Thinking about “improvement”

It’s tempting to see improvement as a progressive path. This works, for example, with time: an email is quicker than a carrier-pigeon and a carrier-pigeon is quicker than a postcard, and therefore an email is quicker than a postcard.

But transitive comparisons don’t always make sense when we’re creating stories and opportunities for stakeholders.

A self-service option is cheaper than a call centre agent, which is cheaper than a dedicated private banker. But that doesn’t mean that self-service is an “improvement”. It simply means that it’s cheaper, which is just one of the many things that a stakeholder might care about.

Costs might be easy to measure, but it’s never clear-cut that less of them always means better.

What about more intangible benefits like “easy to use” or “increased job satisfaction” or “better management information”. These are not easy to place a value on.

What improvement means is quite subjective.

A million-pound no-brainer

Consider the plight of a business analyst. They’re trying to push through a million-pound business case to implement a new digital platform.

Every time they’re meeting with an executive or a sponsor and an objection is raised, they say to themselves, “You’re right, that’s a lot of money. I’d never spend a million pounds on technology—I can’t even justify buying myself a new smart phone.”

And so the programme isn’t approved.

Empathy changes the status quo. Because the change isn’t for them, it’s for the organisation. It’s for the stakeholder who says to themself, “This million-pound project is a no-brainer. I’m going to get at least two-million pound’s worth of new sales, process efficiencies, and fewer complaints from this decision.”

And that’s okay. It’s the way decisions work.

Every project—every investment, every task, every change—is worthwhile. That’s why we approved it. Because it promised to give more benefit than what it cost us. Otherise we wouldn’t approve it.

Which means, going back to the struggling business analyst, that if you’re unwilling to have empathy for the narrative of the stakeholder you seek to serve, you’re doing them a disservice.

You’re doing them a disservice because you’re not positioning a worthwhile option. You’re keeping a stakeholder from understanding how much they’ll benefit from what you’re proposing …. such a significant outcome that it’s a no-brainer.

If the stakeholder understands what the option is and chooses not to approve it, then it’s not for them. Not right now, not at this cost, not with that scope.

And that’s okay too.

Empathy is at the heart of business analysis

People don’t see what you see.

They don’t know what you know.

They don’t believe what you believe.

It’s true, but often we forget this.

Consensus-bias is when we incorrectly think that everyone else will agree with us—and it can lead us to overvalue our own viewpoint.

Everyone has insight from their perspective.

Everyone thinks that they’re right, and that their problems are a priority and misunderstood by others.

Everyone fears change in some way. And everyone realises that they also need to change.

Everyone has an idea to make things better, to offer a solution and to give recommendations.

Everyone wishes for a requirement that they can’t have. And if they could have it, they’d discover it’s not what they really needed.

Everyone feels alone, uncertain, and a bit of an imposter. And everyone cares about the work that they do.

As a business analyst, then, you have little chance of forcing business analysis on others, in insisting that they get with your project, that they realise how hard you’ve worked, how much insight you have, how important the change is…

It’s so much more productive to engage with them instead.

You’re always presenting

The way you present yourself has created successes and lost opportunities. It has ignited defining moments and sparked internal conflicts.

Presenting is powerful, but not every presentation is a major one. Whether you’re in a virtual meeting, or physically in the room, you make an impression with every personal exchange you have.

If you want to increase your impact when you speak, you need a coach. The world’s top executives have coaches. The world’s top athletes have coaches. And if you’re dedicated to improving your work, you can have a coach too.

In search of “Improvement”

A business case provides three options to respond to the business issue. Each option is someones preferred. It’s possible that there are tens of options, each with a different impact, cost and duration that will be some stakeholders preferred.

How can that be? Because perspective matters. Everyone else’s priorities are misguided.

When a business analyst arrives and says, “This is the best way forward,” they’re misguided. They actually mean, “This is best for some stakeholders and it might be best for you.”