“You could go to anyone, and we’re anyone”

Imagine an online travel company.

One approach is to find the best destinations with the best prices and sell package holidays to anyone who needs a break.

There are problems with this.

First, if anyone can package holidays the way you package holidays, then a competitor a short click away will take half of your business—more than half, if they reduce their price.

Second, and more important, no one needs a package holiday. It’s a desire, not a need.

So why should people care?

Perhaps that customer does want the best airfares, hotel tariffs and rates for every other thing. They want the all-inclusive holiday package which includes most of their meals, as well as drinks. It’s easy to budget for. Bang for buck. And they can spread the cost over several months.

Perhaps the customer wants convenience. They want to remove the stress by taking the minimal planning path. They’re prepared to pay a premium price for the luxury of having a high-quality holiday organised for them by the expert. Zero headache.

Perhaps it’s a status symbol. That there’s an impressive portfolio to choose from with bucket-list destinations all over the world. Plus the tailor-made itinerary means that they’ll get an experience they wouldn’t otherwise do if they were to book independently

Any of these perspectives and transformations are available to the travel agent as soon as they decide to make a stand.

But knowing the perspective your customer holds is insufficient. You still have to act on it, open up the door to the opportunity, and model the entire system around that perspective.

This is the approach that helps people understand that you are remarkable, and this is the approach that makes things better.

The paper vacuum

When you do something that others do, when it’s something that we can easily get on Upwork, on Indeed or on LinkedIn, there’s some squeeze.

It’s the squeeze of knowing that you have no competitive advantage. It’s the pressure of knowing that if you raise your asking price enough to earn a decent income in return for the effort you put into your work, we’ll just haggle or find somebody else who will do it cheaper.

New entrants, substitute products, and the bargaining power of buyers and suppliers; when the availability of a more affordable option is a step away, we’re not afraid to step.

Writing use cases from a process that already exists is easy. Engaging with peoples desires and needs, helping them to see further, raising their expectations—that’s the tricky work we signed up to do.

From now on, your stakeholders know more about the business than you do. And so your paper work, no matter how much effort you put in, is not enough.

The system’s down

“System” is a special word. Probably the most overused and abused word in our business lexicon. Bandied about, in multiple contexts, the word itself doesn’t tell us much.

“The system’s down”, they say.

So what’s the problem?

Is the hardware or the input device broken?

Or is the network offline? Is bandwidth usage heavy?

Could the database be corrupted, or the data be incorrect?

What about the person? Are they using “the system” correctly?

Perhaps the documentation—the forms and manuals—are out of sync?

Possibly the procedures, guidelines, and scripts are dated and no longer relevant?

Maybe it could be the software? Does the computer program have a logic or control issue?

Systems comprise systems. A hierarchy of components, layered like a set of Russian Dolls, coming together to accomplish an outcome. Operating systems roll-up into information systems roll-up into business systems roll-up into industry systems.

So tell me, what part of the system isn’t working?

Does it do what it says on the tin?

In 1935, Alan Turing came up with a theory for software which led to the study of its creation. Growth in the field moved the industry to evolve, with Margaret Hamilton coining the term ‘software engineering’, the systematic approach to the analysis, design, development, operation, and maintenance of software systems, acting to legitimise the profession.

Even in the 1990s, IT system quality was still an adventure. Who knew when or where the system was going to break?

Today we take much for granted. Amazon does get your order to you within the stated delivery timeframe. The blue screen of death is a thing of the past. Payment transactions are processed accurately. Your GPS guides you on the best route, social media keeps you in touch, and the supply chain has never been more reliable.

And yet we still talk about being ‘world-class’, as if it’s some kind of unique claim that puts us ahead of the curve.

Many people are good at what you do. Experts at it. Maybe as good as you are.

Kudos for the great work you’ve done and the competencies you’ve developed. But it’s no longer enough.

Quality, the quality of building requirements right, is required but no longer sufficient.

If you can’t deliver quality yet, this blog isn’t much help to you. If you can, awesome, well done. Now, let’s put that aside for a moment and realise that plenty of others can too.

Problem first

Successful business analysts don’t start-off by looking for a solution, for the answer that makes them appear smarter than everybody else in the room. Instead, we start with the stakeholder we seek to serve, the problem they seek to solve, the change they seek to make, and the result they seek to attain.

There are gaps in the organisation where the options you see will make a meaningful difference. Not a just a functional change. Not simply a quarter inch drill bit, or a shelf erected on a wall. No, you can change your stakeholders on a behavioural level.

Our purpose is to enable business change. Accepting the permission to improve situations for our stakeholders.

Yes, you have a goal: to serve your customers in a way they need (or want). And the possibility is there for you to choose a path and travel that, not for your own benefit, but for how it will empower others.