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.

Positioning as a service

In a world of opportunity, where we have precious time, limited space, and plentiful choice, which path do we choose?

Sometimes it’s easier for our stakeholders to switch off and not even engage to solve the problems they have. When it feels like an option is going to be insufficient, it’s better to do nothing. When the world is filled with promises of silver bullets and littered with past project failures, people don’t have faith in any of it.

Business analysts can choose to steer towards something. Instead of saying “We can build anything, what would you like?” the business analyst can start with the stakeholder worth serving, start with their perspective, beliefs and needs, and then craft a service for that stakeholder.

This requires going beyond.

Locating the points on the map.

Aiming for something, not just anything or everything.

Too narrow a choice

Traditional business analysis is built around the sponsor who pays for the project. It’s done to the stakeholder, not for them. Old-school business analysis is under the hammer of time, cost and quality, and any restrictive scope measures to solve the problem—to build the product, to land the service, to make the change.

When the stakeholder has little choice but to listen to you and live with what you give, when there are only three similar options, only one service provider available, only limited choice, the path to bottom-line might be the path worth pursuing.

But the newly enlightened stakeholder has discovered that what looks like distraction to the project sponsor feels like opportunity. They’ve come to realise that they have an infinite number of choices, an endless array of options. For the business analyst, they’re caught trying to facilitate the hedgehog and the fox one—a project simplified against one high-level idea versus a project that revolves around different questions.

Thousands of niche business solutions.

Hundreds of ERP system’s available in the market.

More experts, solutions and consultancies than they could ever consider, never mind engage with or hire.

Having this plethora of choice, most of it offered by people who are simply wielding a hammer, the stakeholder is making the obvious choice. Go somewhere else.