Top 10 things I learnt at BBC 2016
Now that the proverbial dust has settled, I leave Las Vegas and the Building Business Capability conference with a lot of new insights and memories of great speakers and fascinating presentations. I also retain an afterglow and overall impression of a profession (Business Analysis) with a strong self-belief and the skills, energy and passion to lead business excellence and transformation through IT.
Here are my top 10 highlights:
(1) Crucial Conversations
Bob the ‘Badass’ BA is without doubt a force of nature, but beneath the noise and humour, the balloons and blue hair, there is a serious message. We all need to take part in, and be successful at, Crucial Conversations; those unsought emotional, difficult and challenging conversations with friends, family and colleagues. And Business Analysts are no different.
The most effective leaders are the ones that can skilfully address risky political and emotional issues. [Crucial conversations]
(2) Wither Business Analysis?
The majority of attendees at BBC are Business Analysts, but I learnt that we are a growing and increasingly influential tribe. At various talks I heard the following ways in which our unique skills are being adapted and extended and our traditional domains of requirements, process and business rules are changing.
- Agile Business Analysis is not new, but I feel that we are growing into the spaces where the Agile Manifesto and non-agile practices meet, and often clash! And, spare a thought for the BA moving into Product Owner roles, with or without the unhelpful ‘proxy’ adjective.
- Lead BA; again not new but alongside Enterprise and Strategic BAs we can and do look at the bigger picture and take the lead in more complex strategic programmes of work and/or manage a team of BAs.
- And lastly, Business Architecture, a relatively new field but something that most organisations need, probably, to realise the full benefits of technology investment and ensure that technology underpins business functions and organisational capabilities.
I hope you agree; the future is bright.
(3) Concept Maps
This was a revelation for me, from a very engaging Australian tech guy (James Ross, Envato), by his own admission, not a BA!
I have done data analysis for most of my professional career, from larger grain logical models, entitles and classes, to more detailed implementation-level schemas and data dictionaries. However, I have not knowingly produced a concept map or concept model – although have tried to do undertake a similar exploration with different tools and techniques. I will add this to my practice in future to help understand and analyse domain language and terminology.
Coach Clinton [Ages] is a real character and put on a great show for all the superheroes in the audience, yes we are! Clinton talked particularly about motivation in the workplace, about intrapreneurs and the way that some companies (good companies that is) choose to engage employees, encourage personal and professional development in a safe environment while also aligning individual and corporate goals.
I particularly liked the quote from Peter Drucker about the need to increase the productivity of knowledge workers to match the 50-fold gains achieved for manual work in the C20th
The most important contribution that management needs to make in the 21st Century is…to increase the productivity of knowledge work and the knowledge worker.
(5) User-Centred Design
The talk by Andrew Waling and Caleb Carroll from Principal Financial Group was a refreshing and timely reminder that Business Analysts can’t have all the skills and knowledge needed to steer analysis, design and implementation, particularly in the specialist domains, in this case User Interface and User Experience design.
This case study related to the development of an internal reporting tool (MI/BI dashboard) and involved a high degree of JAD-style collaboration*, and User-Centred Design in an iterative development. A Business Analysis worked closely with a UI design expert – and double-teamed the presentation. I think back ruefully to the many occasions when as a BA I took the lead in understanding User needs, maybe producing some low-fi prototypes, with the design specialists bought into the process late or never.
(Ed. Joint Application Design was an early form of iterative software development with multi-disciplinary teams, when such an idea was new enough to warrant and acronym of its own!)
Including real magic! Despite his self-deprecation Adrian Reed is a real magician, at least as far as I’m concerned from row H in a packed auditorium you couldn’t see the wires.
As well as the clever parallels drawn between designing and executing a [magic] trick and our own more prosaic project activities, there were two specific things I will take away:
– Measuring the success of a project not just from the immediate benefits, but ‘Outcome +’ which considers what your stakeholders feel and remember about the experience (performance!) as well as what they see and hear
– Adapting a mind-reader’s Cold Reading techniques to elicit requirements
(7) Everything is Mobile
As an aside, in my two weeks in the USA during and after the conference I noticed how much things have changed, and how quickly; it could be just Nevada and California, or I’ve not been paying attention at home? Everyone is doing everything on mobiles and smart devices, including tablets. There are still some laptops about, but very few books or magazines in evidence in public places. There are technology, psychological and socio-economic reasons for this, to be explored in another post.
So it was timely that Jack Cox (firstname.lastname@example.org) was talking about customization, particularly the demand for all products and services to be available in an efficient and user-friendly way. More-over Users want slick processes on their portable device of choice, with everything intuitive, friendly and usable ‘out of the box’. And those Users~(link) include employees, B2E (Business to Employee), who are a microcosm of the customers out in the market, so better make things easier for them as well, after all why spend money on [internal] systems and apps that are not used very efficiently, or at all?
Mobile and digital are no longer optional bolt-on products, but there have become the centre piece of organizations omnichannel strategies. Remember the corporate race to build websites and provide online services, well the paradigm has shifted again, mobile is everything and everything is mobile.
(8) Your Customer is changing
Not just mobile (as above) but the broader topics of Customer behaviours, Customer Experience and how [we] interact with organisations and their IT systems are critical to business success.
Brad Drucker from NTT Data showed us the scientific – well research-based at least – analysis of Customer Experience (Forrester Customer Experience Index), Customer Friction, generational factors, and many more measures of what ‘good’ looks like. But what has this got to do with Business Analysts?
One of the great things about the wide-ranging topics presented at BBC is that they can open our eyes to different factors that can make us more empathetic to the needs of our stakeholders and potential users and Customers. Surely the final best measure of the value of the systems, processes and technology that we help to produce lives in the real world interactions and reactions?
(9) User Stories+
In another case study, ‘Becoming Agile’, the good people from Wells Fargo provided a useful insight into the choice of analysis tools and techniques in the face of fashion and dogma in our discipline.
Specifically, ubiquitous User Stories, may not be enough to provide the right amount of detail,context and rigour required in any circumstance. Agile doesn’t mean no documentation, but only what is appropriate and the minimum acceptable. I like the idea that User Stories can be supplemented variously with:
- Use Cases
- Concept Models
- Business Rules
- Design mock-ups, prototypes and other models
- Acceptance criteria including structured ‘Given-When-Then statements
- Business Architecture (at the ‘Epic’ level only?)
I should know this of course, Business Analysts should be collectors and practitioners of as many tools and techniques as are necessary to produce the best possible timely outcomes. Don’t let anyone tell you there is only one answer to a problem.
(10) Communicate to Collaborate
And last, but not least, I was really pleased with my own introduction to presenting at BBC. With my co-presenter Ellie Lawrence and our avatars, IT Chemist and Annie List, respectively from IT elementary school, I hope we provided an interesting and informative session early in the conference-proper.
Timing – pretty good, although the Q&A was curtailed in a rush for the lunch buffet! In future I should add a bit more interaction and encourage discussion. Some fellow presenters managed this very well, but I’m sure such natural ease and confidence requires a lot of practice.
Delivery – OK, although I have my suspicions that our English accents and some phraseology and terminology was lost on the mostly North-America audience…ironic as the subject was ‘communication’.
Highlights – the Tripp and Tyler video got a lot of laughs, mostly because I’m sure that everyone has suffered similar voice conference mayhem and mishaps! My talk linked the potential problems of communications technologies with lack of planning and [meeting] protocols and the absence of human contact.
Lowlights – the ice breaker and final ‘Building an Agile Organisation’ demonstration/exercise clearly illustrated the need for simplicity and full engagement of everyone involved in communication and collaboration activities.
And also, accidentally, these procedural issues prove that things go wrong and often provide the most powerful learning opportunities. I hope to continue to learn and improve my craft; I’m looking forward to Building Business Capability 2017 already 🙂
(c) 2016 IT elementary school