Choose your dimensions, set your future

When we consider all of the possible options, it’s typical to choose the dimensions that seem to matter to most customers. After all, it takes hard work to break ground on the map and choosing a spot which fewer people care about feels like risky business. Better, we believe, to follow popular opinion.

If you do, you’ll definitely be joining a busy quadrant. And without the power of recognition, it’s very tricky to grow market share in a quadrant that’s busy. Your customer’s spoilt for choice, so they’ll likely follow popular opinion too (or feel overwhelmed and do nothing).

The alternative is to define your own quadrant. To identify two dimensions that are being underserved. To build a product, a true service, that keeps your promise, that places you in a position where you are the clear and obvious answer.

Everyone else, the average or hard-working products that chose the average or popular dimensions—they’re all crowded together. They are the Sony Walkman, Blockbuster and Facebook Messenger and the rest of the dogs.

You, on the other hand, have plotted your own course, one that’s unique to you, one where there are overlooked customers who can’t wait to join you on your journey, collaborate with you, and help you spread the word.

Attributes worth talking about

The IIBA endorsed business analysis training company, for example, needs to begin not by merely saying “We’re IIBA endorsed,” because as we all know, there are other companies just as endorsed. Moreover, “We’re good at training” and “We’ve been around since the 1980’s” are hardly attributes worth talking about.

On the other hand, if they choose “We’re template-driven, our delegates are template-driven, and this is about documentation” as one axis, and “Our delegates learn how to fit into IT projects” as the other one, suddenly you have a training provider worth registering with, a provider worth paying the premium fee for.

Is this the training company I wish I had when I was starting out in my career? Absolutely not. It’s not for me. But for the organisation who views business analysis as a means of ‘bridging-the-gap’, and for the delegate who sees being a business analyst as a strict role, this is precisely what they wanted.

And now the training provider has their work cut out for them. Because they do, in fact, have to be more structured and traditional than other training companies. They do have to make the difficult decision of failing students who don’t follow the templates. And they have to persevere enough with the classes of delegates that they do actually fit squarely into IT projects.

A few streets away, a different training company takes a totally different spot on the map. They work with the whole range of techniques, focusing on the practice, not the paper. They can refuse to be blinkered by IT but instead grow business analysts based on the holistic competency and making an impact.

Both training companies treat business analysis learnings differently. They don’t compete; they’re simply on the same board.

Inclusive and generous

Some businesses focus on revenue and domination.

Others on internal costs and efficiencies. Still others on time and emergency fixes.

Business analysts have been serving this forever.

When IBM and SAP (and no doubt the Big 5 consulting companies) were selling solutions in the 1990s, they understood the business scorecard and simply promised features and metrics that would hit that target. So, one implementation was for the organisation who wanted staff savings, while another was for the organisation who cared about exploiting the supply chain. For these organisations, it didn’t matter whether the solution they bought was in their stakeholders best interests, since they were “serving” themselves.

And then big business pushed it further, challenging business analysts to optimise the competition into a corner while working to post the big numbers for their shareholders.

This is all fine, but the race to the bottom doesn’t hold up over time, not in our hyper-competitive world.

Instead, we can think of the quest for better as:

  • Objectives that are inclusive, that we continually double-down on in all our projects.
  • Objectives that are generous, that exist to give service to the customer and society.

Meaningful dimensions

Here are thirty dimensions for you to pick from. Because you know your space far better than I do, I’m sure you will identify some others.

  • Accuracy
  • Compliance
  • Convenience
  • Customisation
  • Environmental impact
  • Friction
  • Innovation
  • Integration
  • Maintenance
  • Materials
  • Price
  • Privacy
  • Professionalism
  • Quality
  • Range
  • Reliability
  • Results
  • Rigour
  • Safety
  • Scalability
  • Security
  • Simplicity
  • Social proof
  • Speed
  • Status
  • Sustainability
  • Trust
  • Uniqueness
  • Useability
  • Utility

After you choose a dimension with two poles for the X-axis, pick a different dimension for the Y-axis. Plot the options your stakeholder has on the matrix.

Now you have a map of how the alternatives weigh-up. A map that a business analyst can use to steer the solution to the stakeholder’s problem.

The magic of the X/Y map

The approach: draw a simple X/Y grid.

Every available alternative can be plotted on the map. All online retailers on the internet. All the areas of advice for financial planning. All the running shoes in a sports shop. (We’re not identifying them as competitors yet, and you’ll see why.)

Create two axis. One is arranged horizontally (X) and the other vertically (Y).

For each axis, pick a dimension that is meaningful to your stakeholder. It could be something like quality, speed, price, accuracy, performance, utility, or efficacy.

For example, there are at least four ways to get a slice of pizza in your hand. For one dimension we have convenience, and for the other we have healthfulness. Of course, both your favourite pizzeria and you yourself can happily make a pizza, but one will take some effort and the other will be prepared for you.

If you care less about healthfulness, a delivery from the local takeaway pizza restaurant is even faster. And if you care less about convenience and healthfulness, then you can go and buy a frozen pizza at the nearest supermarket and put it in the oven yourself.

The magic of the X/Y map is that it clarifies that each alternative might be an option, depending on who you seek to serve. Can you see how this matrix would be totally different if an axis were changed to taste, price, cooking method, or variety?

The same approach can work for online delivery (speed, security, reliability, careful handling, tracking, cost, etc.) or for Target, Zara, and Paul Smith (price, range, quality, status). Or a craft brewery and a wine farm. Or perhaps Capitec Bank, Prudential Assurance, and Goldman Sachs.

We’re not so much interested in features as we are in the benefits that those features promise.