The Illusion of “Busyness”

Busy office scene -- cartoonI have recently returned from a very relaxing holiday which gave me plenty of time for reflection. For me, part of a good holiday is always that juxtaposition and uncomfortable jolt that happens when you return home.  The rhythm changes, the environment changes and it feels very different.  The jolt of returning to normality isn’t always easy, but it is a sign of a holiday well spent!

This time I experienced this jolt when landing back into London.  As the plane descended, I noticed how green the UK is.  There seemed to be miles and miles of green fields (as opposed to the dust and palm trees that could be seen in my holiday destination).  As we got closer I saw rain.  Then cars.  Lots of cars.

I was pondering these sights as the plane landed—quite firmly—on the grey and rainy runway.  Having just had a ten-night break where I hadn’t followed much of a schedule at all, it was a culture shock to have seen cars queuing on the motorway with people trying to dash around, presumably desperate to get to their destination.

It struck me quite suddenly that what I could see was “busyness”.  Of course, the airport itself was the epitome of busyness—people coming, going—some on holiday, some on business—each with different concerns, priorities and aspirations.  And what I was returning to was a busy world.

Now, I just know some of you right now are thinking “You’ve had too many Mojitos Adrian.  Of course the world is busy”.  Yep, I agree. Sort of.  But what if busyness was a choice?

Are Your Suppliers Happy?

Cartoon showing conflict between supplier and buyer. Buyer "Just do it!". Supplier "Wow, they're 6 months behind on their invoices & now they want a favour"It is common for organisations to set a range of Critical Success Factors (CSFs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which are used to ensure that progress is being made towards the appropriate strategic objectives.  Often a ‘balanced business scorecard’ is created, to ensure that different aspects of organisational success are considered—with the classic scorecard considering Finance, Customer, Internal Business Process and Learning & Growth (or innovation).   It is crucial that organisations ensure that their CSFs and KPIs are well defined and well balanced.  Measuring the wrong thing often leads to unexpected outcomes and behaviours.


The balanced business scorecard can be used at a project level too, in order to define the required business outcomes that the project is driving for.   This can be a powerful tool to validate that there is clear alignment with the overall organisational strategy and direction.  It also ensures that everyone is on the ‘same page’ with regards to why the project is being initiated in the first place.


However—whilst organisations (quite rightly) focus on measuring success in terms of financial outcomes, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, innovation and so forth—we rarely discuss supplier satisfaction.  Yet this, when considered alongside a range of other measures and metrics,  can be an extremely illuminating metric that can help drive holistic business improvement.


Considering The Whole Ecosystem 

What Projects Could Learn From Aviation (Part 2): A Contingency Plan Isn’t A Sign Of Weakness

Cartoon: Passengers in airplane. Over radio pilot says "We're skipping the safety demo as we're running late and we don't plan to crash" Working on projects can be a tricky endeavour at times.  As business analysts, we are often balancing the perspectives of multiple stakeholders whilst also working within strict constraints of time or budget.  We collaborate and innovate to help ensure our projects and initiatives deliver solutions that enable value to be delivered within our organisations and enterprises.


Yet things rarely seem to go smoothly.  So many things can go wrong in projects—perhaps a process or system is far more complex than we anticipated.  Or perhaps an external environmental factor (such as a law) changes and has a knock-on impact.   If we are working on an experimental or cutting-edge project then the risk might be very high indeed.  We may sometimes be pioneers, travelling through unchartered territories, and we might not even be able to predict what the risks are (let alone mitigate against them!).


In situations like these, it is valuable to consider contingency planning.   In doing so we ask questions like “What do we do if something so unexpected and so disruptive happens that the project is no longer viable?”.    Yet the very idea of contingency planning is seemingly controversial.     I recently saw a very interesting discussion on an online forum, and a view was expressed by a number of participants which I have summarised below:


“We shouldn’t ever think or even talk about contingency planning, definitely not on large scale radical projects.  Success is the only acceptable option.  If we let people know there’s a ‘Plan B’ they won’t buy into ‘Plan A’ and we’ll never succeed as they bale out too early.   Set out to succeed, or don’t set out at all!”

Interview: Curtis Michelson on Innovation and Culture

Curtis headshot AltIn today’s blog post, we break from our usual format to bring you an interview with Curtis Michelson, a consultant specialising in business analysis, architecture and change.  Curtis’ career has spanned a wide range of industries from mobile apps to pharmaceuticals, and now heads-up Minds-Alert LLC, an innovative consulting company based in Florida, USA.

I first met Curtis when we were both blogging for  Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Curtis on a number of projects and have always enjoyed his innovative style.

I recently caught up with Curtis for a ‘virtual’ chat and he shared some really useful insight:

Curtis, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed! So, tell us a little about your background….

We have an expression here in the States that might be apt – I’m a “jack of all trades, master of none”.  Though I dislike the pejorative connotation of mastery over nothing, I’ve made peace with my Jack’ness and found its strength by realizing that curiosity and adaptability bode quite well for living in fast changing times.

Lately I’ve been doing some business model concept work for a large non-profit association of publishers here in the States and bringing some strategic support to a local group called GameChanger Orlando.  And of course there’s IIBA and my local Orlando chapter, where I have worked in the Marketing role, then as Chapter president and now peacefully enjoying retirement as Past-President with Corona beer in hand in Acapulco.

Ha, just kidding! They’ll never let me go.


You’ve always struck me as a really innovative person. How would you describe innovation, and how does it fit within the discipline of business analysis?

Announcement: BA Conference Europe 2016 — See You There?

As many of you know, I’m enthusiastically believe in the value that good quality Business Analysis can bring, and I love speaking, writing and presenting on this and many other topics! In a break from my normal ‘blog style, I have a very quick update for you. I’m really excited to announce I’ll be speaking at… 

Cartoon with a person spotting a problem surrounded by others hassling them

What Projects Could Learn From Aviation (Part 1): Declaring “Pan-Pan”

Cartoon with a person spotting a problem surrounded by others hassling themAlthough I don’t watch a lot of TV, one of my “guilty secrets” is that I am fascinated by the “Air Crash Investigation” series. This factual TV series catalogues a range of near misses and miraculous landings, as well as some very unfortunate and tragic air disasters.


Over the years, the commercial aviation industry has become safer and safer—and the fact that every mistake, disaster and near-miss is scrutinised in detail has undoubtedly led to a culture of safety (see the fascinating book ‘Black box thinking *‘ by Matthew Syed for more about this).


I was recently catching up with an old episode of the show, which focused on a case where a skilful pilot successfully landed a plane with almost every automated system failing. Many things fascinated me about this case, but one thing that really stuck with me was when the pilot described the concept of declaring “Pan-Pan“.


Pan-Pan: We’re dealing with an emergency, leave us alone (for now)!

It turns out, that when a pilot is dealing with an emergency situation (which doesn’t yet require a ‘mayday’), they will declare Pan-Pan to Air Traffic Control.  According to the pilot on the show, and articles I’ve read elsewhere, this has several useful functions:


1. It prevents Air Traffic Control from communicating or relaying any non-urgent radio traffic. They leave the pilots to focus on resolving the emergency,

2. Air Traffic Control can clear the way and be prepared if a ‘mayday’ call is subsequently made.


When you think about this logically, it makes sense. When the Captain and First Officer are desperately trying to diagnose the problem, referring to the in-flight computer and completing emergency checklist after checklist, the last thing they need is constant interruption. I cannot even begin to imagine the intense focus that must be required on a flight deck in such circumstances, and have the greatest of respect for those that work in the aviation industry.


If a project was a plane…

As I listened to this case study, it struck me that on projects, a very different approach is taken when potentially dangerous news emerges.  When bad news emerges on a project, it is all-too-common that the following things will happen:

Interview: Sonja Klopčič on Leadership

Sonja mIn today’s blog post, we break from our usual format to bring you an interview with Sonja Klopčič, a leadership expert based in Slovenia.  Sonja’s career has been broad and varied—including engineering, board chair/CEO and crisis manager—but through it all Sonja has found that inclusive leadership is crucial.  Leadership is key in so many business, project and change situations.

I first met Sonja at a conference where we were both speaking, and even though she presented in Slovenian (which I don’t speak), I found the images on her slides really intriguing and interesting.  We stayed in touch, and I was really pleased when Sonja agreed to be interviewed for this blog.   Our virtual chat is published below—I hope that you find this useful!

1. Sonja, Thanks so much for being interviewed! I know from our conversations that you’ve had a wide and varied career. In your book, you mention that you shaped a personal style of inclusive leadership. Can you explain a bit about what this means, and why it’s important?

My core values are ethics, curiosity, openness, cooperation and freedom. I do not like to work in an environment where everything is specified and you have no space for your own creation. I always wanted to work with powerful, creative and responsible people and my aim is to develop leaders around me. I believe that such people also want to have their hands and their minds free, to co-create the common vision on their own way. I wanted to build the environment in which they (and me) would enjoy to create and be a part of the team. So for example, when I was a general manager of an IT company with 80 employees I selected a team of five young potentials (two of them were women, and it was not so easy to find them, but I wanted to create equal opportunities for both gender). I supported them in their development first in good managers and later in authentic leaders, each with her/his own personal leadership style.

I see management and leadership as a path of personal development for both the leader and their co-workers. It is a path that offers learning opportunities to everyone who wishes to develop as a leader – it opens up space for trying out new things and gaining new personal experience while, of course, taking on the primary responsibility for the achievement of business goals.

2. How important is leadership—and inclusive leadership—when progressing change within an organisation?

Business Analysts: Are You Dementia Aware?

Confusion: PIN or PIN?If you’re based in the UK, you may have heard that it is Dementia Awareness Week. One organisation that does fantastic work in this field is the Alzheimer’s Society, and while reading through their website my mind suddenly jolted back to the day job.

I suspect many people reading this article will have a friend, family member or acquaintance who suffers from some form of dementia. The term ‘dementia’, it turns out, is actually an umbrella term for a wide range of conditions—if you aren’t familiar with the symptoms I’d thoroughly recommend reading this set of articles.  Dementia affects various faculties at different stages, but one key concern is memory. And of course the very people using the systems and processes that we help implement and change may well include people who are living with various stages of dementia.


As business analysts, when working on changes to organisational systems and processes, we’ll often focus on non-functional requirements—and of course useability and accessibility are core considerations. Yet, how often in our projects and change initiatives do we really consider the detailed nuts and bolts of accessibility? How often do we ask things like:


  • What if the user can’t remember or retain a 4 digit PIN
  • What if the user forgets multiple pieces of information and gets frustrated that they can’t access their account
  • What if the user cannot digest a large ‘terms and conditions’ page, and perhaps needs it in a different format (video, audio) or needs the information explained to them so that they can ask questions?
  • Do our processes work if somebody loses mental capacity and a representative with Power of Attorney needs to take over?
  • Have our front line staff been trained to be empathetic to customers who may need a little more time?
  • Are task and process measures and KPIs appropriate or are management setting ‘maximum call length’ targets and penalising staff that allow customers extra time?


Although I have no doubt we all try to keep accessibility and useability firmly in mind I suspect, if we are being honest, the answer will often be ‘we don’t consider these things as much as we could’.


Statistics show that we have an ageing population. With people living longer, it is likely that organisations will be serving more and more customers living with dementia and other conditions. What was once perceived as an ‘exception’ may well become more frequent. As business analysts, we have the opportunity when improving processes, IT systems and broader organisational structures to ask questions like:

Did You “Show Up” Today?

Not long ago, I was walking passed a parked van, and the signwriting on the side of the vehicle attracted my attention.  The van was advertising a small business that helps people to lift and shift heavy items, and it’s possible to hire the van and a driver for a fee.  The part which attracted my attention is highlighted below:

Van with the words "We Show Up" on the side, amongst other signwriting


The phrase “WE TURN UP!” was displayed proudly in capital letters on the side of the vehicle.  I stopped for a moment.  I found it amazing that the van owner felt it necessary to mention the fact that if a booking was made, she or he will actually show up.   Surely that is something that could be taken for granted?  Surely this is a fundamental part of the job and something that a customer can expect?


When Showing Up Isn’t The Norm…