Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

Archive for the ‘Project Management’ Category

Twitter – how to describe it…

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Sometimes the role of Business Analyst is to explain concepts and ideas to individuals and businesses. In the following paragraphs I share how I explain concepts to people. This can be challenging if the concept is complex or the individual does not understand the topic concerned.

At this time we are still racing through a technology revolution and so it is even more important to ensure that when describing concepts it is done so in a language and way that can be understood by the listener. I always try to understand how much the listener knows and when speaking compare complexities to simple situations that the listener will appreciate and be knowledgeable.

Anyway on to the post….

Following on from my previous post Education the Authorities I was speaking with a friend from the communications team of a local authority about social media and the sort of tools that are appearing in the main-stream. He, by his own admission, accepts that he is not always at the forefront of new technology but is always willing to find out more, so over lunch we discussed the entity and the culture that is Twitter.

I have been using Twitter for a couple of months and I still only consider myself a novice when compared to some who have embraced the technology and are reaping the benefits. So how does one novice describe this sort of technology to an even greener novice. I chose to ignore the technology and focus on the usage and compare it to current forms of communication.

Let’s assume that Twitter is a form of information and, as we know, information has been arriving in many forms for many years including, books, newspapers, websites & blogs. The 2 biggest differences between these forms of information and Twitter is length of information and speed of communication. With regards to the length of the message Twitter is limited by technology but can be used to send links to longer messages, so when explaining this- I avoided the subject! The second main difference is speed of delivery, and this is what I chose to start with when explaining how Twitter works.

Books are always a snapshot of history, no matter how hot of the press they are, it will always be something that has already happened. In addition those who want the message have to get the book and only when they have read the information can they say they have ‘got’ the message.

Newspapers are the same, they too are a snapshot of history, however this time history is more recent and the subject matter varies greatly. Those wanting to get the message still have to get the paper, but now the reader can pick and choose their stories to suit their requirements. This allows a newspaper to target a wider audience than a book as the subject matter is now greater.

Websites are faster way of communicating than newspapers, they can be updated quicker and scanned or searched by the reader for information relevant to them. Many newspapers have websites displaying an on-line version of their paper, but with the addition of later stories. Websites are a broadcast of information, in the same way that a radio broadcasts the news. The reader (or listener) does not get a chance to comment or tailor the news to suite their needs.

Blogs takes newspapers and websites to new level. Information posted on a blog can be fresher than a newspaper but the significant difference is the way that readers can now interact with blogs. Readers still have to find the information and choose the blog to subscribe to which meets their requirements. A blog invites reaction from the reader, asking them to contribute to the conversation, challenging or supporting the author. The reader now has a way to interact and develop the information, tailoring it even more to their needs.

Taking communication to a new level is the Twitter culture – here authors take part in an on-line conversation. The information does flow, however it is guided by all the participants and not just an author. Users choose who to follow and who to interact with and listen in to the conversations going on and contribute when appropriate.

When trying to describe this further I asked my friend to imagine that Twitter was an extension of an open plan office where you choose who you want in your office. Try to imagine sitting in your Twitter office, puzzling over something or wanting help or a second opinion, now call out to your friends and colleagues asking them the question. Alternatively listen to the banter that is going on around you, and join in to the chat, answering someone’s query or supporting them.

One thing to remember about an open office, and Twitter, is that when you go out of the office you cannot hear the chatter. Twitter goes on 24 hours a day – there is always someone in the office, however you may not be. Just as in a ‘real’ office if you step out and a colleague requests assistance, you are not there to help – however someone else might. Twitter is the same, it is not necessary to ‘in’ on every conversation.

Twitter is a networking tool.

Twitter is a communication tool.

Twitter is an open plan office, where a lot of people work, all doing different things but sharing a common social ideal of helping others and spreading information.

Written by Paul Jennings

April 1, 2009 at 11:57 am

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 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

Shared Service Sorcery

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The concept of Shared Services has been on the Local Government agenda for some time as a way to combine resources and save money. Over the years some of the big consultancies have been touting for business, tempting local authorities into bed, some classic examples include Birmingham City Council’s deal with Capita and IBM’s deal with Somerset. Other local authorities are looking to move to the next level and including a strategic partner to deliver multiple services for the group.

When embarking on the path of Shared Services it is essential that the whole organisation understands what they want to get out of it and what they are willing to put in to the deal. I fear that when Shared Services appears on the agenda no-one asks what do we want and instead focus on how much can we save.

ICT is a key enabler of successfully delivering Shared Services and one of the reasons it is so important to understand the requirements and expectations up front. When explaining shared services I treat it as a journey that takes an organisation from in-house solution through to a fully managed solution. The first question I always pose is – where is the line..? The line defines what one organisation gives up and the other takes up.

Having worked recently with 2 authorities looking to join up their financial services I was interested to learn that different departments had different opinions as to where the line was going to be. Some thought that it was a fully managed service while another department felt that it would be a hosted service. In the end the project was split into 2 phases, with phase 1 looking to implement a hosted solution where one authority would be responsible for the hardware while the other would be carrying on as normal but with a new infrastructure. In phase 2 work would be undertaken to pass some of the operational tasks from one authority to the other.

In summary: Get the line in the right place, avoid the confusion up front.

The second question that I raise is what does the organisation want to get out of the agreement. Is it money, does the authority want to make a profit..? Is it efficiency, by working together does the authority want to deliver a better service for users..? Is it experience, does the authority want to learn more about shared working with an aim to increase usage in the future..?

Profit is always a bit of red herring and no authority should go into a shared services agreement expecting to make money. It is the nature of business to only create an infrastructure that is required for the current service with limited room for expansion. Taking on the work of another authority could mean doubling the infrastructure to support and so will require investment to meet the needs of the agreement. The cost of this investment will affect the price that needs to be charged but this will need to be balanced with the need to be competitive and so the profit margin suddenly stops looking so good.

In summary: If you’re looking to offer shared services, be wary as all that glitters is not gold.

The third question that I ask is what impact will this have. In a shared services agreement, no matter how far down the road, there is a giver and a taker. It is essential that any changes to processes are fully understood before entering the agreement as substantial changes will affect efficiencies and therefore the ‘bottom line’ of the agreement.

Finally – shared services are a good way of delivering better services to customers by utilising the skills in place, however be wary and ask the right questions before taking the plunge.

Till next time.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 29, 2008 at 2:55 pm

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

The big stick of transformation

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I recently challenged some senior managers to tell me when does the big stick enter their transformational planning. They were surprised by the question and tried to reassure me that the large public sector organisation we were discussing was ready to change and really willing to do what was necessary to deliver.

 

In my experience business areas are very willing to change and point out failings – in other business areas, but never within their own area. When dealing with transformation, as opposed to service reviews, it is essential that the aims and objectives of transformation are drilled into the business area and these have to be lead to be achieved.

 

There will come a time within every transformation project that progress against expectations will have to be reviewed. What happens if progress is not as expected and the drivers that started the original transformation project are knocking at the door? It is time for the Big Stick of Transformation.

 

It is at this point that the leader needs to take action. Some view transformational leaders as people who get the best out of business areas and encouraging them to ‘do it themselves’ but do not appreciate that leaders also have to wield the big stick.

 

There is a quote that goes something like – an army would never follow a manager into battle but an inspirational leader could lead them through the gates of hell. This is true, but looking deeper, that leader did not sit back and ‘facilitate’ allowing the troops to come up with their own ideas and strategy, that leader inspired them to greatness and shook the big stick, showing them what would happen if they did not deliver.

 

The transformation project needs to understand when the big stick needs to come out, but more importantly what the big stick will be and how it will be implemented – and be willing to implement it. Without this knowledge and commitment the war is lost, transformation will never happen, and the hounds of hell will be cocking their legs on your campfire.

 

A transformational leader should be able to accept that the business are the experts and that the ideas need to come from the inside while inspiring the troops to make more efficiencies, cut more jobs, increase sales further or blow open the gates of hell while painting graffiti on the walls.

 

Till next time.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 16, 2008 at 11:54 am

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