Business Analysts Bridge the Business Gap

A dramatic change is taking place in the way businesses operate, and the business analyst is leading the charge.

The business analyst (or business process analyst) is the vital link between business executives and IT staff, translating business goals into IT requirements and communicating the requirements to IT. That’s no small matter. According to research firm Meta Group, “Poor requirements gathering, analysis and management are directly responsible for 70 to 80 percent of project failures.”

Until recently, IT requirements typically originated in the IT department. In some companies they still do. When IT is not given clearly defined business expectations, not surprisingly it develops solutions that fail to meet expectations. By improving communication between business stakeholders and developers in IT, the business analyst reduces costs and delays.

This article by By Charlie Orosz of Boston University discusses the change in focus as business analysts seek to bridge the gap from the business to IT as opposed to the other way around.

The three parts of the bridge

The construction metaphor is familiar to people who have had experience with enterprise IT initiatives. Technical specialists (a.k.a. “IT”) are experts in their field – they can create or configure an IT system – as long as they get detailed technical requirements. People outside IT (a.k.a. “The Business”) are also specialists in their respective fields, e.g. accounting or sales – they are not trained to express what they need as detailed requirements.

Since communication problems are bound to occur we need someone in the middle translating for each side and facilitating communication. That is what the bridge metaphor is trying to convey. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Bridge builders know you can’t build a bridge just anywhere. To have a bridge you need solid ground on both shores. It’s as true for IT projects as it is for crossing water.

Peter Lefterov gives us a valuable insight into the three sections of the bridge and how they combine to create the full solution
The three parts of the bridge.

Design phase Product development

Dont let the creative urge design a Hummer when your customer is asking for a bike.
What you are designing is a space in the mind of your customer who perceives real value for their money and the marketing input is as important for value creation as the technical.
Design phase product development is the part where most organisations are reasonably competent. Whether they are developing engineering, health-care, software or other products, they tend to have many people who are expert in their field and there is generally an appetite for late nights in the lab or prototyping space, or wherever the creative process is happening. Sometimes, even when the ideation has presented a palette of ideas and filtered them down to a set of requirements, some of the best organisations then loose the plot entirely and begin to design products in isolation from commercialisation, stakeholder requirement, strategy, Voice of the customer (VOC), or any of the guiding influences that are there to make the job easier and more successful.

This is a fatal mistake. Before you even consider any design efforts beyond basic technical feasibility of high level ideas, it is critical that you have a palette of requirements to begin with and that you know with a reasonable level of confidence how much value your customers place on each of these requirements. So now that you are ready to begin the design work, you should have a number of key goals in mind:
The ultimate goal of product design at this time, strategy, timing, constraints.
The need to create a product, which combines a number of the given requirements to deliver maximum value to the customer for price.

  1. The need to create a product which poses the minimum level of risk either technological, political, regulatory or otherwise unless this is specifically agreed in advance.
  2. The need to test prototypes at every stage from basic drawing to beta with real users (not your spouses or best friends)

 Remember, a lot of research has already gone into this and a lot of decisions have already been made. I would never suggest that the process should be so rigid as to ignore a great idea at any stage, but in the interest of Time to Market, there can be little justification for rambling away from the requirements list at this point. Neither is there justification for taking unnecessary risk technologically unless enormous potential gain is sufficient to justify the risk and it is agreed at a high level. It is also useful to bear in mind that there is always more than one good solution to any problem and there is usually no sure way of picking the best one, so once you get to the point where you have a number of potential combinations that would deliver your product JFDI “Just *ing do it”. Pick one and get on with it.

It is important to bear in mind that design phase product development is neither the beginning nor the end of product design because it really began with involvement of engineers at early ideation stage and will continue until all of the marketing collateral is created and tested. So what did we learn today
 The design begins at the research stage and goes on long after launch.
 Design phase product development involves marketing and publicity people who can help create value.
 Design phase product development begins with a set of carefully filtered and accurately recorded requirements and uses a combination of these to deliver value to the customer.

The birth and development of product requirements

Since the Dotcom boom we have all come to know and love them. Their USP is: “One eyed man in the land of the blind”, their value proposition is ” I won’t blind you with science because I don’t understand it myself”. Yes they are the product managers of the software world, the IT directors, the Gadget Barons. Luckily for us they know what we want before we do.
They will tell you that requirement engineering is for nimbies and that suggestions from users are too dumb to take seriously. Allowing a mere human to write software requirements specification is not something they would easily consider.
I suspect that GBs also exist in the white goods arena. I have no idea what all the buttons and programs on my microwave or washing machine are for.
The GBs also are firmly ensconced in my supermarket, where I pay for two loaves and take one because I can’t eat two and these gurus are convinced that selling me two at a discount will make me happier. Perhaps they are thinking of the sales of exercise bikes after all the overindulgence, or maybe they themselves eat a lot of bread.

We read with horror that 80% of government projects fail, but can you believe that in the hard bitten commercial world almost as many new product launches also fail. If you don’t, then you haven’t been paying attention.
Microsoft claimed recently that the majority of new feature suggestions from users were actually for features that already exist. Surely this tells you something about communication with users. What’s the betting that these features were included in response to user need?
Ok, now we’ve touched on one of the buzzwords and our world will never be the same again.
Why should we build products that are user focused? Dumb question I agree, but this message still has not made it’s way through to 80% of the marketing world and possibly 99% of the software world.  I believe I know a little about why this problem persists. You see there is a unique relationship between a product, its users and it’s stakeholders. I describe this as the UPS Triangle™. User- Product-Stakeholder. 

The ultimate driver here is the stakeholder which is often a board of directors, and shareholders, or in political terms it is senior civil servants, ministers and citizens. Products can’t begin with user demand as the nice diagrams would suggest. Henry Ford never had a deputation of frustrated horse-riders turn up and demand he invent a motor car. This is why the GBs have a real part to play, they are the visionaries willing to spot a potential opportunity and pull together the support and finance to explore it and to make it happen. The people who provide the finance and take the risk are the people who want and deserve the reward and this is what makes them stakeholders.

Here however, lies the twist. To deliver this reward users have to agree that your product gives them value and become customers. That’s why it is a mutually dependent triangle. The confusion domes when the Product manager loses sight of this triangle and agrees to satisfy the stakeholder directly, hence ignoring the user and ultimately failing to deliver a successful product.  On the other the side of the equation, if you leave product development to salespeople they will give away everything to the customer forgetting about profit and lifecycle management.

You can’t have much of a conversation with a marketing type without stumbling across the term “perceived value”.(PV)  What they are referring to here is the “reason to buy your product”. Just think of it as another currency. The more of this PV you give to your customer the more of their currency they will be happy to give to you. That’s the ten second MBA, all you ever need to know about business.

The profit is in the P. That’s right you see perceived value is in the mind therefore it can be created relatively cheaply and maintained even more cheaply, whereas products have to be manufactured packaged and delivered and depend on supplies of other commodities. E.G. A Ferrari costs much the same to make as a Jaguar, but it sells for immensely more, because it’s PV is such that wealthy men will gladly part with buckets full of wedge just to be seen driving one.

In this case, which is likely to be more important? what users want you to deliver or what stakeholders want you to deliver. Whose perception is likely to drive product sales, the stake-holder’s or the user’s?

So what have we learned today?

The Gadget Barons are annoying but they are also necessary. Users perceptions is where the gold lies. Perceived Value (PV) is where the profit is made. The more PV we can offer in our product the more £ the customer will be willing to pay.
The first rule of product development is to manage the UPS triangle and reward stakeholders by maximising PV to the customer. If you want to write software requirements specification which will lead to winning products then you must forge and maintain the right balance between Stakeholders, users and technologists.

Learn ideation because it goes way beyond product development

In product design, ideation refers to the process of generating ideas.

It is not a method of choosing ideas, this is a different step which hopefully comes later in the innovation process.

Ideation is about generating a vast number of potentially useful ideas. Ideators some time say that there is no such thing as a bad idea. In the ideation process this is partly true, because ideas can beget other ideas, especially in a vibrant group setting. I do believe however that ideas which are wildly irrelevant are bad ideas and should be quickly discarded because bad ideas can also beget bad ideas in a vibrant group.
The key to ideation lies in knowing where to start and finish.

Imagine you were locked in a room and told you have one hour to come up with an idea and if I don’t like it I will kill you. How would you feel as the metal doors slammed shut? Pretty frightened I imagine and I can’t see it getting much better with time. Where would you start? How would you judge whether he was going to like your idea. Where was your idea going to come from? What type of idea would it be? Are there types of ideas? What are they? How would you know it was an idea if you had one? Would there be a certain feeling? Maybe bells would ring. How would you measure this idea? How would you know when it was good? What could you do to make an idea better, or to get a new and better idea?

This whole product design ideation thing can be a little scary when you begin to analyse it.

Actually we all do ideation all of the time, but most of us do it extremely badly because of our conditioning and lack of stimulation and motivation to ideate well. The ability to ideate does not rely on intelligence, at least not in the classic definition, but it may well be that intelligence depends to some degree on the ability to ideate. Logic is only one type of intelligence, according to Howard Gardner (Frames of mind. The theory of multiple intelligences) there are seven intelligences. In any case many problems can simply not be solved by logic.  One of these problems is how to generate an idea.

If we can not use logic then logically (just having some fun) we must use randomness or create a notion of randomness. Nobody has ever succeeded in creating randomness because they have always used logic to try to crack the problem. Random number generators are the most basic, but a decent programmer can reverse engineer the randomness in no time and predict the next ‘random’ number with ease. Randomness and spontaneity can however be practiced and learned over time to deliver something which at least appears spontaneous. For example  my own usage of brainstorming techniques demonstrate clearly that a team directed to use divergent thinking could produce little extra by way of creativity, but a team who had been taught techniques for divergent thinking became very much more creative in all areas of their lives.

So it looks like real ideation is simply a matter of building our own random idea generator by teaching ourselves techniques for creative thinking and then practicing until random thinking has become unconscious and second nature. When this happens we have finally achieved the state of being able to think freely and generate ideas at will. A very good idea is to play a pleasant relaxing piece of music when you ideate, but never play it at any other time. With practice you will be able to switch on this tune and start generating random ideas. Just hope they don’t ‘play your tune’ when you’re on a first date.

Change management is not monkey business

Let me ask you a simple question. Do you have a favourite tipple? Why is it your favourite? Was it always your favourite? What was your previous favourite? What made you change? If you tried your current favourite sooner, would you have had more enjoyment out of life? Do you think it is likely that one day you will try another drink and like it better? Maybe you could apply this argument to your job, hobby if this is more meaningful. The thing most of will get out of this little exercise is the realisation that we probably all miss out on a great deal by being adverse to trying new things until we find ourselves directly in their path and suddenly discover a new source of pleasure or value. The second point that generally emerges from this exercise is the realisation that we are all generally content with adequacy rather than in pursuit of excellence or optimisation of value or pleasure perceived. (I feel another blog coming on)

Now let’s play for bigger stakes. Does your family have a favourite restaurant? Was this always the case?. How did you arrive at the consensus that this was you favourite restaurant? Are there one or two who don’t agree, but go along to keep the peace?

What would have to happen in order for you to adapt a new restaurant? What would make you seek out a new one, who would instigate this and how would the decision get made?   I suspect that these simple questions woke a few skeletons in most household cupboards. Hopefully they also lead you to consider how your family deal with these issues. Does one person lay the law down and solve the issue? Do you talk it out until there is consensus? Do you give way to certain individuals who seem to have the knack of getting their own way? Or maybe there’s a close knit clique who stick together and dominate everything. How will you decide whether it was a good decision or whether to keep trying? What will make you settle for a new place? Fatigue? Lack of ideas? Adequacy? Excellence?  There are many potential ways forward, but that’s not as important as stopping to think about how a close knit organisation with trust and communication go about changing their behaviour in some small way.

Now let me give you a puzzle to solve. By the way there’s no right or wrong answer to this.

Five monkeys were thrown in a cage with a banana on a shelf in the centre. Each time a monkey approached the banana all the monkeys were sprayed with ice cold water from a hydrant so very soon they began to attack any monkey who approached the banana in order to avoid being sprayed. Then the hydrant was taken away and each monkey was replaced with a new one over a period of months. Each new monkey approached the banana and was immediately beaten up, therefore quickly learning the rules. Eventually there was not a single monkey left who had seen the fire hydrant yet the beatings continued. If you were the next monkey to be put in the cage, what would your strategy be?. If you were a monkey put in the cage to stop them beating each other, how would you approach it? If you were the scientist controlling the experiment, how would you stop the beatings.

So what have we learned today?
If you don’t accept change you will be the loser in the end. Most good things come about as a result of change. Most, if not all change is forced upon us including changes for the better. Change in a small group is complex, change in an organisation is as much art as science and the consequence of getting it wrong is to create a self-destructive culture.
If you are planning a new product think long and hard about asking customers to change their habits.

Bridging between the web and the real world

Soviralnetbusworks and all that jaz

How do you find the longest way form a to b. Well here’s a good contender, call the guy in the next room on his mobile.  That message will go into space bounce off a satellite and return to your pal next door.

In a world of 7000,000,000, in a country of 60,000,000 in a town of 30,000 people, how do you find 100 clients for your new accountancy business?
Why you search the 7 billion of course via the internet until you find some who happen to be near you and need an accountant, or at least like you enough to pay you anyhow. OK got that thanks.

Here’s the official theory, in so far as there is one:

You build as big a network as you can and you keep sending emails and publishing tweets and blogs so they all wake every morning wondering what you have to say to them today.

You keep asking what you can do to help and trying to get them business, or worrying about their personal lifes, until eventually they give in and say I know you don’t really want to be my accountant, but if I begged you, would you do my accounts?

Sales and marketing theory

This is one of the times when I can speak as an authority and indeed the principals are so widely taught and so well understood that it takes little effort to make the points successfully. Here goes.

You start with a product for which there is a defined market, i.e. You know that  they have  a need and that they are accessible and that it is possible to service this need profitably Product, Place, Price Promotion etc.(Common sense stuff)

Next you design your messages to position your offering so that people can understand it and can hang it on their mental notice board as close to the top of the list as possible. E.G. “The guy to call when you want straight talking and common sense solutions”   “Mr No Bull …”

Now you need to target this market so you are delivering  the messages to the right people, not the whole 7 billion, or even the 65 million, but maybe a few  thousand. If you’re an accountant you might time this with a pressing annual need and you wouldn’t send it to too many Non-Doms. With me so far.

Now you give them an opportunity to put their hand up and say, I’m possibly in the market. E.G.  A free booklet on setting up offshore trusts might attract them.

Next you need permission to pitch a few of these and permission to stay in touch with the others in case they need your products at some future time. The relationship building begins now, but most business people are strapped for time, so references and case studies, professional memberships and guarantees are a very important part of the mix.   2, or 3 out of every four who meet you will be unsure about some aspect of you, or the product, or their need and not do business this time, but most can remain in contact and maybe do business in future.


How I approached this confuddle

I have been planning this series for a while and always reluctant to make a start because there just seemed to be more to learn and new angles to consider.

I was faced with an agonising choice between methods of presenting the information. E.G. taking all the new information and then comparing it to what I already knew, superimposing it on this framework and presenting the differences.  This is a great way to assimilate new knowledge and skills, but sometimes it blinds you to the whole concept so that you just miss the point.
 Imagine introducing wine for the first time to a 10 pints a day man and having him approach the subject in this way?

As a natural born cynic  (survivor) I am not good at the other method, E.G. suspending disbelief while you listen intently and even in the cinema, it had better be good or I’ll probably leave early, so I was not about to immerse myself in the” religion” of the thing in the hope that at some point I’d have a divine revelation.

What I have done is adapted a sort of midway approach that considers all viewpoints without extending the blog to book length.  I hope you find it as useful, as I did.

 Coming next week …

Making sense of Soviralnetbusworks

Why is it there? Is anybody really making any money form it? Why would it work as a way of winning customers? Why would anybody give up so much time for this when they could do it much more effectively by other means?