2021 will go down as another tumultuous year for many obvious reasons. Most of us have had to deal with continuing changes to the way we live our lives. On a personal level, I lost my Mum in the early part of the year, had brain-surgery to mitigate my Parkinson’s symptoms in June and topped it off with moving house just this month. So, like most of us, I have undergone a lot of personal change throughout the last twelve months. But then again, that’s what change does; it just keeps happening and resisting it is pointless, rather like trying to stop the tide coming in, or the waves breaking on the shore. In some ways this is what the last twelve months has been like; a series of waves that have threatened to swamp people and businesses alike. One of the off-shoots of my co-habitation with Parkinson’s Disease is that I have devoted a lot of my time to developing techniques that help build change resilience so I thought I’d share a couple of them with you; consider them a Xmas present from me to you….!
This is an expression from Japanese martial arts that refers to the way an exponent of a martial art should look at their opponent. The focus of the eyes should not be set on the opponent themselves, but rather should rest slightly beyond them, as if enjoying the view of distant rocky peaks. The reason behind this is that if the gaze lingers on the opponent one may be tricked; a feint made with the hands, feet or eyes could lead to defeat and in the old days, injury or possibly death. By maintaining this viewpoint a martial artist ensured that they got an accurate overall impression of their opponent and the situation.
I have found numerous applications of this technique both in my professional and personal life. As a professional BA I don’t often enter actual combat but the expression is a good reminder to focus on what is important, i.e. the desired outcome, particularly when things are getting confrontational, as they can do occasionally. To look beyond the present difficulties to a positive result is a good technique to practice and can help defuse conflict situations by depersonalising it; surely a key behaviour for a BA to exhibit? If you keep bringing people back to achieving an outcome that they have both agreed to it will (eventually) bring them back to collaboration.
It is also a great reminder about getting the right outcome for the customer. In my experience companies can forget who the customer is when creating a user experience and create a bad or Incomplete customer journey. One of the symptoms of this ailment is when you see processes created with the thought-patterns of the provider company not the customer. Here’s an example from my recent house move. I want to change the address on my account with my energy provider. I assume this will be easy as the account is my single point of reference and I (erroneously) imagine it will be for my provider to. Think again Dear Reader! It turns out that the account for my old address will have to be closed and a new one opened up under the new address, because (I suspect) the pre-eminent data entity in their model is House address/location because that’s where they have to deliver the oil etc to satisfy the basic customer need of being kept in fuel. This is not necessarily bad but it does make other, slightly more rarer processes unwieldy. In fact, the data model could be configured both ways but I prefer the account-centric version as it seems ultimately more customer friendly and long-term. If the people developing the process architecture had taken the view of the distant mountain they might have come to this decision as well.
This mindset has also helped me in stressful situations. Both my operation and moving house put me under quite a lot of stress so this perspective allowed me to look beyond the immediate hassles to the end goal, which did a lot to relieve the stressful feelings. Having a greater goal in mind lead me to being able to put the immediate problems in perspective, which was very reassuring. It’s a mindset that can apply to many things so next time you are stressed or feel pressured don’t forget to look at that distant mountain!
The first half of the film Jaws is pretty terrifying; the second half not so much. Why? Because the moment the shark is seen beyond the iconic dorsal fin it ceases to be scary and becomes a rubber shark. Once you see the monster it becomes a whole less scary then our brains conjure up within our imagination. (This is also the reason the Director of ‘Alien’, Ridley Scott took the deliberate decision to keep his toothsome Xenomorph monster wreathed in shadows or disorienting strobe lighting because he knew that the viewer’s imagination would fill in the blanks a lot more effectively than he ever could.) The human imagination is a powerful tool and has evolved to invoke apprehension and fear over optimism and happy thoughts as part of keeping us alive. If we are more nervous of things then we are less likely to do activity that could be dangerous. But this can be disadvantageous in the modern world and can lead to over-analysing problems and procrastination. I have found that in my world ‘facts kill fear’; in other words getting information about a situation removes ambiguity and thus leaves less room for fear and anxiety to creep in. A classic example was when I was waiting for my brain surgery to take place and the unknowns were beginning to get to me. My wife suggested I ring up the Parkinson’s Nurse to discuss my concerns and lo and behold afterwards I felt a whole lot better; some of my questions had been resolved and the two days were a lot clearer in terms of timescales and plan etc which enabled me to get over the ‘analysis paralysis’ I had been suffering from.
This can also be a useful technique for times of crisis in a project. When things go wrong it is a breeding ground for speculation and opinion, only some of which is actually useful in resolving the issue. It is important to keep people focussed on the facts of the situation and not engaging in wasteful activities such as blame-storming or hobby-horse riding etc. As a Business Analyst I believe it is my job to ‘shine a light on the change monster’ by using the facts to light the way and firmly encouraging others to do the same. It can be hard work but by rigorously reinforcing this principle difficulties can be overcome.
So there we have two ways in which you can potentially improve your resilience to change. It’s worth considering: as BAs we are constantly introducing change into other people’s lives so I think it’s only fair that we should be able to demonstrate some techniques that allow that change to be assimilated and absorbed more easily. In fact, it seems a natural evolution for me that BAs should become known as Change Experts, but that’s a story for another article!
David Beckham is a Business Analyst of thirty plus years experience. A staunch advocate of the BA Role he speaks regularly on BA Topics as well as his own personal experience of change since his diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 43. He is a regular(ish) blogger and runs his own Consultancy Business, ChuDo Consulting. His blog can be found at https://thesamuraibusinessanalyst.wordpress.com.
Jane Piper, Organisational Psychologist and Bestselling Author
I’m in the valley of despair after only two weeks into my latest project.
Starting a new project can be rough or smooth. This project has been far from a soft landing; for the project and myself. The project, an organisation-wide ERP implementation, started with the first programme manager resigning after six weeks. The project kick-off meeting without visible senior level sponsorship and change management (my role) was bought in eight weeks later – an afterthought. Not textbook, but typical. Let’s be honest we are often asked to join a project when the problems have become too big to ignore.
For me, it has also been a rocky start. There is a familiar roller coaster of emotions that I go through with every new project. When it is a rocky start, they seem to be amplified. There are five stages that I recognise in myself.
1. Honeymoon– I felt a sense of achievement having won the project. I’m enthusiastic and excited about the new project. I’m looking forward to the opportunities to learn and tackle new challenges. In this case, the description of uninformed optimism is very accurate. I don’t know what I don’t know - yet. Then, as I get started, I meet the team, understand the business, learn about the project, and see what’s happening; there’s the slide down the slope into reality.
2. Slap in the face of reality –now my optimism starts to turn to pessimism when I find that things aren’t as I imagined (or been told in the interview). There’s chaos and mess behind the project plan Gantt charts. There are tricky relationships with difficult people rather than neat boxes on the stakeholder matrix. There’s a culture of resistance from two failed previous projects. Behind the nice charts, it all looks starts to like a dog’s breakfast. My frustration and stress increase, and it feels like I’m fumbling my way around in a dense fog.
3. Valley of despair – my frustration boils to anger with “are they really expecting that I will sort out this mess (that they have bought on themselves)?” The anxiety leads to self-doubt as I question, “I am the right change manager for this project?”. At this stage, I have thoughts about throwing in the towel, along with a good dollop self-pity. However, I tell myself I‘ve never been a quitter and dealt with more complicated projects before. A talk with my coach, finding I can trust and talk openly with the Programme Manager, then the fog starts to lift. Finally, I am beginning to see a direction forward.
4. Lifting fog – Clarity creeps in as I begin to understand what is really happening in the project; where are the issues, the people I need to influence, who I can trust, where I can get support. I understand more about the organisation’s culture and how things are done around here. I accept that I can’t solve all the problems, cutting the elephant down into a manageable size.
5. Buzz of progress– I like to get things done. So getting into execution, seeing some small successes, and leading to larger successes moves me out of the valley and over the fog. The journey ahead now seems clear. Sure, not all goes smoothly and there are days when the mist from the valley of despair rises again, but each time it clears, more quickly than the last.
It takes experience and strength just to accept these uncomfortable emotions. It is calming to recognise that every new project has this messy stage and know I can push through to success. To perform well in my role as a change manager requires a lot of emotional intelligence and self-awareness. I need to manage my emotions to understand and work with other people going through complicated feelings to help them through the change.
I take comfort in the quote
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid,
and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.
If I understood everything about a complex project instantly, then either I’ve missed something, or I’m working on a project that will not push me to grow. There’s pressure as a consultant who has been bought in to sort out problems to appear like you have all the answers after just a few days. On the other hand, if I believe this, then I would be an over-confident fool. I think the world has enough of those already. But it takes courage and humility to accept this and recognise this as a stage.
We can’t avoid the emotional roller coaster of a new project. But we can recognise it in ourselves, thus helping us move on and become productive in the project. We can also help our team to understand that this is a normal part of every new project. The valley of despair is a critical time. Without support, a team member can disengage from the project or become very negative and critical, dragging down other team members. Being able to name their emotions is a huge step in helping them to move on.
We spend a lot of time talking about the rational side of projects – plans, process diagrams, budgets, and resources. But, when was the last time you spoke about the emotional side of a project? Take the time to understand your emotions, even if they are not pleasant emotions. Then, support your team to realise that their emotions are part of growing and developing the valuable experience for the next project.
Disclaimer: The projects, clients, and incidents portrayed in this article are fictitious. No identification with actual projects (living or deceased) is intended or should be inferred
Jane Piper is an Organisational Psychologist and bestselling author of Focus in the Age of Distraction – a book looking at the impact of digital technology on our wellbeing and ways of working. She is interested in the intersection of humans and technology. She challenges us to look at the impact that technology is having our work, well-being and happiness.
She grew up in New Zealand and has been living abroad for many years, most recently for 16 years in Switzerland. Bringing a unique blend of kiwi creativity and Swiss efficiency, she combines writing, speaking, consulting and coaching. After a twenty-year corporate career, she now helps smart people work smarter.
Link to my website: https://pipsy.ch/
I am fascinated by etymology, which is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed. Often the original meaning of a word that we use today has been lost or been amended over time.
As an example the word “disaster” (I am sure we have all had a few of those kinds of projects) tends to be used today to denote something that has gone badly wrong. However, it comes from a Greek word that literally means “a bad star, or an ill-starred event”. The Greeks believed that events in our lives were dictated by the celestial bodies and therefore disasters were brought upon us from on high.
As a Business Analyst I have a particular fascination with the meaning of the words that apply to the job that we do. I wondered whether their original meaning, often dating back centuries, can unlock some useful ideas or different perspectives of how we do our job today.
In this article I will share my observations on the original meaning of six specific words and relate them to how they impact us as Business Analysts. They are the words:
So here we go, lets see what these familiar words to us Business Analysts really mean.
It probably makes sense to start here! This word comes from an old Greek verb “Analyein” which partly means “to break up”. This makes sense from a Business Analyst’s perspective as our whole job is about breaking problems up into smaller parts so that we, and indeed our colleagues, can better understand them and find ways to solve them.
It also has the meaning “to loosen” and by extension implies the idea of “loosening a ship from its moorings”. I find this to be a wonderful analogy for what we do as Business Analysts. It is almost like we are there to solve the problems that tie a business down so that it can be freed up to journey to where it needs to be.
I am sure we all face some of these every single day! It comes from a Greek word “proballein” which means “to throw forward” and also happens to give us the word “ballistic”. In ancient times a ballista was a machine that was used to fire projectiles at the enemy...and really ruin their day!
How would you address that very real, and rather aggressive, problem? Is the root of the problem the things being thrown, the machine that is throwing them, the men operating the machine...or is it the socio-political reasons that they are attacking you? Perhaps it is all of the above and more!
Problems in a business can be complex and it may not be possible to solve them with just one action. It can take time to completely address a problem, or alternatively in some cases you may have to choose to live with a problem in one part of an organisation to avoid others appearing elsewhere.
Understanding a problem, before you try and implement a solution, is absolutely vital. Too many times I have seen a so-called solution implemented that does not address the problem at hand. It is the bread and butter of a Business Analyst’s job to understand the problems an organisation faces and to help the people in the organisation to find the most appropriate solutions.
How many processes have you analysed or documented over your career? Do you create Visio diagrams in your sleep now? The word process originates from a word meaning “to go forward, advance or progress” and not surprisingly has the same root as the word “proceed”.
While the meaning could simply imply something that has a start point, goes through some steps and reaches an end point it carries a bit of a deeper meaning for me. It is just as much about how things move forward, ensuring that they are going in the right direction and that they ultimately keep moving as efficiently and positively as possible.
The role of a Business Analyst has become more diverse over time, and will continue to do so as businesses and industries change and innovate. Ultimately though the core of what we do is simple, it is about ensuring that an organisation’s processes run as smoothly and effectively as possible. It is our privilege to advance those processes by improving them... while avoiding things coming to a grinding halt!
You might say, “Lee...this is an easy one, it’s about standing under something!” but actually the original meaning of this word is about “standing among or within”. This makes a whole lot more sense from a Business Analyst’s perspective. How many times have you sat with someone and observed how they perform an activity, use a system or talk to a customer?
My most memorable “user experience” was when I decided to move washing machines around a warehouse so that I could understand the impact of a proposed system change upon the warehouse staff. I got a bit of a telling off for getting too involved and hands on but it felt like the right thing to do.
I have often said that you cannot solve a problem unless you really understand it. Our understanding of something can only truly be correct if we experience things from a user’s perspective and get in amongst the action.
The origin of this word is not completely clear. It may well stem from the game of poker, referring to how much someone has invested into a game, and therefore stands to win or lose.
It may also refer to the placement of stakes in the ground to mark out someone’s claim to a plot of land. I like this definition because in the process and systems change world we need to consider the people that will be impacted by what we do. Not only do we need to identify the stakeholders but also understand how much they will be impacted both in a positive and negative way.
Sometimes we may encounter resistance to change from people, but perhaps those people are feeling that their “property” is under threat and their resistance, or active indifference, is a way to protect it. People can become very precious about their ways of working and they may not see a change to it as being in their best interests.
As Business Analysts, we need to be conscious of these issues, be empathetic in our dealings with those who figuratively “have stakes in the ground” because if we are not careful this can compromise or even derail a project.
When creating project documentation this was often the section of a document that I found hardest to complete. It comes from a Latin word that means “to bind together, tie tightly or to shackle”. It is a word that has the idea of a conscious limitation of movement.
A project may well have to have limits placed upon it. For example, there may be an enforced budget, regulatory controls that have to be abided by or a limited allocation of human resources. There may even be a time limit constraint (e.g. the Millennium Dome had to be ready for the 2000 New Year celebrations, no time flex on that one!)
You could use substitute terms such as “restraints” or “limitations” but ultimately the meaning is the same... no project can run with complete unconstrained freedom. Business Analysts need to understand the constraints, and be careful to work within them, when helping the organisation to determine the right solutions.
Lee Fewkes is a Business Analyst with 20+ years of experience working in several different industries including logistics, finance, telecoms, corporate clothing and most recently jewellery. He is also the founder of thebastory.com, a website that publishes the career stories of Business Analysts.
Having presented at a Tech event in Birmingham (England) in 2019, on a fine sunny morning, a conversation started between one of the attendees and one of the presenters, “I love your slides, they’re so engaging, did you draw those by hand?” The presenter replied “Yes I’ve always had a passion for art and creativity, but never had the opportunity to use those skills at work, so thought I would give it a go.” That was the moment Grant and Paddy met for the first time and discovered a shared passion for Visual Thinking.
There are a few definitions, but one that we like to use comes from the amazing Brandy Agerbeck “Visual Thinking is making a drawing to help yourself or the people you work with make meaning of your life, work, and the world around you.” Within the field of business analysis, we are surrounded by visual models, frameworks and techniques that are designed for this exact purpose. A few that come to mind include, process flows, sequence diagrams, use cases, organisational charts and many more. But many of these representations make it difficult to create empathy and memorable messages. It’s a bit like drinking tea from a white mug everyday - it’s certainly functional and does the job, but wouldn’t it be better if it displayed an element of our personality so that the next time a colleague sees you they’ve remembered you are a Star Wars nerd. We like to call this missing element creativity.
Creativity is particularly important in the current fast paced world of digital disruption, it is essential to the process of innovation and the generation of new ideas. In fact it has been named as the 5th must have skill for the future according to the World Economic Forum. Humans have been using creative skills to communicate with each other for thousands of years - the first known cave paintings date back 65,000 years.
However, we shouldn’t get creativity confused with artistic ability. We are definitely not looking to become the next Leonardo DaVinci. Mike Rohde puts it perfectly, it's about “Ideas not Art!”
Dual-Coding Theory was hypothesised by Allan Paivio of the University of Western Ontario in 1971. Paivio found that visuals and verbal associations are stored in two separate channels of the brain. By learning concepts that have been communicated both verbally and visually, our brains have a much greater chance of recalling that information from two channels as opposed to one. Thus verbal associations combined with visual imagery creates that ‘sweet spot’ that enables us to retain learning more effectively.
Visual Thinking can also be applied to the way we communicate, present and explain information to one another. Using visual metaphors and hand-drawn imagery (no more stock photos please!) can help to make our message more engaging and accessible to others, creating better empathy and offering a more human touch.
We applied this principle when working with the BA Conference Europe 2021 partners at IRM UK, Assist KD, BCS and IIBA UK to devise a visual poster and animated video to help promote awareness of the conference. When discussing the themes of the conference we remarked upon the breadth of topics and the range of speakers at this year’s conference. Someone mentioned that we were covering everything within the ‘BA Universe’ and the theme for the conference poster was born! We then brainstormed some metaphors and sketched out the rough concepts and layout before fine tuning the finished visual. This was a great example where working digitally (we used Procreate on the iPad Pro for those who are interested) was invaluable as it allowed us to play around with colour, layout and font sizes and remove elements that we we unsure about.
As well as running a workshop at this year’s conference (entitled ‘Crafty Ice Breakers & Energisers - create engagement using visual games and other fun stuff!) we also sponsored the event and agreed to live sketchnote some of the talks. This is where visual learning comes in, producing graphic recordings that combine text and visuals to tap into that Dual-Coding Theory, thereby activating the whole of our brain and increasing our ability to retain and recall information at a later date.
Now live sketchnoting can be challenging, most people focus on the drawing side of things, but it is equally important to hone your listening skills. You will not be able to capture every point that is made, so you need to actively listen and filter the message to get to the essence of what is being said. The other important thing is preparation - could you pre-draw the title or prepare a key image? What colour scheme will you use? What pens and font styles will you use for titles, sub-heading and other text? Are there any icons that you can practice in advance that may come up in the talk?
Above are some of the talks that we graphically recorded this year - some of these were created in real-time, some needed colour adding later and a couple needed a bigger restructure to accommodate all of the information that we captured. These were all produced digitally, which can be both a help and a hindrance when working live. Working digitally means you can rearrange and resize things so you can focus more on capturing each point without being wed to the choice as to where you have placed that content on the page. The downside being that having that choice means that you can be tempted to move things around and lose track of what is being said, so whilst analogue graphic recording is less forgiving, in some ways it is easier because you don’t get distracted with choices and digital switching pens and layers etc.
Just over a year ago, we set up a Meetup group named ‘The Visual Jam.’ It was started with the intention of bringing together a local community of Visual Thinkers, centred around Birmingham ‘the city of the Peaky Blinders’! Fast forward 13 months and it has grown beyond our expectations to a community of over 1500 Visual Jammers. Our members span the entire globe, including Japan, Australia, USA, Europe, Africa and beyond. We see that Visual Thinking is being used by many diverse professions, everyone from Business Analysts to Doctors.
We would love to invite you to this community by joining the Meetup group (https://www.meetup.com/TheVisualJam/), and if you are looking to take some formal learning, then we’ve just launched a set of Visual Thinking courses accredited by Buro Brand (the authors of the best selling book Visual Thinking: Empowering People & Organisations Through Visual Collaboration). You can contact us directly to find out more: TheVisualJam@gmail.com.
Authors: Grant Wright:https://www.linkedin.com/in/grantwwright/, Paddy Dhanda: https://www.linkedin.com/in/pardeep-aka-paddy-dhanda-24883017/
The Visual Jam Meetup: https://www.meetup.com/TheVisualJam/
Instagram / Twitter: @TheVisualJam
Contact Us: TheVisualJam@gmail.com
The Young Business Analysts (YBA) group have been doing great work, building a supportive community of early-career and aspiring BAs, providing excellent networking opportunities and most recently, running a blog competition, with prizes including publication here on the IIBA UK Blog, co-presenting at the upcoming Business Analysis Europe Conference 2021 and featuring in Blackmetric’s BA Digest magazine. The standard of entrants was high, but without further ado, here are the winning and runner-up articles, along the theme of ‘The Effect of the Pandemic on the Business Analysis Profession’.
By Joanne Fahy, Business Analyst
YBA Competition Winner
Find Jo on LinkedIn
It was a warm June day back in 2017 when I recognised the sinking, sickening feeling that was taking hold in my stomach as I listened to a colleague describe their role as a Business Analyst. I’d had stints in different roles and had always felt like something was missing, that I hadn’t quite found the role for me. As that feeling took hold, I realised I had fallen madly, deeply, passionately in love. I had found my calling and knew its name, Business Analysis.
It was another 2 and a half years, and a sector shift, before I could act on this crush and embark on a Business Analysis apprenticeship. I was passionate about learning and putting my newfound skills to the test when suddenly, COVID hit. As my day-to-day work life moved off-campus to online, I was now learning how to be a BA and a virtual BA, at the same time. Much like trying online dating for the first time, adapting my techniques to fit virtually whilst honing new skills was a challenge.
So, for anyone new to the discipline, getting back into the saddle, or long-time admirers making the jump like myself, I’ve put together my tips for taking the first steps towards becoming a virtual BA:
1. Don’t overthink your techniques – we all go back to our favourite opening lines, no matter how many first dates we’ve been on, and moving online needn’t be any different. Tried and tested techniques that worked a treat in the office can be adapted to be just as successful, if not more so, online using interactive tools such as Miro or Mural. Although it can be daunting moving to virtual post-it notes, don’t overthink it.
2. Ask lots of questions – now this seems self-explanatory, what BA doesn’t ask lots of questions? BUT questions that could be prompted by slight changes in body language which would have been noticeable in person, can be a lot harder to pick up over a virtual session. No question is a stupid question!
3. Debrief with friends – get feedback from colleagues. Just as you might ask for romantic advice from loved ones, discuss your experiences with colleagues and get their perspective. Sometimes insight from an impartial party can give you the golden nugget you’ve been waiting for.
4. Be brave, put yourself out there – As the old saying goes ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’. Approaching the unknown online can be much more daunting than having a quiet conversation in person, but if you don’t ask you don’t get. In my experience, BA colleagues are more than happy to lend you their ear to discuss issues, ask for advice, or simply ask those burning questions. Networking online is easier than it’s ever been, with the YBA network on LinkedIn, exciting online events such as Blackmetric’s BA Fringe, and a whole host of free webinars and workshops available through BCS and IIBA, it’s an excellent time get involved and join in the conversation.
With adaptability, analysis, and creativity being 3 of the top 20 skills in demand in the workforce it’s certainly the right time to investigate and pursue a budding romance with Business Analysis.
If you enjoyed this, Joanne will be presenting with David Beckham in his ‘Dude, What Just Happened? – Reflections on the Pandemic’ session at the upcoming IRM Business Analysis Conference Europe. Find out more and get tickets to this virtual event here.
By Jodie-Ann Thompson, CBAP, Consulting Business Analyst
YBA Blog Writing Competition Runner Up
Find Jodie-Ann on LinkedIn
New normal, the phrase of the day. Newscasts, television shows and random commentators implore us to adapt to the new normal. But what does adapting to this new normal look like for a Business Analyst? For me it was terrifying. Nevertheless, I had to change quickly… I had to survive. Surviving was particularly important for me. With a new job in a new industry and diverse stakeholders, revising my approach to engagement was necessary.
The New Art of Elicitation and Collaboration
I believe that the Elicitation and Collaboration Knowledge Area is the heart of business analysis. Richard and Elizabeth Larson in their CBAP Certification Study Guide emphasize that “elicitation is focused on actively engaging stakeholders in defining requirements”.
Getting and keeping stakeholders engaged was a challenge in the virtual space. I remembered how strange it felt at my first elicitation session to be talking to pictures and worse, initials. There were times I felt I was the only person in the session… well not just me, there were also the crickets who were chirping. I gracefully ended the session and went back to the drawing board.
The new plan for the next session involved not just sending the meeting objectives beforehand, but also reviewing the objectives with participants and establishing expectations. Virtual interactions at times can be awkward and therefore icebreakers became an integral part of my sessions. I saw participants visibly relaxing; I was so happy for my ‘camera on’ ground rule.
Setting ground rules has always been an important aspect of my sessions; with them usually appearing on slide three or four of my presentation. However, due to the ‘camera on’ ground rule, they had to be shared before the session. Let us face it, work from home (WFH) has caused many of us to fall off fleek. Seeing the participants improved my ability to engage them. I could see facial expressions and body language to an extent. This allowed me to react to and address any unspoken concerns. I was also able to identify distracted participants and tactfully re-engage them.
The Virtual Bond
Stakeholder bond is a critical ingredient in achieving the goals and objectives of the project. Rahul Ajani in his article Engaging Stakeholders in Elicitation and Collaboration highlights that “building relationships with stakeholders involves spending quality time with stakeholders”. With the WFH regime, the usual lunchtime outing, after work hang out or the simple conversations in the hallways vanished. How can I possibly build a relationship with my new stakeholders virtually?
By logging into the sessions early, I could talk to participants about something personal: the family, the weekend, the new recipe that they wanted to try. In the event I have not been in contact with a stakeholder for some time, I would call to ensure they were okay.
While learning their language to facilitate bonding is not unique to the virtual space, my attempt gave us something to laugh and talk about.
Embrace the Change
The core of business analysis remains the same. However, this new normal has caused many of us to change our approach to business analysis. It has not been easy but we are change enablers. Let us set an example for our stakeholders of embracing change.
From the IIBA UK, congratulations and thanks to both Joanne and Jodie-Ann for their insightful and enjoyable reads. If you would like to find out more about the YBA, you can find them and join their community on LinkedIn here.
Rachel Drinkwater, Senior Business Analyst
In his excellent book ‘The Rise of the Humans’, Dave Coplin expounds that technology is neither good, nor bad. It is simply an amplifier of whatever we, as society and individuals, choose to use it for.
And we’re using it for everything. We live in an increasingly digital world. Even before the pandemic, we shopped, socialised, played games, took courses, did our banking and so much more online, all of which rely upon and using digital tools. Traditionally low-tech industries became digitally disrupted, further increasing our exposure to digital products and experiences. Fifteen years ago, a taxi company wouldn’t need an IT or Digital department. They would barely need a single IT professional. They might have a basic database or scheduling tool to manage their customers, drivers and allocate one to the other, but that would likely only be used by one or two people in the organisation. Back then, it would have been laughable to think that what is essentially a taxi service would not only be a significant employer of IT and Digital professionals, but that half of their product would be a smartphone app. Indeed, in 2006, we didn’t even know what a smartphone app was! I’m of course referring to Uber, but as more and more industries have become digitally disrupted, many companies now have a customer-facing digital product offering in addition to their core product or service – and many more now offer their digital experience as a part of that core product - be that a device, app or website.
As IT professionals and business analysts, this digital transformation of society has changed and shaped our roles, bringing us closer to customer-facing tools and products. This has subsequently increased the potential for our work to impact individuals and society, as Coplin says, for good or for bad. That’s a lot of power to hold and in the words of the great Stan Lee, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.
Driven by the ever-changing trends online, and competitive technology markets, the pace of digital product development is necessarily fast and product-to-market time is often short. This however introduces a risk to our society. It seems that barely a week goes by when an organisation is not in the news for breaching users' privacy, losing user data, skirting along the edges of regulation around ethics or not 'doing the right thing', with tech giants and digital disruptors often being in the spotlight.
It's not just the tech giants though; many digital products and experiences are designed to capture attention, engage users and invoke some kind of action —- usually conversion to sales or brand engagement. We live in an age where some say the scarcest resource is attention (a great book on this is The Attention Economy by Thomas Davenport & John Beck) and subsequently, everyone is vying for their slice of the attention pie. Many of the techniques used to do this are souped-up versions of traditional sales and marketing techniques, exploiting psychological and neurological processes of the human brain.
Numerous studies and experts in these areas have concluded that these approaches can be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of users. Techniques such as Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), using amygdala-hijacking messages such as ‘Hurry, only 2 left!’ and the constant barrage of notifications and pop-ups trigger stress responses and hormones in users, reducing their ability to make rational informed decisions and in some cases, contributing to stress-related mental health issues. A heady, addictive cocktail of dopamine and oxytocin triggered by the nature of social platforms can lead to damaging patterns of device use, such as habitual device checking and smartphone addiction.
Another area of concern is unintended impacts and uses of technology - those cases where technology is used by an unintended audience, where it is misused, where groups of people are excluded from using technology or where bias is unintentionally built into digital products. No social media platform is designed with the intent that children would use it for ‘sexting’. No digital product provider would actively build a solution that profiteers from a terrorist attack through AI-driven surge pricing. No photo gallery would be intentionally built not to recognise dark skin tones. But these are all situations that have arisen, causing distress and harm to users – and each of these cases could possibly have been preempted and therefore avoided with more analysis, wider user research, by introducing greater diversity in the personas used to map customer journeys and by investing the time in mapping out potential ‘unhappy paths’ through the user and customer journeys. For those who need more convincing about ‘doing the right thing’, each of these cases and numerous others have been widely covered by the media, with detrimental effects to company reputation and brand confidence.
As business analysts, we are well-placed to challenge. We have the power and therefore I would argue, the responsibility, to push for ethical practice and ethical product design, to use our toolkit to carry out more thorough customer and user journey analysis, impact analysis, risk analysis and to use empathy to truly understand our customers and users. The more empathy we employ, the wider the range of stakeholders and users we speak to and the more diverse our personas, the more accessible and inclusive our digital experiences will be.
We will never identify every single ‘unhappy path’ and niche scenario, but the more time we invest upfront, the more chance we have of identifying unintended use patterns and ‘unhappy paths’, of building in accessibility and diversity and avoiding bias. We can help to protect our organisations from making these errors and contribute to a safer, more ethical, inclusive digital world, where we can leverage the many, many benefits of technology, whilst mitigating against potential negative impacts.
Re-published with thanks to Adrian Reed and Blackmetric Business Solutions. Originally published in Q2 BA Digest. View this and many other great articles from the Business Analysis community – and sign up to receive future editions here
Rachel Drinkwater has been a Business Analyst for almost 20 years. She is passionate about the profession, is a practicing Senior Business Analyst and volunteers as the Blog Strategy Manager for the IIBA UK, helping to bring quality knowledge and information to the BA community. Rachel is fascinated by the effects of the digital world on society and following her Masters degree in 2016, continues to undertake academic research in the areas of ethical digital practice, digital in society and cyber-psychology and enjoys sharing her findings as a guest lecturer at various universities in addition to speaking at industry conferences. You can catch her talk ‘Digital Neuroscience 101 and the Importance of Empathy in Digital Experience Design’ at the Business Analysis Europe Conference, tickets available here
You've been asked to run a workshop. It's a tricky one, with high stakes, senior leaders, challenging timescales, and high expectations. Like many business analysts, you have no training in facilitating workshops for creative collaboration. You've developed some skills on the job, but you feel a bit stressed and suspect that you could do even better. But how?
This blog will give you an overview of some ideas from my new book, 'Making Workshops Work: Creative collaboration for our time' (published on 13th July 2021). Starting with an idea for a workshop, it takes you through three stages:
Let's start with preparation. It's so important: the planning that goes into your workshop will have a direct impact on how smoothly your workshop runs and the quality of the outcomes. Design your workshop for collaboration. Three key things here are:
Let's focus on each in turn. The purpose answers: 'What is the point of this session?' What are you having this workshop for? Express this by completing the sentence: ‘We are here to...’
Make sure this is high level - aim to use no more than five to seven words. (It can be tricky to stay out of the detail!) Here are some examples: 'We are here to learn and practice BA facilitation skills', 'We are here to understand and agree the requirements for project X.'
People, comes directly from the purpose. Given that purpose, who should be there, and, just as important, who should not be there? Make sure that the right people are available and that they have the right roles to play and everything they need to succeed.
The next step is to design the process: the different activities that will take you step-by-step from the start of the workshop to the end, having accomplished everything you need to. There will be a wide range of activities, from setting up your workshop for success to agreeing actions at the end. In between, activities may include generating ideas, sharing information, making decisions, analysing and discussing, and much more. Think about how, given the unique purpose and the people present, your activities will need crafting to handle challenges such as any potential conflict or getting the best from diverse people. The likelihood is that you'll need back-up plans too - I tend to start with Plan A but also have flexibility with other ideas up my sleeve, sometimes as far as an outline of Plan Z!
Once you get to detailed planning, my Magic 6TM can be really helpful, and it’s shown in Figure 1. These are six questions to run through at the beginning of any session:
Now, let's shift the focus to running the workshop. I've noticed something that can negatively affect business analysts' abilities in workshops: stress. Figure 2 shows many things that cause business analysts stress in workshops. Anticipating these and working out how you would respond is very helpful. Tapping into some helpful neuroscience and social psychology can really help here. For example, we know that under enough stress we go to a fight-flight-freeze response, which is hardly helpful in high stakes sessions! Instead, reduce the stress to make this less likely. One way to do this is to focus on the ‘metaphorical spotlight’ that many of us have trained on us throughout workshops. We may feel that everyone is looking at us and that we have to be perfect and the pressure builds up as a result. Instead, I find it helpful to focus on serving the group, which means that if I trip up over a flip chart or if I happen to speak when muted, it's not the end of the world. I'm not aiming for perfection; I'm aiming to serve the group. Think about moving that spotlight off you and onto the group in your workshops. (There are more neuroscience and psychology tips in my book.)
When running your workshop, start off with Plan A. You'll soon see whether that's working for the particular people in front of you. You may need to shift things. Watch your language: I explain in the book how the language you use reveals what's happening inside your brain and what your own mental models are. It's fascinating stuff and well worth checking with recordings or asking others to give you feedback on how you refer to people. One example is whether you tell people what to do or invite them to join in. These land quite differently with groups!
The final hurdle is to make sure actions get done. All too often, they just don’t happen. In your meetings, make sure that actions are captured in a way that's visible to all and agree how they will be followed up, so that everyone is clear what will be happening. Lack of effective follow up means that actions get forgotten about, which is unfortunately far too common.
To sum up, creative collaboration is critical to success in our time, whether workshops are in-person, hybrid or virtual. Business analysts too often take on workshops, without real confidence and competence in facilitation skills. I hope that my book will be very helpful, along with the webinar I'm running for the IIBA UK on 29th June: 'Making Workshops Work: Creative collaboration for our time', where we'll dive deeper into these topics in an interactive and very applicable way. (Find out more and book your place at https://iibauk.org/events/1027-virtual-making-workshops-work).
My new book will be available from all good bookshops from 13th July, priced at £19.99. IIBA members can access a Kindle copy for 99p on 12th July only here, after which it will revert to full price: Making Workshops Work
Dr Penny Pullan is well known in the BA world as the host of the BA Summit and the author of a number of books related to our field. She is the founder of www.makingprojectswork.co.uk and her previous book was the CEO Today Top Five book in lockdown: ‘Virtual Leadership’.