Curiosity, humility and utility

A business analyst is curious about their stakeholders. They wonder what they are grappling with, what makes them tick. They’re fascinated by their perspectives and beliefs.

And they have the humility to embrace the lack of time and availability that their stakeholders struggle with everyday.

People aren’t keen to give you their availability. The meeting you scheduled isn’t a blank cheque to buy something that is priceless.

Instead, we can trust that stakeholders will intentionally exchange their availability. Exchange it for something they want or need. Exchange it because they’re highly interested. Exchange it because they trust you to keep your promise.

Not everyone will be intentional. But if you do your job right, enough stakeholders will be.

The is the shoe and the foot. You’re not running around with a shoe trying to find a foot it fits. Instead, you’re finding a problem (the foot), and since you’re curious about their perspective and needs, you will find a solution (the shoe) just for them, one with utility they’ll happily exchange availability for.

A doctor doesn’t have to spend much time convincing the sick person. When you show up promising a remedy, if the sick person understands what’s at stake, you won’t have to drag them to your practice to get a prescription.

An aside about the personal agendas which are secretly shaping things

As a business analyst, we want to understand what makes someone take a position.

In particular, we want to understand a specific type of stakeholder: the opponent. Since we know opponents often try to derail things for reasons outside of the project, why are they intent on impeding progress? And under what circumstances?

On one project, it was found that many people were apathetic to the change, despite being affected by it, and despite the external political pressure being so imperative. And on a similar project, the old ways of working crept back in, with people carrying on like before, even though the commercial logic was so overwhelming that it was a no-brainer.

But logic isn’t the issue here; it can’t be. What’s happening is that these stakeholders are seeking comfort from their position as opponents and they’re searching for a feeling, not a rational path. Some people thrive on the promise of change, but for others, even if they can see the need for change, it can be unsettling.

This is something we must appreciate and be honest about. In some situations, the change may lead to redundancies or shifts in people’s jobs, in which case the stakeholder’s apprehension is very real. At other times, stakeholders may be cynical about whether this project will be any different to others that promised much, but never delivered. In either case, the change must be sold carefully and thoughtfully, marshalling counter-forces to overcome the negative stance.

By connecting with the status quo, the opponent engages with their desired emotion, a feeling of comfort, safety in familiarity, no fear.

These stakeholders don’t think of themselves as obstacles. Each stakeholder doesn’t want to take a unique position, all alone with a feeling. Instead, they seek to be part of a widespread group, a powerless group that can take solace in each other while the project “keeps them informed”. They can find this belonging everytime they hang out with the opposing forces.

That’s not a big leap from the countless stakeholder groups that so many early champions belong to.

At some point in time, each of us becomes (for a while) the type of person who believes that our underlying personal agendas are right. We’re seeking own own little pocket of comfort.

Early champions are not critics: they thrive on improvement

Early champions are at the start of the business analyst’s journey. And it’s important not to hear them as critics. Critics quietly figure out how to adapt as the organisation changes. They’re not in favour of the project, but they figure out the shift.

The early champions are different. They are advocates—thriving on the promise. They get excited in discovery, they engage in the tension of “This might just work,” and they feel rewarded by being a part of the solution. These advocates are forgiving of failure by those who explore the change with them, and continue to be incredibly supportive after that initial excitement of discovery has tapered off.

This relentless desire for improvement is precisely why they’re always looking to be involved in the next shift. Your best work won’t be perfect in the eyes of an early champion. And that’s perfect—because the best you can do is show-up and be interested.

In your work as a business analyst, you’ll be torn between two axis. Sometimes, you’ll be creating solutions for stakeholders who hold the power. And sometimes, you’ll be trying to build products and services that are embraced, that can extend beyond the stakeholder group of champions to embed and satisfy the rest of your audience.

There’s almost nothing a business analyst does that shouldn’t be approached with this attitude. The important question (again) is: Who’s it for?

Those stakeholders who are seeking to improve—what do they believe? What do they need?

The analysis of customer service

Customer service must be getting better. More responsive and, of course, helpful.

With a focus on SLA’s for waiting time, first-contact resolution, and canned responses for frequently asked questions. By establishing the structures for omni-channel engagement, through telephone, email and live chat.

And yet, I rarely hear shining stories of customer satisfaction.

Do you?

Customer service might be getting more helpful as we get more efficient, but we actually have little idea. We can’t be certain whether the outcome is better, because we’re not that customer.

But we can be sure that customers would like to experience us better.

Because customer service is for product customers. It’s the way it helps them build trust, the affirmation of their decision and satisfaction of belonging, the status of owning the product, and the generosity of advocating it.

Most customers want to spend more money to do business with a company that delivers outstanding service. Some are even willing to teach you how to make your product, service, and business better.

But let’s not get confused about who all this improvement is for. It’s not for us.

It’s for the customer.

A business analyst in a call centre might decide that the magic for better customer service is to route people through to specialist functions. But that requires the empathy to understand how customers think, and the grace to respond.

It turns out that the right formula is to actually provide the quality of service the customer purchased.

The point of this example isn’t to help you analyse customer service improvements. It’s to understand that there’s almost always a disconnect between operations and expectations. That the project sponsor’s choice of the best cost/operations combination is rarely the customers choice.

There are two narratives running through our heads. There’s the operations narrative, the one that doesn’t have a strong voice, but knows what is needed. And there’s the customer’s narrative, which is particular, expectant and noisy. It’s juggling multiple factors and is easily frustrated.

Like the customer who is making decisions based on dozens of factors (yet blind to SLA’s), the stakeholders you seek to serve care about the range of utility and service, not simply a metric for what’s internally optimal.

Choose your boundaries and choose your audience. And vice-versa.

Improvement isn’t up to you

There are hundreds and hundreds of finance products available in the market. Can you list them? Even a financial advisor would struggle.

And the same thing is true for sportswear, for consulting companies, for supermarkets.

So how do we analyse this, evaluate this, offer a service?

We pick the best approach.

Best for who?

And that’s the important question. Best for our beneficiaries.

If they care about time and cost, then they have preferred criteria for the level of quality, and it’s the one that provides the quickest and cheapest option.

But our other beneficiary, the one who cares more about quality and scope, has quite a different option in mind.

Your job as a business analyst is to draw lines on the map marking boundaries that (some) stakeholders want to explore. Not the selfish, default internal perspective, done to minimise your efforts, but a meaningful product, a lighthouse that guides people who are looking for the utility you offer.

We’re promising this. Not that.