This week I am joined by my good friend and fellow BA, Hans Eckman to discuss strategic thinking and strategy analysis. So many business analysts think this aspect of the role is above them and they aren’t in a position to have strategical input. Hans and I are here to prove that no matter what level of BA you are, that you can most certainly influence your project.
A quick note regarding Episode 12: Unfortunately, I was presenting at a conference when this episode aired and missed getting to put in my 2 cents. Jacqueline invited David Blackman to join her as they talked negotiation practices. Check out the recording.
Episode 13 | June 7, 2016 Business Analysis Podcast Transcript
Kupe: Welcome everybody. This is our lucky episode number 13 of our #AskTheAnalyst podcast. Today I am taking Jacqueline’s position since she off working hard. And with me I have a guest – Hans Eckman. How are you Hans?
Hans: I am doing great. Thanks Kupe. I appreciate you having me today.
Kupe: Well let me get through some minor admin stuff. I want to thank our sponsors, B2T Training and of course Technology Expresso as you just heard in the promo and BDPA as well. We have some good things that we are talking about today. Today we are talking about strategy analysis or strategic thinking. What sparked this topic is that Jacqueline and I are doing a workshop for BDPA (Micro-Certification in Negotiation, Strategic, Analytical Thinking). They’re having a big conference in Atlanta in the middle of August, August 10-13. In last episode (that I couldn’t make), Jacqueline and David talked about negotiation…the first piece of our workshop. Today we will talk about strategic thinking and next show we will talk about analytical thinking.
Hans is a really great friend of mine, very witty, so we wanted to have Hans on. For people who don’t know who Hans Eckman is, Hans why don’t you just give a brief intro.
Hans: Thanks Kupe. Well I currently work for Suntrust Bank where I am part of our Enterprise Innovation Programs. We are working to drive cultural changes through delightfully disruptive programs and products. Like many who are listening, I’ve been a BA or in business architecture my entire life before I knew there was an official name for the affliction. I have the honor of presenting on that and other leadership topics in both the United States and Canada. I am happy to be here as part of the show. I think we’re going to have a fun time.
Kupe: Awesome! Thank you Hans. I think most people here, I’ve never used the word affliction but I can see how it could feel that way. Hans and I are going to have a great conversation as we always do on these radio shows , but we want you guys to call in. We want to get your questions. We have Javon running the board in the back. If you press 1, she will see that you want to ask use a question, maybe chime in a give us your thoughts on the topics that we are talking about today. So please let’s make this complete interaction, not just Hans and I. So Hans, we are talking about strategic analysis or strategic thinking. There are some thoughts around tactical analysis and strategic analysis. What do you think is the difference and why is there a difference?
Hans: I do agree that a lot of business analyst are trapped into more of a tactical approach whether it is based on personal focus or based on the direction of the other members of the project team where you’re looking at a team where they’re trying to narrow the scope of a project delivery. A lot of the focus is on what are you trying to solve for, what are you going to solve for it, what is the impact and especially as you get into the system data analytics, what exactly has to happen in order for the product or service to be successful. It is very easy to lose sight beyond the project. Remember a business analyst doesn’t live within a project but lives within a product area or product space and needs to be the continuity between projects that are affecting that space. When I think of strategic analysis, I think of someone still focusing on the immediate needs, but taking a longer term look at what needs to be done for that to be successful, where is that going, what are some of the future needs. So this isn’t necessarily about setting a five to ten year road map for the area, but thinking what is the next change going to look like, what are some of the factors and helping the team look beyond just the project scope and look for the greater value that you could be delivering.
Kupe: You made me think about when the IIBA came out with their body of knowledge, the BABOK. Everybody was talking about enterprise analysis at the time, but now with version 3, they’ve changed it to strategy analysis. I used the analogy that you kind of used. I worked for Turner Broadcasting for years. I never sat down with Ted Turner and talked about the 5 year strategy for Turner Broadcasting, but the department I worked in we did it all the time. We had projects and we had to execute the near term goals and outcomes they wanted, but at the same time had to expand out every now and then and say what’s going on, what’s the impact, if we do this…what’s the long-term impact, short-term impact and started to have those discussions. You mentioned something there that sparked a thought, you said a BA lives within a business area, they don’t live within a project. You know as well as I do, we look around organizations in the US and definitely around the world and BAs, they physically live within the IT department. How do people reconcile that thoughts of, “I’m in the IT department, but I’m supposed to support a business area.” What are your thoughts?
Hans: You’re right. Most BAs are in the IT space which means you’re most likely going to be viewed as someone who lives the life of an application or set of applications that meet that business area. So it is really important to help educate the organization. Help push to spend as much time with the users, with clients, with the business units those system support and try to build a working relationship within the group. The reason agile has been really successful is it naturally builds a team that essentially get the right people together in the same room. Even if you’re on waterfall or whatever your method is you’ve got to get the people in the room, you’ve got to make sure the team understands how important the business input is to your application, to your projects and help bridge the gap. Kupe, I think you’ve been involved in developing a course that help educate organizations on how business analysis needs to play into the overall operation of the business and strategy. Isn’t this the reason why that course has been very successful?
Kupe: Yeah. It has been interesting how in over just the last year how many have changed from just being the IT project BA and people who are focusing on that to the broader group. We just did a class for CFOs. It was all about business case development for that group. We are also doing work around design thinking and how you use design thinking to broaden the picture and get larger groups of people and collaborate and get people in the room together. It is interesting and to your point, how do we get people out of the mindset of just having conversations and getting people to go observing and seeing how things are happening. Do you notice that a lot of people are getting people in the room and having conversations or are they going out to the business area, to the shop floor?
Hans: I think it is more of the company, especially if you’re in a more of a professional or consulting services firm, you have a better opportunity to get out on the floor and work with people and see what’s going on. The larger the organization, I think the more dug in certain roles get. The harder that becomes the more you end up having to fight for it.
I am glad you mentioned design thinking. When we’re talking about business analysis, there are some basic things that everyone does well. There are some things that start to set the value or strategic BAs a part from the others is the depth and breadth of their tool kit. There more tools you can bring into your sessions, into the organization, like design thinking, like value proposition design, workshops, user experience or user design sessions, then you’re helping to facilitate the conversation not just around, what does each button do, but really understanding what the problems are and figuring out the constraints to solve and what are the factors that are going to influence that moving forward. That is really where the strategy lies. I think it is trying to find that 20% of the work is going to deliver 80% of the value and how can you position the changes in the work you are doing now for what you are going to be doing for not 1 year, but 2 years but maybe 3 to 5 years out?
Kupe: This is typical, you and I know because we both speak at conferences. How many people get into a situation where someone says here is the solution, you guys go ahead and implement it? You said something that made me think of that scenario. How do people get out of just implementing the solution? So they have this VP of sales or VP of something that comes and says hey, we got to put this solution in place, just go do it. What are some tips or ways you try to roll those type of people back so they really understand the ways of doing this?
Hans: Absolutely. I have great compassion who are stuck in that situation. If you’ve got a group that already has a solution, then it is nearly impossible to get that to change. I have seen very few people who were successful. The minute you say, I know you picked a solution and you think everything is going to work, let’s go back to the very beginning and try to define your needs. That is immediately going to get you shut down.
A few strategies and then Kupe I want to hear some of yours. This is the great thing about meeting some of the thought leaders is swapping ideas, seeing what works. A few of the things that I’ve noticed is if they are publicly approving of the idea but behind the scenes go and talk to some of the end users and talk to some of the SMEs to find the questions that drive what it is that they’re really trying to accomplish and bring those back to the discussion about the solution. Say, “hey, that’s great but help me understand how the solution is going to solve for these stories, for these situations.” What you’re looking for is to try to find the resistance point. Not the resistance to the process because you want to be positive and excited. You want to show them that you’re helping them map the solution to the needs. You’re looking for the resistance point where you start hitting ah ha moments. Where they start saying, “what do you mean the system is going to need to do that or we’ve got this business constraint,” then you can introduce, “well I talked down to Mary in finance and she said it doesn’t matter if the system can process things in 3 days because she has to wait until the 15th of the month by their policy. How do we enforce that in the system?” Once you get some of that by in then you can kind of start driving the conversation to the initial what is the problem we are trying to solve and that will held up the constraints for the solution. What’s one of the tricks you’ve found Kupe?
Kupe: Well you actually stole my trick. I think we use a similar one. I’ll add to what you’re saying. You don’t want to get people on the defense. I have a hard time when people say they use the 5 whys to get them to roll back. The problem with the 5 whys and if you continue to ask why, it puts people on the defense immediately. You’re not question people that they didn’t think of the problem and they didn’t think of what they were trying to accomplish. So you do have to use the words, help me understand. We’ve all been around that 5-year-old who is constantly asking why, you don’t want to be that annoying, but you do want to roll them back. So it is always about help me understand and embracing what the people come to the table with.
In the mid 90s, technology wasn’t as well-known so the BA was called the bridge or translator. The technologist was really smart and knew the technology. The business people didn’t touch and feel it as much, but today everyone can look at their phone now. There is so much technology in this little 3 by 5 device we carry around. People know technology. So when they have a problem, they think, “what could a technological solution be?” I use Facebook all the time and I have 15-20 apps on my phone that I use all the time. We need something like that to help us. It’s embracing that. It is being excited. I am glad you’re thinking about the solution. Get me on the same page. You’ve been thinking for a while so just get me on the same page. We are going to have to make decision about what features, how we prioritize, what we do first, what we do second and we all want to be on the same page around making good decision for the goals we are trying to accomplish. Going to the people and then bring it back to roll them back and saying okay how does this help. I am not connecting the dots yet. But you can also use it right away with that person and say help me understand so I can help with the team. I think that’s a big part of strategy analysis, just getting to that point where you understand what is the bigger picture here that we are trying to get to and how does this project play into that. When you have that, it removes a lot of the guessing so when you have a feature and someone says, “hey we want to have this thing in our system or part of the project,” you can throw it back at them and ask, “how does this help us reach our goal.” That is a question and maybe it needs to come out of the scope or you can at least figure out the priorities.
Hans: You hit a great point. A colleague of ours does a presentation that is around “why” is a the most dangerous question you can ask. That is a very uncomfortable position for the BAs because you’re like, “my job is to ask why.” His point is that when you actually use the word why, what you are doing is, the way we use it in general language is, it questions someone’s judgment or questions their decisions so it can be very threatening. The challenge is figuring out other ways to ask why. Like you said, the strategy is not the why of now but the why of what needs to be and finding different ways of drawing that out.
One technique featured in the book Switch by Dan Heath and Chip which is all about how to put in very complex organizational changes. It is based on outcomes based therapy. The theory is if you try to find the root cause is all you’re going to find is potentially false correlations between things that happened in the past and trying to blame the past for what is going on today. But a completely different approach that has much greater, positive outcomes, is to instead focus on the future and what an ideal future would be. An example would be if you were shadowing an ops team and trying to figure out this solution and I want to ask them why they do these things but I don’t want to use the word why. Then you can start by asking them, “If you came to work on Monday and everything worked flawlessly and you had the best operations, best people, everything was amazing, what are some of the indications? What are some of the things that would tell you that change has occurred? What are some of the things you’ve observed?“ They’re going to start thinking what that ideal situation would look like and then start a discussion of the patterns or problems that are keeping them from that ideal situation which ends up becoming your why. You can also ask, and I think I wrote a blog on this, if you could get rid of 3 things that are wasting your time and energy, what would they be? By simply getting rid of the pain points, you can bring significant value to the solution, bring about operational changes and increase moral because the team knows when those pains go away and will be more productive and they now know that you’re somebody that can get things done.
Kupe: Yeah you wrote a section of Business Analysis for Dummies with us and i think that you might have been the part you put in the book. Another thing you made me think of is Jim Collins, the guy who wrote Good to Great. He has been a pioneer in helping organizations figure out what their vision is and how to get there. One of the things he talks about in figuring out what your vision, mission is going to be for your organization, he has people come up with vivid descriptions. I think when you’re talking about your toolbox and having a breadth and depth of things, this is another one.
You and I had lunch the other day and you talked about having the ability to look at different models and applying it. Looking at models of different businesses or different strategies and then being able to apply it to different areas. That is the same thing that BAs need to do. They have to look at all these different tools that are out there for all this different stuff and how to use it. Vivid Description is used for what does life look like, what does the future look like, what does success look like for your organization, but there is no reason why you can’t shorten the scope of that and bring it down, “okay, after this project, what is life going to look like?” Use those vivid descriptions and visualize what it’s going to look like. You know, things that people can sink their teeth in. If they can say this is what the team is going to look like and this is the feeling, then when you are talking about the specific how tos and how to design the thing, you can use those for decision making and deciding, should we do this or should we do this thing. I am glad you and I like most things are on the same page.
Hans: The time to check the air in your spare tire isn’t when it’s time to pull out the spare tire because you’ve got a flat. These are the things that you have to start to think about and incorporate. Start building this library, this inventory during projects, during available time. When you talk about the original question which was when someone comes to you with a solution how do you stop it long enough to make sure everyone is not making a mistake. Part of it is, you must have that relationship so that doesn’t happen to begin with. So it’s meeting with and building the partnership, building the understanding, building the trust with your stakeholders, with your SMEs so that before they get to the point of a solution, they’re already asking you about it, already engaging you before the project is started so you’re in at the ground floor and can help direct that from the beginning. Again that is something you have to plan for and build out those relationships way early because by the time you need them, it’s too late to start building them.
Kupe: That’s one of my hot buttons. I am always joking on this show by saying it is all about something. It’s all about decision making, it’s all about communication, but in the end it’s all about the relationship you have. If you have a good relationship with someone, then you can ask why. If you’re really close with someone and they bring up a solution to you, you can be like, “why would you do that?” They’re not going to get on the defense because they know you’re looking out for their best interest and the organization’s best interest. How do you build relationships and how do you get to a point where you can politely challenge to make sure everybody is heading in the right direction?
Hans: So the first thing is you have to be sincere and you have to approach it with trust and integrity. If you go back on your word or do not follow through, then it is hard to rebuild that trust. What I typically do, is find the people who are most receptive. Most people like to talk about what they do. I like to complain about what they have to do to keep the wheels on the bus and everything that isn’t working. Getting them to talk isn’t always difficult. Even if you say “hey let’s go have lunch. I’d like to really know what’s going on.” What you’re listening for is you want to try to find some quick wins. Look for things, without a full project, without a multimillion dollar budget and 2 years, that you could get done and have a real impact. Try to get those things done and helping people out and when you start getting the reputation as a problems solver and a reputable person on the team, you will build trust very quickly.
You can also be honest and let them know that isn’t something you are going to be able to solve for. You can say I am not going to be able to fix that. That’s perfectly okay. Even if you refer somebody. Here is an extreme example; I am very involved with our university’s relations program and interview at local college campuses for interns and help screen to get them down to the final selection stage. I’ve met some wonderful people. I’ve told them in an interview, you should not work for us. You’re not right. You’re not going to be happy. This isn’t it, but I know some people in the space that you’d be interested in. I will make a connection through LinkedIn or email and see that maybe these are the areas you need to look into. Maybe that comes back has benefits later but it benefits the company immediately because I am not putting people in a position from the beginning that aren’t going to be a cultural fit or skills fit or interest. That’s both people on the high-end and the low-end or just a mismatch of priorities. There may be a better group for them to be with. So being honest and trying to find a solution that is right for the people will stir you in the right direction always. And you’ve found that too, right Kupe?
Kupe: Before I add to your point, one thing you talked about was being a problem solver. I’ve always thought that the Business Analyst title is going to make us struggle to explain what we do and people try to explain what we do by the task we have. There was this one company that we had a bid to do some training and I asked how many people did they have in the business analyst role. They said 600 but really what it ended up, with the type of work that we do, it was really 150. The title get over used. Then you have the word analyst that goes with that and it gets kind of fluffy. You don’t want a financial analyst to work with you and they say huh? I looked at your savings and the analysis shows that you won’t be able to retire until you’re 97. Good luck. Have a good day. You want someone who is going to be a good financial advisor. Someone that will be able to solve that problem you have and that’s how BAs need to view themselves. They’re not just there to do analysis, but use that information to help solve a problem, help an organization move forward and reach their goals and to help them get to their strategy, whatever that might be.
In terms of relationships, I have something I do in workshops and presentations. I have people group up and find 3 things they have in common with one another. The first round will go really quick. They go, we’re both men, we’re both BAs and we’re both in this class together. Real high level surface stuff. I think those are the types of conversations people are having. Then I have them go to the next level where they’re going deeper and try to find out what drives them, what excites them, what are their opinions. People like to be around people they have things in common with. Most of the time, when you have a conversation like that you have a lot of things in common with a lot of people. Then you instantly start to build that trust because you say, “oh this person is like me, we have a lot of the same things in common.” So to build that trust with them to make them feel comfortable.
The other things is, you have to play that political game. People view politics, especially in the US with what’s going on with our election, shy away from politics. But in organizations, there are politics too. Where the positive of politics is know people who know people. Although my goal in life is to know everybody in the world, I don’t know them yet. But I do know people who other people know. So if I have to convince or have to have a conversation with someone who I don’t know, well i need to know who knows them and use that person to figure out how should I approach this person or would you mind approaching them to get these questions answered or get this information from them. You have to be willing and open to meet people. You mentioned it early, when you hit a project, it’s too late. You’re dead. It is hard enough meeting deadline and keeping up with the speed of things. If you don’t do it ahead of time and the one question I like to ask people in general is how many of you eat lunch at your desk 3 to 4 times a week or more. It is usually 80% of people who are eating at their desk 3 or more times and that to me is a sign that they’re not getting up and meeting people. I don’t mean you have to go out to lunch every day with people. That could get expensive, but grab some coffee, walk and talk with them. You have to get in the mode of building relationships and meeting new people. Everybody should have that goal. We’re talking about strategic analysis or strategic thinking and in order to get to that place you have these relationships.
Hans: Absolutely. That has been one of the keys in our innovation program. One of the first things we developed was the Turkey Sandwich Club. We pulled together people who seems really good at getting things done, meeting up over lunch and eating turkey sandwiches. Bring your own food if you’re vegetarian and talking about how it is that you get things done why so many people in the organization can’t. That group has expanded. You can have subgroups. One of our BAs started a social hour after work just to get people to share ideas. These are simple things, starting with a friendly time even just a gripe session and starting to build those relationships and starting to see what they are good at so you can lean on and making sure they see what you’re great at so they can lean on you when they need to.
Kupe: Okay great. I want a number of ways that people can roll back and no matter what kind of project they’re working on, how to ask questions, how to ask why without using the why word, but how can BAs contribute to strategic value for their organization when they’re not in power. They’re some level of BA but they’re not the one making decision on strategies. How can they help?
Hans: I don’t think I could have summed it up any better. You know if we had the entire listening audience stand up that feel as part of their job they don’t feel empowered to make decisions or set strategy, I am sure everybody would stand up and I would challenge each one of them that they’re absolutely wrong. If you are approaching your job as an Analyst that is here to ask really great questions and document what they say and I’m really good at it and I’m excellent at building this really beautiful diaphragms and documents and user stories and that is where my value is. At that point, you’re acting as an order taker and as a commodity resource which means I just have to find the cheapest person to ask the right questions and that’s what I am going to look for.
Where the strategy and analysis and the real value comes in, is understanding that you have the ability to influence the solution and the changes that need to happen. Every analyst, whether they realize it or not is empowered. You are determining the questions. You are determining how deep of a dive you’re going to take and how much of an analysis you’re going to do. You’re determining how the systems are going to work based on the functionality and the business needs that you define. The transition is not thinking about how you don’t have the power. It is thinking about how your portion of the project can influence the thing that needs to happen.
I was a BA working on a project and after working through the initial requirements, I sat down with the stakeholder and said you realize the tool you have isn’t going to work with your current operations group. We sat down and talked through. I was able to say look at what the tool does, look at what this business need and what you’re solving for. Now look at the organization that you think is going to use this tool in the future, are they going to have the skills, the tools, the seniority needed to handle this process? And they finally agreed no. So instead of moving forward, we built a whole new team. Basically like a swat team, who will fill some of the advance work and then they can fill some of the other work to the team that was doing the some of the audit and analysis work. So that’s where if you approach everything that you’re doing as I’m here to be an advisor, I’m here to find those things that will add value and help steer the conversation towards making sure those things get implemented or I’m here to make sure those get solved for, then you’re performing strategic analysis. You’re driving and influencing the decision. That is where you add value and power and set your career vastly different from those who are just taking orders.
Kupe: You couldn’t have said it any better. To me the value of the analysis of being BA is what you just outlined. If you kill a project or re-steer it or change the direction in a way because of the impact going on around the initiative. One of the thing we have people do is draw a tree. Everybody or most people draw a tree with the bark and the leaves and the branches and stuff. Ten percent add a sun, the roots, grass, clouds, you know, the things that are around the tree. To me, that’s strategic analysis. Not just focusing on your tree, which is your project and doing a really good job with it, but it’s like if we have this tree, what else has to be in place? A tree can’t stand without roots, unless you cut it down and it’s a Christmas tree and you have a base and people can get creative with that. The point is thinking about all those impacts. If this is what we are trying to build, can we do it with all the other things around the project that you’re doing.
I had a conversation with a guy, this was years ago, the biggest value of analysis, it’s not documenting stuff, it’s not being a note taker. If you can redirect a project that’s going in the wrong direction that is not going to hit the goals that the organization is trying to hit, then that’s the value of analysis. He said all my projects are failing projects, they’re not hitting strategies. I said well if you know they’re falling, why aren’t you stepping up doing something? He said well it’s a career limiting move. These are higher up people than me and they’re really excited to get this in and if I try to stop that it’s going to be a career limiting move. It sounds like, Hans, you’re saying it is not a career limiting move. It is a career opening move. Is that correct?
Hans: Absolutely. If it is a career limiting move then you are in a place where you have no career. You have no place to go. If they aren’t concerned with the value you have and what you can deliver, then you’re wasting your time and effort. It’s your obligation. It’s hard to step up and make that move, but it’s your obligation to be an advocate for what needs to happen. Break it down into small wins. Build the trust. You don’t have to kill a multimillion dollar project, but maybe you can influence the first phase of it to focus in on the area of value. That’s kind of where Agile or RUP came in, which is find the piece of what you’re trying to do. If the piece of this huge monster that can add immediate value and by the time you get to the solution, you’ve gotten rid of so much waste and noise that you might’ve done accidentally if you didn’t start that way.
The technique that I really advocate is using context diagrams and helping people understand like you said the trees need sunlight, water, ground. Help your stakeholder and project team understand the context for where the solution is occurring. Tell stories. Bring in end users and have them tell stories of what’s important and where the focus needs to be. That is going to save those failing problem. Still to this day, 50% of solutions do not realize the business value. If that is the case, you have a perfect example of people doing a very good job of documenting what they thought they needed, but not challenging and finding what the organization really needed and what order it needed to happen and that’s the strategy and that the value based analysis that I want everybody to become a practitioner of.
Kupe: I love the words you used there – obligation. It’s not good enough to just sit there and be a passenger on the bus and keep moving forward. The obligation of the people in this role and who are doing this kind of work is hitting the mark and giving. I like to talk in terms of decisions. It is all about giving people the ability, back to my point earlier. A lot of people are not in the position where they are making the decisions what we should and shouldn’t do, but you’re in the position and you have a great deal of value if you help facilitate good decision making. So that companies are not just thinking about what they need and let’s just cranking out these projects, we have all these people on our IT so let’s just keep rolling, rather than what value can we get out this. To sum it all up, strategy analysis is not a standalone role. There are 5 people in the organization that does strategy analysis. Everybody else is tactical.
Hans: Absolutely not. Strategy analysis is closely tied to decision and you mentioned it clearly. I am not the one making decisions, well yes you are. A lot of people feel like the people making decisions are done by two people above them or 3 levels above them. What you do every day, how much effort, how good of a job you choose, what order you do things, how deep you’re going to go, what ends up getting documented, these are decisions you’re making have the most fundamental impact about the value and success of the solution. It doesn’t matter if an executive sponsor green lights the whole thing or not. I mean yes it is their responsibility to kill bad projects or the only approve projects that are moving forward, but it’s the team that’s making a thousand decisions every day that may bubble up into a big decision. It is the team that is framing the condition for the decision that will end up determining what happens. I’ve never seen a team that couldn’t control the decision or outcome based on how it was presented and the work that was done leading to the position.
It is kind of like going to a casino gambling. The casino isn’t worried about going out of business. The only way they’ll go out of business is if customers stop coming in. They will win over the long run at every single game. The project is the same way. Over the thousands of different ways your project games play out, the project team is always going to win even if some things don’t go their way. Overall the team is going to create what is the winning solution, so the decision is made on an individual level.
Kupe: Man, that’s awesome. I think there is a lot of talk in our industry about just enough. You know agile, years ago started, or just really started hammering this question and point. People struggle with, “I know we have to do just enough analysis but how do we get there?” I think it is this concept of decisions. You have to make a decision about what’s going on. There are all these decisions going on. Developers are making decisions. Quality assurance analysis are. The stakeholders are and if you understand the criteria that they need to make a decision and as a BA the value you’re adding is finding that criteria. That is why you go around a elicit information and throw them in these models to try to understand what’s going on to help make a decision. If you get to a point where you or somebody else has made that decision, then that’s just enough. Move on. You don’t have to keep analyzing it. A decision is made.
Now there may be a decision that you have to put through a loop and see if you made the right decision and see if we have to tweak something. Once that decision is made you stop until you evaluate it again or you need some information. In organizations, I don’t think people view their role enough as the money they’re getting paid for salary is like real money. You have to say, if you get paid X amount of dollars per hour, what are you going to do for the 8 hours you have at work today and is that adding value to the organization. I think as entrepreneurs, and I didn’t really get into this mindset until I started working with B2T Training. Everything I do is seen right away, good or bad. I always have to make decision about where should I spend my time, should I do this or should I do this. The money that I am being paid, is that adding value to the organization or is that helping other organizations that we work with. I think my first blog I wrote was on how would it be if we were paid on commission. If you were paid on commission based on the success of the project, would you stop to ask what do the outcomes look like, what are we trying to hit? Wouldn’t you do that strategic analysis? Someone has to define what that success looks like or I don’t get paid. If you had that mindset that you were paid on commission, then you’d stop and think of those things.
Hans: Absolutely. As people are making the transition to the commodity or order taking resources to a high ROI or strategic resource, that could be a really good way of looking at things. Look at it this way, if you’re making $50,000 a year, I would expect $200,000 value out of you. That’s either $200,000 of savings or new revenue to the company because with all the other cost, with everything else, I expect every resource to contribute a fourfold value back to the company. As you’re making decisions in a project, that could be a good way at looking at it. Is this part of my revenue model? Am I contributing effectively? Or am I once again wasting a little of the company’s money because I am doing work but I am not doing work that is adding value to the particular area?
Kupe: Yeah. If people start to have that attitude, that is being a strategic thinker. Back to your point, everybody is empowered to do this. You’re obligated to do this. This should be the mindset that you have. I mentioned earlier, Jacqueline and I are going to be doing a session at the BDPA Conference August 10-13 so come check us out if you’re in Atlanta or just want to visit Atlanta. It’s hilarious, Hans and I live in Atlanta but rarely see each other when we’re in Atlanta. We see each other when we’re outside of Atlanta.
Hans: It’s ironic and unfortunate. There is one thing you mentioned before and I think it goes hand in hand. Agile is wonderful and there are some great things going on with Agile. Usually I’m not a very popular person at Agile events or conferences because I’ve been very skeptical of it. Where my frustration comes in is exactly where today’s session is going. I call it fragile. It’s a faux agile or a fake agile where basically you’re trying to say we’re going to move fast but we are going to take requirement and facts out of the process. These are the organizations that tend to say we don’t have BAs, we don’t need BAs. Our product owner knows everything and knows all. I would argue that the strategy analysis is needed more in an agile project because of your velocity than it may be in Waterfall. In Waterfall, you’ve got a lot of opportunities to find out if you’re going off track. In Agile, you are minimizing the distance of each sprint, but you’re creating cumulative risk where every step you take it is taking you further and further away from your goal and your ability to recognize it can be very tough. Keep that in mind if you’re on an agile team or you want to go. Your need for strategic analysis is actually greater than anywhere else.
Kupe: Absolutely. Two years ago I saw Scott Ambush speak and he is big into doing a lot of different surveys around projects and what’s working and what’s not. He said a large percentage of teams are doing a much better job at delivering stuff fast. So getting stuff out the door faster. Getting stuff into working production faster. But it still lagged in getting working software that people cared about or wanted to use. So it’s not just about getting to working software, but getting to software that people want, that’s desirable. That’s one of the things that got me into design thinking, that desirability factor. Some agile teams get into the mode where they’re just going real fast but they don’t have that anchor. They don’t have that light post to say this is where we’re heading and are we getting closer. They’re just kind of churning every week. Yeah! I am with you.
Hans: Imagine that your GPS took an agile approach which is every mile you’re going to make a right turn. Every other mile you’re going to make a left turn. You’re going to get lost and lost very consistently. You have to find ways to be better. You guys are going to be the voice of reason. You guys are going to be the ones to bring this back on track and help deliver value. I will say you will absolutely be rewarded for it. It will set you apart in a market that where finding reputable people is challenging, but this will set you apart and make you marketable in this space.
Kupe: Have you met Richard Landon? He writes some blogs on BA times as well. I read one of his blogs prepping for this session and he talked about qualities of good strategic thinkers. I’m summarizing here, good strategic thinkers take a pause. I think the word he used was calling a timeout and stopping and thinking what are we really trying to accomplish and are we heading in the right direction? Do you agree with that calling out? What’s your advice for taking that timeout and how do they get that done?
Hans: It is interesting to hear. It is one of those things I take for granted. My mentor and I have hit on this: we wonder, “doesn’t everybody do that automatically?” I think it’s just one of those things where it’s easy to take for granted if you do it naturally, but it’s harder to do if you got to do it consciously. Everything I do, I ask myself that question. If I’ve got 15 minutes in between meetings, how am I going to spend that time? What’s going to get the most value you? Is it I’m going to do something silly or straighten up my desk because I need a mental break before I go into a challenging meeting? Or am I going to get something done or start something? If you’re on a project or meeting with people, that’s a question you ask. What is it that I’m trying to accomplish? What’s the value that I’m adding? What’s the value they’re getting out of it? If I can’t answer that, then I need to find something else to do. If you don’t have a good understanding of both then you just can’t do it. You just don’t do work to stay busy. I mean, do you find that’s something you do consciously? Because Kupe you’re highly productive and very thoughtful. Do you kind of end up doing that accidentally where you find yourself automatically assessing, is there value to what I’m going to spend my next amount of time on?
Kupe: Yeah. I think you’re right. I think people who do think naturally are in the mode and it’s hard for them, they don’t even know. Like people could ask, how did you think of that or when did you think of that? It almost makes you stop and say, “well, when did I think of that.” It’s kind of like your brain is always moving. It’s like no matter what you’re doing you’re thinking that way. I think people have a hard time in organizations today. You mentioned meetings and it made me think of the chaos we have in organizations today of back to back meetings. You half joked about it before this show. You said I have this radio show then I have this panel I’m speaking on, then I’m flying out. You know, for whatever reason, we’re just in this mode of back to back stuff and we don’t take time to think and then it becomes about work and we’re just yes I was very busy today, but what did you accomplish? So you have to pause. Instead of doing it all the time, you have to work time in. So if you aren’t doing it naturally, then maybe you put a 30 minute block in everyday and that’s your decompress time or thinking time so that you can prepare for the second half of the day.
I wrote a blog that this job that we do is not a 9-5 and I got killed for it. A lot of people were giving them a hard time. People said that’s the problem is corporate America, they’re trying to get more work and more productivity out of people and not pay them anymore. The concept was you don’t just leave your job at 5 and stop thinking. You have to let things hit the subconscious and let them go. When they come to the forefront and into the conscious, you have to keep a notepad. I keep a notepad next to my bed in my nightstand. I ended up getting the Samsung note 5 even though my kids killed me for going Samsung and not having an iPhone. I got it because it’s got the stylus and I can write notes. I’m constantly taking notes. For things like this show, I’m focused and I’ve got things cleared away, but for a lot of things when I’m at my son’s soccer game and there is a break and I think of something, I jot it down. You just have to always be in that mode of thinking. If you’re not doing it naturally then you’ve got to make time in your day, into your week, into your month, where you’re stopping.
Hans: Absolutely. I can’t remember. I know I’ve got it posted in one of my blogs, the study, I can’t remember. Like you, I cleared all the distractions away so I could focus. When you look at a comparison of how people spend their free time, there is an increasing distance between successful people and unsuccessful people in what they do with their free time. People who have mechanical and replaceable jobs are spending more and more of their free time on leisure. The people who are highly successful and they determine that on income and lifetime earnings, 80% of their free time, non-eating, non-sleep time, on career and life enriching activities. It could be like you’re saying, where you’re thinking through things and you’re jotting notes. It’s listening to webinars like this. It’s researching or reading books that are career building or giving you ideas. Or reading articles or subscribing to your favorite blogs. So it’s making yourself better and I believe it’s close to a tenfold increase.
So if you said what is one thing that I could do that would you could earn ten times the amount of money, it would be spending free developing yourself, developing your skills in as many ways as possible. It doesn’t have to be formal. It could be very easy. One of the techniques that I often promote is basically role playing with yourself when you’re in transit, driving or idle. If you know you’re going to have an important meeting or a conflict or something related to having a crucial conversation is going through the questions. What would I respond? What would they say? Role playing this back and forth and then you’ve worked a lot of the conflict, the details, your answers and you’re able to direct the conversation and get it to a positive outcome and this can take a couple minutes. Sometimes I’ve spent a half hour or longer stuck in Atlanta traffic just rehearsing. This is going to be a real tough situation. What’s the worst thing that could happen? What’s the worst thing someone can say? What are the things I want to talk about? That really helps you get in your mindset and things come across much smoother and more natural.
Kupe: One of our cohorts in all of this is Yamo. They’re out of Canada. I saw a blog post that he posted about 6 audiobooks that everybody should read. It was in that self-improvement category. He started with here is the average commute for people in North America is 2 hours every day. Then the average audiobook is 8 hours and then he calculated quickly then you could listen to 65 books a year just driving to work. It is kind of in the same thing of what people are doing with their down time. Another thing is preparation and that goes back to people having back to back meetings. You can’t focus on the next meeting if you’re thinking about the meeting you were just in. So you have to find time to prepare.
I talk a lot about using improv skills to get better at thinking on your feet and better at presenting. Improv comes down to: you can improvise if you’re prepared and feel comfortable. If you’re not prepared, then you start to get nervous. You don’t know where things are going to go so you start to get really nervous. If you do what you’re talking about and think through things, how could this go? What could go wrong? What question am I going to ask? And you think of every scenario that you can think of and you walk through that in your mind. You can prepare for that and try to ward it off completely. If not, then you can say I anticipated this might happen and I’m ready to react to it because you thought through it already. Improvisers are so great because they’ve gotten themselves into so many situations and nothing scares them anymore. That’s how you can relax, improvise and do what you need to do.
Hans: There are quite a few people who I mentor especially some of our interns or people just starting off their careers and I’m always amazed when we’re sitting down and they’re all saying the exact same thing. I’m in meetings. I’ve got all these things to do. I don’t have time to sit and get this work done. I always ask them okay get out your calendar and walk me through a typical week. Then I ask them, why haven’t you blocked out time on your calendar to do some of these specific things. And they’re like I can do that? And I’m like yes! Not only should you, you have to. The work you do is just as or even more important than time in meetings.
You’ve got to block out dedicated, blocked out time to get certain activities done. Studies have shown, if you put an item on a to do list, you stand a much better chance of accomplishing it. If you add an item to your calendar, you have an over 80% chance, may even be over 90% chance that you will actually complete that task. That’s what you need to do with your tasks. Don’t say I have to do research on competitors. Block out on Thursday from 9 am to 10 am, I’m going to be doing a competitive analysis. You can always move the meeting if something comes up. People will ask you hey can you move this. Don’t delete it. You’ve got to move it to a new time. Like you said, there are a fixed number of hours in the work week that you’re being paid for. You need to make the most of those so you don’t want to end up saying I bumped out of the 10 hours of work time so I need to work overtime or the weekend to get things done. You need to budget the time. You need to start saying no to meetings. Start saying no to things that aren’t adding value.
Kupe: This is being a strategic thinker for your organization. Being able to say no or at least having a conversation with the person. Saying I have this time planned for XYZ, you want me to get involved in this, which is more important? What’s going to help the organization? Am I the right person to be in that meeting? I don’t think enough people have that thought process about who should be in meetings. They just like blanket number of people on call for those meetings. It’s frustrating for more people than not.
Hans: And if you’re having some trouble, there is very little that we do that somebody hasn’t solved for. There are some great ideas on what needs to happen. There is a book that I haven’t read yet, called Boring Meetings Suck and it’s the whole basis of it is to not to have stupid meetings, not to have boring meetings, not to have meetings where you don’t get things done. So it’s how to make them entertaining, not “hey now we’re going to make paper mache giraffes,” it’s not quite that. But how do you make people aware of what has to be accomplished before people leave and really help structure it where you can have really exciting and productive meetings. It’s not just that meetings are bad, it’s they go off in such tangents that people don’t feel like they accomplished anything of value. So you’ve got to focus the meeting on the value and the outcome and decide what can be done in a group and what can be done offline.
Kupe: There is another book, The Modern Meeting Standard and the tagline is Read this Before Your Next Meeting. It’s how meetings need to be today. It was written a few years ago. I read it once in totality and then go back to every now and again. It’s basically about making meetings work. Not just talking about stuff but actually accomplishing things. You mentioned tangent. I think we went off one a tangent but a valuable one. In these last few minutes, I want to ask you, people are always talking about their career path, and growth and options. I don’t like to think there is a career ladder these days, especially in this position. You can go many different ways. It’s not like a BA associate, a junior BA, a senior BA, expert BA and that’s kind of the ladder you take. But in doing strategy, we talked about being on a project and everybody should be doing strategy analysis, but is there a role for strategic analysis? Are there people out there doing this day end and day out? Or what are some other areas that this work is being done?
Hans: There is a difference that people miss between what it is that you do well and what is your job title. We do get focused on job titles, career path and job families and things like that. It came to light when there was an article that came out that said of all of the things which one would prepare you the best for being a CEO. It was business analysis. The skills and way of viewing the world most align with being able to make decisions and drive an organization. For CEO, you’re basically taking the same strategy for what does our team need, what is the value over the next couple year of a project and extended that over longer time period and higher level as you move into more senior roles or management roles. You’re now saying, I have to make that same assessment and drive that same analysis and decisions, but for a group that has to grow, adapt and be able to handle threats and opportunities, be able to handle staffing and operations, be able to work well with other groups and departments. I think every management position expands the need for that strategic thinking.
There are a number of groups especially when you get into a larger company that are actually promoting that. It seems a Business Architect is one way it’s being manifested. There are also groups that focus in on strategy. They work with different groups and help manage cross functional strategic decisions, roadmaps, and prioritization of activities where they’re not necessarily the ones making but they’re the ones controlling the information that is being brought into making the decision so they are driving that decision based on their recommendation.
Kupe: Yeah Business Architect was one that I was thinking. Javon just shot me a note to say that we have Heather that wants to chime in. Heather is one of my favorite people in the world. Oh! I just got a note that says she hung up. We took too long to get to Heather. Sorry about that Heather. Maybe next time. You brought something up about being managers and starting off in the space in being IT although there are a lot of BAs on the business side.
In the book we wrote, Business Analyst for Dummies, there is a chapter we wrote, Where Does Analysis Happen? It’s happening everywhere. The best CEOs are those with this analysis background. We’re thinking, okay what is the strategy, where are we trying to go, what are best ways to get there and we have this tool kit and mindset about thinking around all these things. That’s why if you’re a BA just starting out and you’re on a project doing smaller task, you start to have this mindset in everything you do and it’s only going to benefit you in unpacking it in this way. We have a few minutes left. Is there something you want to chat about strategic analysis or anything else? As our guest here today, I want to make sure you have enough time to pontificate. You have a lot of great thoughts and I want to make sure everybody has the opportunity to hear them.
Hans: There is one thing that I did jot down and we were talking. This is more a tactical view of strategic thinking. We often, as we’re in meetings, as we’re doing work, as we’re observing and trying to find these solutions, we might think strategy is something that happens by someone else or it’s these bright ah ha moments that suddenly pop up. And really it is a way of looking at things in everything you’re doing. Just look at your routine. A lot of what you do is kind of those base, core skills. It’s kind of doing the same thing over and over again, getting predictable results. Grinding through the things we need to do. But the thing to remember is and this is in life and projects. There are only a few pivotal moments where all of those little actions suddenly crest and come together and end up changing the directions or solidifying the direction or making a change in people. It’s those pivotal moments that will be the most impactful. By acting strategically in everything you do, you are basically preparing yourself for when these pivotal moments happen and be ready for it to drive it so the right things happen at the right time with the right people. So you’re almost looking for it. You expect a dream job to land in your lap. It’s not just going to materialize. bUt it will happen if you know where you fit in, what you can do, what you’re looking for. But if you’ve prepared then suddenly you’ll start looking for these pivotal moments and can actually take advantage of them. That was the last thing that I wanted to share.
Kupe: I often say, doing the stuff we do is, at the end of the day you should be tired. It is no surprise. You should be tired because you’re constantly thinking. You have your eyes open, hearing trying to listen to everything and trying to figure out these pieces which is the life we live in. Not to say that’s a bad thing. I think that’s very rewarding, but if you have this mindset it’s great but if you’re tired, it’s no surprise. But if you get energized, you see these opportunities and can step through that door to achieve it. Hans, I love having conversations with you whenever I can. If there are any other sponsors out there, I am trying to make this a full time career. I always joke about that. Thank you Hans!
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Please enjoy our other episodes:
- Episode 1 | December 8, 2015: Podcast launch and general overview of business analysis today
- Episode 2 | December 22, 2015: 2015 in Review and Set Your Expectations for 2016
- Episode 3 | January 5, 2016: Your Business Analyst Career Path
- Episode 4 | January 19, 2016: Business Analysis Role Fits in Many Careers
- Episode 5 | February 9, 2016: Overcoming Business Analysis Project Failures
- Episode 6 | February 23, 2016: Good Business Analyst vs. Bad Business Analyst
- Episode 7 | March 8, 2016: Business Analyst FAQs
- Episode 8 | March 29, 2016: More Business Analysis FAQs
- Episode 9 | April 12, 2016: A Business Analyst Attitude for Success
- Episode 10 | April 29, 2016: Consider Your Business Analysis Thinking Approach
- Episode 11 | May 10, 2016: DiSC Assessment and the Project Team
- Episode 12 | May 24, 2016: Negotiation Approaches
- Episode 14 | July 5, 2016: Business Analysis Insight
- Episode 15 | July 19, 2016: The Remote Business Analyst
- Episode 16 | August 2, 2016: A Modern Agile Conversation
- Episode 17 | September 13, 2016: Business Analysis Basics
- Episode 18 | October 4, 2016: More Business Analysis Basics
- Episode 19 | November 3, 2016: Live from #BBCCon
- Episode 20 | November 15, 2016: Effectively Give and Receive Feedback
- Episode 21 | December 8, 2016: 1 Year Anniversary & 2016 Year in Review
- Episode 22 | January 10, 2017: Business Analysis in 2017
- Episode 23 | Janary 24, 2017: Is agile a methodology?
- Episode 24 | Janary 27, 2017: An Agile Mindset
- Episode 25 | February 7, 2017: State of Agile
- Episode 26 | February 28, 2017: Are BAs Becoming Obsolete?
- Episode 27 | March 23, 2017: Remote Agile Team Success