Like most folks I know, I have a whole range of mixed
memories from my years at school. Some
fantastically ecstatic, others scary and traumatic, but I suppose the sum of those
experiences were all ‘character building’.
If you had met me as a school-age child, you would have found someone
who had very strong ideological views, but who so often lacked the ability to
express them clearly. Some would argue
that little has changed 🙂
I did fairly well at school, but was also seen as a bit
feisty at times—my strong views and beliefs weren’t always compatible with the
power structures that existed in schools (those power structures, by the way,
extend way beyond the teachers and well into the playground). One phrase that I remember people who
perceived that they had power over me told me time and time again was:
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
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….
I am sure many people reading this article will have worked on one, or probably many, projects which involve migration of data from one IT system to another. One of the things that the data migration elements of these projects tend to have in common is that they are painful. It is not that migration of data itself is always tricky, it is more that the quality of data on the source system tends to be an issue. Data cleansing and data mapping can be tricky, particularly when there has been poor data governance and stewardship. In a worst case scenario, we might even find fields being used for different purposes by different teams, or there might be ‘debates’ over what specific data items actually mean (“Order date is the date the order is received”. “No! Order date is the date that the order is accepted, which means payment has also been made”).
There are so many issues that we could discuss, I’d like to
zoom in on one: the granularity of data.
What Does ‘Granularity of Data’ Mean for Migration?
This is probably best illuminated with an example. My home insurance was recently up for
renewal, which I purchased via a large online insurer. Technically, they are a broker rather than an insurer—but you wouldn’t know that to look at
them (as the policies are branded with their logo, and you have to look pretty
hard to find out which insurer actually underwrites them).
Close to the renewal date I shopped around and found some
slightly better prices . I rang my
insurer to see if they could price-match, and I was surprised as they asked me
for a whole bunch of information that they already
had on file.
Concerned, I asked why, and the agent explained to me that they had
migrated from one IT system to another, and he no longer had access to the ‘legacy’
I have spoken to a number of people recently who are keen to
get into the business analysis
profession. This can be tricky, as many
roles specifically require a certain number of years of BA experience before a
candidate can even be considered. This can
lead to a ‘chicken and egg’ cycle… without experience, it’s tricky getting a
first role. But without a role, it is
tricky getting experience! This blog
post is an attempt to capture some thoughts on how to overcome this. It’d
be great if you could add your own thoughts into the comments section—that way
hopefully this will evolve as a useful set of ideas for those entering the
This has an important implication: If you have a BA mind-set, there is a good chance that you are already undertaking some elements of business analysis in your role, and there might even be the possibility of expanding this to cover even more ground. Of course it’s unlikely that you’ll be undertaking the full breadth of a BA role, but you may well be undertaking some crucial parts of it. This can be true even in the most seemingly unlikely of roles—a call centre advisor, for example, may have gained significant experience of defining and improving processes alongside their ‘core’ job. It is worth actively seeking out these types of experiences, as well as cataloguing the experience that you already have so that it can be added to your CV or Résumé.
Get to Know Common Approaches, Techniques and ‘Lingo’
As with any profession, there are a whole range of approaches, techniques and even a common ‘language’ that BAs speak. It is worth becoming familiar with this, as this will help to gauge the areas where you already have experience (which is an advantage) and those where you don’t. It isn’t essential to have knowledge and experience of every conceivable technique, but there are a number of ‘core’ concepts that are useful in just about every BA role. There are plenty of blogs, webinars, courses, books and other resources out there that can help. It is also very valuable to consider a foundation or entry level certification programme. Whilst this isn’t essential, it might just give you the edge over other candidates.
I am a real fan of journey maps. They are a great way of cultivating a conversation about the value that a stakeholder is seeking and the types of experiences that will satisfy them. A few recent experiences have moved my thinking on journey mapping, and this blog post is my attempt to capture these thoughts.
‘Customer’ or ‘User’?
You may have noticed that some practitioners talk about ‘customer journey mapping’, others talk about ‘user journey mapping’. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but in terms of journey mapping I have found them rather problematic. For example:
As many of you will know, I am an avid user of social media. I’ve found social media a great way to connect and exchange ideas with people that I never would have met otherwise, and one platform I’ve found particularly useful is LinkedIN. As you’re probably aware, LinkedIN has always marketed itself as a professional networking community. It’s a place to meet others in and beyond your own industry, and maybe even schmooze with clients, suppliers, or maybe even your next boss! As such, the posts tend to be more professional in tone than other networks. Well, most of the time, anyway.
If you’re a LinkedIN user you may have noticed a trend recently of some folks posting ‘motivational quotes’ or pictures of their holiday snaps. Next time you see something like this, scroll down and read the comments—sooner or later, someone will have angrily written “This is LinkedIN, not Facebook, this is no place for a post like this!”. I’ve seen a few comments like this, and it opens up interesting questions of purpose and perspective. Or put another way: What is LinkedIN for?
One Platform Multiple Purposes
The answer to this question is almost certainly ‘it depends
who you ask’. There are some people who
use LinkedIN purely to search for jobs.
Other use it to advertise
jobs. Some use it to make sales or
search for leads. Others use it to learn, network and engage. Which of those is the ‘right’ purpose?
An often overlooked technique, that can be very useful in situations like this is the ‘PQR’ formula for giving shape to a root definition(this forms part of Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology (SSM), which I’d highly recommend reading up on, although it should be noted I’m using it outside of the context of SSM). The PQR formula answers the key questions of what, how and why. Elaborated it is:
One of the things I really enjoy doing on a sunny day is
going out walking. It doesn’t matter
whether it’s windy or cold, as long as there’s no rain, I find it a really
enjoyable pastime. I was recently
walking on a really windy day in my
hometown, and I walked past this fountain.
You’ll see from the picture that the fountain isn’t fully
active, it’s just bubbling over gently.
In the summer, the jets fire straight into the air, and children (and
the occasional adult) can jump in and cool down.
Initially, I’d assumed that the jets had been turned off for
the winter, but a few minutes after walking past, I noticed the jets were
active again. This piqued my
curiosity—why had they suddenly switched on again—were they on a timer? My attention was drawn to a small wind speed
instrument on a nearby lamppost—you can barely
see it in the following photo:
I then made the connection.
The fountain is designed to
switch itself off when it’s windy.
This prevents water getting lost from the system, whilst also ensuring
that those passing by don’t get an unwelcome surprise when they suddenly get
soaked when there is an unexpected gust of wind. Genius!
The Danger of ‘Hard Wiring’
At its essence, this could be considered an example of a mechanistic system that is ‘hard wired’ to respond to its environment. This is a convoluted way of saying it has been designed to respond in certain pre-designed ways to certain types of stimuli If the wind increases, it stops the jets. If the wind stops, it starts the jet. Job done!
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
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 🙂
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
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:
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.