communication is amongst the top issues marked as needing attention.  With the (often unnecessary) hierarchies, functions and silos that some organisations create, this is hardly surprising.  I suspect many of us have worked in organisations that encourage over-communication (“better send this to ‘all staff’ to cover our backs!”) or under-communicate (“Stick it on the intranet, 12 links deep. It’s their responsibility to find it!”).  This says a lot about an organisation’s communication culture.

 

The culture and norms of communication that an organisation cultivates can affect the success of projects too.  Foist a new process or system on an unsuspecting “user” and they are likely to react with shock and rebellion. And who wouldn’t—as human beings don’t we all have a need to feel engaged, considered and consulted?  Underpinning this is the need to engage and communicate at the most optimum times—avoiding the over/under-communication trap.

 

How Do Airports Handle Information Flow?

Make It Easy For Stakeholders: Think Like a Restaurateur!

Tip Jar
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As regular readers of this blog will know, I am somewhat of a self-confessed “BA Geek”. I can’t help but see processes, systems, data, interconnections and opportunities for analysis everywhere I go. I find it fascinating how different industries approach things so differently, and I can’t help but peek ‘behind the curtain’ and try and work out how different businesses operate.

 

I was recently travelling with work and was eating in a quiet (but very nice, if slightly pricey) restaurant. I went to pay, and found that unfortunately they weren’t able to accept credit cards—so I paid in cash. The meal and a couple of drinks came to about 30 Euros, I didn’t have change so I put down a 50 Euro note.  The waitress soon brought back my change, which was placed on a small silver plate with a receipt.

 

Now, what I found interesting was:

 

1. Rather than giving change as a 20 Euro note, she gave me one 10 Euro, one 5 Euro and some change

2. Right next to the change was a card reminding me that tips are discretionary, but appreciated for good service (with a smiley face drawn on it to grab my attention)

 

It struck me that this seemingly random split of change was probably really quite a subtle and clever way of maximising tips. By breaking up my change, the waitress had ensured that I had a range of coins/notes to give whatever tip I felt appropriate, along with a reminder that a tip would be appreciated. This might be considered a gentle ‘nudge’. There was no compulsion to tip, and no pressure at all, but the waitress made it as easy as possible for me to do so if I wanted to. I smiled, put down a tip, and left. I was mulling this over on the way back to my hotel.

 

Equipping Our Stakeholders: Do We Remove Barriers?

Ultimately, what that waitress had done is made a request and made it as easy as possible for me to fulfil that request.

Empathy and the Fear of Change

Businessman with umbrella standing under the rain.
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As practitioners of business analysis, we help facilitate valuable change in organisations.  We help our organisations strive towards their organisational objectives, and in doing so we help to define, instil and reinforce change. Yet, whilst we may be progressing objectives that seem exciting and empowering to us, we might find that some stakeholders resist the change. We might even sense that some people fear change altogether.

 

When talking about resistance and fear of change, I am always reminded of a situation I observed over a decade ago, which is as relevant now as it was then. A contact centre was rationalising its processes and office space, and started to standardise workers’ desk space. It was seemingly positive and non-contentious—people would get new equipment—yet one seemingly insurmountable issue emerged. Yet it seemed so minor

 

The Problem with the Post Tray