Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

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Learn to relax – learn to win

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http://scobleizer.com/2009/04/23/learn-from-zappos… 

This blog entry describes a visit by Robert Scoble to a company called Zappos. Although what they do is less important – it is how they do it that is of interest. The approach taken is not one of the traditional workplace with stringent hierarchy, with managers, line managers and directors  – but it is an in formal structure more resembling a family rather than a business. Zappos have learned to relax and by doing that they have learned to win. Another classic and often quoted example of changing the workplace can be found at Google.  

By relaxing their organisational structure the company has empowered staff making them feel part of the family and as such has increased the productivity. Staff want to go to work and want to work. Even the simplest steps can make an organisation more employee friendly and each step is a step away from the traditional Victorian factory structure that can be perceived by employees.

Some ‘quick wins’ could include relaxing the dress code. Firstly why some organisations insist that employees wear suits and ties is beyond me. If there is no reason for your staff to wear a suit then why do you make them wear a suit. The feeling of being able to work in clothes that you feel comfortable in is important to staff. It is a simple psychology win that will allow workers to feel that they have some say in the company.

Secondly wins could relate to flexible working – sometimes this is not possible, however where possible it will allow workers to feel more in control of their lives. Flexible working could include the ability to come to work between set hours, or taking lunchbreaks when staff want and not by a prescribed =time. Other flexible working could include ‘flexi-time’ or the ability for staff to earn additional time off work by doing additional hours in advance.

Thirdly wins can also be gained from allowing employees to work from home. This is not suitable for all organisations, and in some places it is not suitable for many employees due to their personal circumstances, however the ability to work in an environment of their choosing can increase productivity and loyalty of the employee.

The way that organisations relate  are just as important as the perks that they offer to staff. As described above hierarchy exists in many companies and the way that staff are treated can resemble a feudal system with a Chief Exec at the top, directors below, managers, team managers etc. etc.. unfortunately to accompany this structure similar communication channels exist with any bottom up messages having to be approved by a more senior person before being passed on – or not in some cases.

More flexible organisations are removing this communication barrier and looking at a social network structure rather than a traditional hierarchy. A social network structure is made up of those people required to deliver the goals and many networks may exists depending on the aspirations. A network may exist for a project and may include staff from many different departments from across the business, it may even go wider than the organisations. The social network appreciates the skills of the individuals and does not distinguish rank but, when working for the goal, gives each member of the network equal status. This improves the speed of communication resulting in faster decision making processes. in addition it also removes individuals who do not need to be part of the chain. In some cases it may be possible to utilise technology to assist social networking in the workplace – but that is for another post.

The key blocker to more organisations not empowering their workforce and learning to relax and win can be summed up as ‘line of sight managers’. These are a special breed of managers, usually suit and tie wearing (even at the weekends) who are convinced that staff do no work unless they are smart and can been seen at all times. They can be described as ‘old school’ managers who live in a world that they know best and everyone else is mistaken.

In some cases it may be possible to reeducate these managers so that they can become more flexible and learn to trust their staff to achieve goals – but in some cases it cannot. What will a leader do if one their managers cannot, or will not, change in line with the organisations..? What happens if a manager recruits only people like themselves – how will the organization develop?

Organisations need to ask the are they ready to plan for the future and realise that the organisation as we know it is changing and are they equipped to deal with that change, have they the people, the processes and the technology..?

Till next time,

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

June 15, 2009 at 8:08 am

Travel Analysed

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I am typing this blog entry while sitting on a train heading to Manchester for, if I remember rightly, a training session on how to use a collaborative working tool for the benefit of local authorities. As I look around me I can see a number of people all probably heading the same way for a variety of reasons.

Let me just point out a few things – I first got on to the platform at 6.15am this morning, the session is due to start at 10.00am this morning, I am having to travel at peak time, I will be returning at 4.00pm (again at peak time) and will not get home till approximately 6.30pm. It will be a long day.

The big question for me is why am I doing this..? It is not a case that the training I will get will not be useful or beneficial, it is more of the issue is there a better way to deliver this training, or meeting without me incurring both the financial expense of traveling and also the tiredness that will come with it.

Tools do exist that will enable organisations to collaborate without having to leave the office, however as it requires some investment in ‘internet’ technology many organisations are sometimes afraid to even try it. Web technology such as webex and Microsoft Live Meeting in it’s basic sense combines the telephone with a presentation, allowing the parties to see and hear what is happening and interact in the same way they would in a meeting. In a more advance setting it can combine multiple participants and also video conferencing. All without the travel costs.

There is a lot to be said for the ‘face to face’ meeting, and there may still be occasions that this is necessary, however an organisation must ask itself just how many of these meetings are really necessary. In addition who is to say that the ‘client’ is going to be available to meet with the business at a suitable time and place.

When businesses are looking for efficiencies alternatives to days out of the office must be investigated as the cost is too high. I recently read an article about companies who were ‘ditching’ their weaker customers and focusing on their more efficient, easier to please, clients. This goes along with the saying that 20% of your customers take up 80% of your resources. Imagine the case if a low return customer is demanding regular face-to-face meetings in a different part of the country every month. How much will this cost and how much will this contribute to the organisation? Would it better to ditch the customer if they are costing more to service than a customer who does not contribute as much financially, but costs much less to manage?

The middle ground does exist and that is to cut down on those travel expenses by utilising technology that is readily available to both small and large organisations. It is a simple business case does the savings from travel outweigh the benefits of investing in web technology to deliver the same meeting functionality?

I would recommend that businesses of all sizes take a serous look at what they can afford and how they can utilise existing technology to save on meetings.

Till next time, I’m going to try to enjoy the view – of Crewe!

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

May 13, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Business Case, Leadership, Web2.0

Tagged with , ,

Educating the Authorities

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There has been a lot of talk recently regarding ways for Local Authorities to embrace ‘social media’, ‘web2.0’ and other key words such as ‘engage’ and how they can deliver better services by using technology. Although some people are passionate about embracing new ways of working there are still plenty out there that are not yet ‘with the programme’.

I was recently brought into a discussion about web forums and how they might be used in a local authority to try to engage the staff to feedback ideas to improve the council. What I learned from these discussions was not so much that there was negativity towards working differently, but it was more the fact that some people did not even know that an alternative solution existed, let alone what to do with it.

In my experience those at the coal face are usually quite good at creating the business case for a new tool or a process if they understand what it is all about. The biggest challenge is getting that message understood by those that can and will make a difference by using the tools. I talked recently about the role of the Business Analyst and how it was important that they were a translator between ICT and the business area. It is this skill that is essential when trying to promote new technology, translating the tools into words that the end users will understand. There is a key question that needs to be answered ‘What’s in it for me?’ if that cannot be answered then the changes will stay on the shelf.

Tip 1 – When trying to get business buy-in ensure that you can relate the tool to the individual that you’re talk to.

Secondly, and this is always the biggest problem to overcome, is culture. Moving towards a 21st Century way of working means changing the culture of an organisation to understand what is happening ‘out there’ in the world.

We are living in a very exciting time. The world of social media, micro-blogging and user engagement is expanding at a rapid rate. This means that our next generation of workers will be web aware and will be expecting to deliver their tasks using the tools that they use on a daily basis. Think if you were changing jobs and you got offered 2 positions, exactly the same money, benefits etc.. however one company expected you to work with a typewriter and post letters while the other gave you a laptop with email. Who would you work for..?

Currently organisations, and local authorities in particular, are in a battle of culture. Councils are never going to be seen as leading edge adopters of technology (some would say that they could be compared to scavengers coming along after the battle has been fought and and grabbing what they can) and as such councils are never going to attract the risk takers that can deliver the wins expected by the private sector. The downside of this is that they have become risk averse and failing to keep up with the expectations of the public. The culture needs to change, and to do that education is required.

In discussions I often break an organisation into 3 key elements:

  • People
  • Processes
  • Technology

Each element is just as important as the others and no one element can save an organisation, they have to work together and constantly evolve. It is often the case that organisations throw money at technology expecting it to deliver but without the people understanding why they are using the technology or how they will use the technology it is a waste of money.

Changing the culture means changing the people – this could be both figuratively or literally. Are you willing and capable to change the culture..?

Tip 2 – Be expected to change people to change the culture.

I mentioned above that to advance we have to understand what we are delivering but also be willing to change the culture to ensure that it evolves with us rather than against us. The big question for us now is – where do we start?

A number of sites have been publishing top tips recently  about where to find information a couple are below…

Another exciting recent development has been the advertising of the post of a Director of Digital Engagement for the Cabinet Office. This post will be there help change the culture and educate local authorities to how it is possible to embrace the future and build the business case.

Till next time.

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

February 18, 2009 at 11:00 am

Who’s your BA..?

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I was recently talking to someone about issues they were facing with regards to the co-ordination of data at work. The problems that they were describing seemed quite normal for an office with an increasing workload and the challenge of maintaining that information.

They started to ask me about possible solutions and floated the idea of a small database which could be used to track workload between the suppliers and the team members. My first impression was that this could do for  short term fix, however what about the long term.

I then started to ask questions about what was corporate objectives with regards to information management, where was the work being handed down from, what information needed to be shared with other users outside of the team. Some of the answers were available, but understandably not all of them as they just did not have access to that level of knowledge. I then asked the killer question – do you have a business analyst that can help you? The answer was ‘I don’t know’.

The role of a Business Analyst (BA) in any corporation is varied, but most importantly it is to act as a translator between the business departments and the IT departments. The most important thing about being a translator is that you can communicate to both sides at the same time in a language that they understand.

Business areas all have ICT requirements which could include information feeds, data exports, catalogues and work-flow. The organisation also has ICT requirements which could include data security, information returns and performance monitoring. It does not help the corporate objectives when business areas are allowed to develop solutions to requirements in isolation. It is the job of the BA to help ensure that when choosing a solution it fits with the corporate goals and that the business needs are represented at a corporate level.

If I was to give advice it would be: if you’re thinking about a ICT project to deliver a solution, make sure that you have identified who your BA is.

  • They will help you understand what options are available and should help you to think about alternative solutions that you may not have considered.
  • They will be albe to keep you informed about the corporate direction the organisation is moving in with regards to ICT.
  • They will help you take advantage of corporate wide solutions that as a small area may not be considered but could provide a business case if a number of areas worked together.
  • They will support you when dealing with ICT ensuring that you get what you need, not what ICT think you need.

Remember the swing…

    What the Customer Wanted

    What the Customer Wanted

    What was installed

    What was installed

Top Tips:

  • Find out who is your Business Analyst
  • Find out where the organisation is heading with regards to ICT
  • Ask them to help you in understanding your needs
  • Don’t assume that you know best – they might surprise you!

If in doubt – ask me and I will tell you what to ask!

Till next time

Paul.

Written by Paul Jennings

February 17, 2009 at 3:26 pm

The Social Local Authority

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I was recently made aware of Bracknell Forest Council Web Development Blog by a tweet from someone who is working towards encouraging councils to become more social. This got me thinking about the work Bracknell Forest are doing and also the work of organisations such as MySociety and FillThatHole as a way of empowering the citizen to interact more with their local authority.  

Such sites and projects raise questions about the response the local authority will give to the information that is delivered from a variety of sources.

Firstly, what happens if the local authority chooses to ignore the information submitted? In which case the site is outdated unless a third party takes the time to update and respond where possible. There’s a number of ways that council can choose to respond to submitted information which could include RSS feeds giving updated status, or automatic emails reporting changes to the status of the call, or more complex solutions such as full interfaces allowing integration between trusted sites and the local authority. All these ways of interfacing and responding will have to be processed by the 3rd party site – but getting a response in the first place is the biggest battle.

Secondly, why are such sites successful in the first place? I believe the answer is simple – sites such as FixMyStreet offer an interface for members of the public to report problems to their local authority in a way that they want. I am sure that citizens are not deliberately shunning the council in favour of a different site it is just that the council does not have the same interfaces as the public expect.  The solution for local authorities is just as simple – adapt! – change the website to meet the requirements of the pubic and learn from those sites that have gone before and developed public solutions.

There is a mindset that Local Authorities are a service delivery just as any other company such as telecoms, high street shops, utilities etc.. whereby the customer can sit back and expect everything to be delivered without having to lift a finger and having the right to complain should something not be done right.

In a way this is true – however citizens, and businesses, need to update their opinion of the council and realise that they are not customers but actually shareholders and need to take an active part in the running of the organsiation. As with any company the better the relationship with its shareholders and customers the better the service will become. The organisation relies on feedback to improve the services delivered, without that feedback the organisation needs to beome a mind-reader.  There is a limited number of ways that

Citizens need to become more involved and be prepared to take responsibility for their actions – no longer is it ‘The Council’ it should now be ‘Our council’ and the work done by Bracknell Forest and other authorities are helping breaking down the barriers.

Written by Paul Jennings

December 18, 2008 at 4:35 pm

The bad practice of best practice

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The young mens’ organisation Round Table has a motto – Adopt, Adapt, Improve – and derives both its title and its maxim from a speech made to the British Industries Fair in 1927 by the then Prince of Wales – “The young business and professional men of this country must get together round the table, ADOPT methods that have proved so sound in the past, ADAPT them to the changing needs of the times and wherever possible, IMPROVE them”.

Even though these words were spoken in 1927 the concept of adopting, adapting and improving can be applied to many situations, both business and personal, today. To me the key is not so much what to do, but more that this tells us the order in which to do it.

“ADOPT methods that have proved so sound in the past…”

In my experience organisations understand the concept of best practice but are reluctant to implement it as they feel that they are different to all those organisations that have gone before. Therefore best practice is not the best for them. These organisations inevitably jump to adapting the best practice without actually seeing if it will meet their needs.

Organisations need to take more time to understand best practice rather than making the rash decision that firstly they need to implement best practice and then secondly conclude that they are special and best practice is not for them.

My advice is take your time; understand why you are looking to adopt best practice; develop a knowledge of the best practice chosen; plan to implement it; understand how it will affect your business and how you are going to manage those effects.

“ADAPT them to the changing needs of the times…”

As mentioned above organisations have been known to jump to the adapt phase and skip the adopt, how can an organisation adapt something when they don’t know what will happen when they adopt it?

Once best practice has been adopted it has to be reviewed to ensure that it is meeting the business needs. Every organisation has got different needs and ways of working and so the best practice needs to be tweaked to meet those needs, but fundamentally the practice remains the same.

Think of best practice as a wheel and the adapting is making the wheel fit with the cart – size, width, materials etc. After the adapting has taken place it is still a wheel.

“…wherever possible, IMPROVE them.”

It is possible for an organisation to improve best practice but this comes after the time and experience of adopting and adapting. All best practices evolve and an organisation can contribute to that evolution through working with peers, dissemination of ideas and gathering feedback from users.

Best practice has to evolve to meet the ever changing needs of business and industry. Using our wheel metaphor, over the years the wheel has improved from wood to alloy – can you imagine a formula 1 car racing around Silverstone with wheels from a 15th cart..?

And finally…

A thought to take away, if best practice is a wheel allowing the cart to move, by chipping bits away without, understanding what it does, you turn it into a triangle – put that on your cart and shove it!

Till next time.

Paul.

Written by Paul Jennings

November 26, 2008 at 10:38 am

Management of Transformation or Transform Management

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In a previous post I mentioned the big stick of transformation and how it was important for transformation managers to realise when to get the stick out. In this follow up post I would like to discuss the role of management in transformation.

So the drivers are there – thou shalt save money, thou shalt be more efficient, thou shalt do more with less, thou shalt increase productivity – what now..? How do you deliver? How do you transform to meet the drivers? Where do you start?

The first question that any organisation needs to answer is who has the responsibility for transforming the organisation to meet the drivers? There are possible answers to this the first is everyone. Everyone has the responsibility to deliver changes to meet the current drivers, everyone needs to be aware of what is happening. The problem with this answer is that everyone is many people with many ideas and understandings of the problems facing the organisation, therefore everyone is not a true answer.

The real answer is the big cheese, the grand formage, the man himself, the boss, guvnor or him in charge (this could well be a her). The person at the top is the person who is responsible for the successfully delivery of transformation within an organisation. It could well be that this is delegated to a senior director or other post, but they should still be involved.

Without that top level buy-in the project is doomed to failure as managers will duck, dive and avoid commitment, challenge authority and fail to deliver. A transformational leader can inspire business areas to greatness but without corporate commitment there is a danger that the project will go off the rails before it delivers success.

I have mentioned before the importance of a big stick, it is the role of management to define the look and feel of the big stick and also deliver it if necessary. A transformational leader with a big stick without the authority to wield it is a dog with no teeth, it’s bark is worse than it’s bite. Business areas will see through a toothless stick in no time and once that happens motivation for change drops and the challenge of delivery increases.

Business areas are willing to change, to an extent, they will meet the transformational leader part way and without the stick the process will stall. To deliver a successful transformation it is essential that management support the transformational leader and realise that they are the stick and use it to ensure that the project proceeds to plan.

In summary…

  • Management have to be 100% committed
  • Management have to define the Big Stick
  • Management have to be willing to use the big stick
  • Management support the transformational leader
  • Business areas need to know that the big stick is real

Till next time.

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

October 17, 2008 at 7:48 am

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