Business analysis projects (intentional choice of the homonym, projects) are the generous works of people who want to facilitate.

Adrian Thomas and the trainer understand that being your true self inside the organisation is unsolicited, that what stakeholders need is someone to understand and facilitate them, not to simply be the recipient (or victim) of whoever you feel like being at the time.

And when we produce the best version of our best work, our responsibility isn’t to create it for our own interest…it’s to deliver it for the stakeholders we seek to serve. We save our best version of the work for their benefit, not our own.

Just as a Product Owner doesn’t come home and manage her family like a backlog, you’re not expected (or welcome) to project every one of your self-doubts, personal concerns, or perceived constraints at work.

You’re here to facilitate.

The honest, endangered superhero

You know this persona: the business analyst who speaks up in the room, with the simple truths, ready to withstand the objections and the complaints from a room full of people that doesn’t get what they’re saying. Until they do, and then they (imaginary) fist pump.

This is a daydream.

It’s a treacherous daydream.

There will be a few exceptions that prove the rule, but in general, what’s true is that organisations need business analysts willing to facilitate.

Facilitating the change others seek to make happen.

Willing to lead a line that resonates with the stakeholder group that they care enough about to facilitate.

There could be a disconnect here. It’s possible that you could be feeling this way today, but there’s a chance you might not be. The version of yourself that you’re projecting to others runs layers deep, but it can’t possibly be the whole of you, all of the time.

A business analyst professional plays a role, doing their best possible work, regardless of the project or the stakeholder or the customer.

When Kulula Air Steward Adrian Thomas delivered his version of the pre-flight safety demonstration, hilariously, with a uniquely South African twist, it was a brilliant act, not a unique performance. After all, a version of it happened on every flight.

When a trainer improves his delegates prospects, day-after-day, by sharing information, he actually might be a brilliant teacher, but it’s more likely he’s simply presenting his material.

When the team of waitresses and waiters at Spur celebrate you with the Happy Birthday Song, they’re doing their job, not disclosing.

And that’s okay because disclosing isn’t what makes things better. Disclosing is saved for your closest family and your best friends, not your stakeholders.

Find your ego strength. You’re needed tomorrow.

“And we sell gear”

Situated at the base of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Table Mountain, Trail and Tar in Cape Town is not just another running and cycling store.

No matter how wide a range or cheap a price their competitors offer, Trail and Tar manage to do pretty well. Because they offer something other stores don’t. They host weekly runs and rides that cater for all fitness levels, followed by the customary debriefing in their own coffee shop. They offer a social experience.

If you own a running and biking store that competes with anyone, “…it’s a social experience” is a pretty special feature.

That’s because experiences are better shared.

Experiences create a third feature: a chance to meet, to tell stories, to build dreams.

And so Trail and Tar is actually a running and cycling club that sells gear.

The gear we bought from them is simply the equipment we needed along the way to make our dreams become a reality.

Better is up to the customer, not up to you

Moleskine is better.

It is better than myPaperClip and better than Blue Sky.

Better in what in way?

The note pages aren’t obviously better.

The notes themselves aren’t dramatically clearer.

What is better is that you get the feeling that some amazing ideas will be captured on the pages.

Blue Sky’s notebook is a spiral-bound paperback, with white paper. Moleskine is a book-bound hard-cover, with ivory-coloured paper.

It projects durability and creativity. You always get quality.

So it is better—for some people.

Now, RocketBook is better. Because it transcribes your handwritten notes into the cloud. Because it’s erasable, it’s infinitely reusable. Because it’s different.

So it’s better—for some people.

Case Study: Strava is better

If you’re an athlete, you’ve probably used Strava. It’s a profitable company with more than 250 employees, dealing with over fifteen million exercise uploads a week. If you’re looking for a route in the neighbourhood you’re in, the inspiration is there in one of their feeds.

Strava makes the sports athletes love even more fun, and it’s also home for an engaged community of 75+ million users with an athlete in every country on earth 

How did its founders Mark Gainey and Michael Horvath make better happen?

In the mid-2000s, there was a social exercise platform called Endomondo. Their model was simple and obvious: they offered a free version for basic activity tracking with paid adverts, and a premium version including ‘special’ features without the interruption of ads. A subscription cost $5.99 per month.

In order to build the business, they came from a place of exclusivity. Your activities were free to upload, log and view, but any post-activity analysis cost money to access.

To get users, they enabled anyone to log any kind of workout with any device (which got them good visibility), but when people showed up they dropped features that customers had paid for and then reinvented them behind a further monthly pay wall.

Endomondo generated profit via opaqueness.

Mark and Michael came up with a different story: make a “virtual locker room” where people who exercised alone could find a community, make astonishing levels of data analysis available, and pay for the whole thing with premium subscriptions. After all, what better place to find competition and camaraderie than a platform where the worlds most active people go to log their activities?

Along the way, Mark and Michael discovered that creating a better product meant serving different people differently, enabling stories for each persona that matched their worldview and needs.

For amateur athletes keen for information, they made it easy to log activities and explore new places. Showing them how fast they ran today, or last week, or five years ago, and how much improvement they’ve made.

They recognised that for every person who uploaded an activity, a thousand people wanted to see where and how hard their friends were pushing. Instead of restricting features, they gave them what they needed. Feeds to follow other athletes activities, give “kudos” and leave supportive comments. They even gave a ringside seat to see how elite athletes train and race.

But competitive athletes are different. For them, they gamified fitness by introducing the leaderboard, automatically matching the results of anyone else who has run the same route, or part of it. With the fastest man and woman on a given segment dubbed King and Queen of the Mountain.

And social runners were different as well. They wanted clubs for groups, a space for their race reports and photos, and a message board to get recommendations on the best trail-running shoes. Strava knows how many kilometres your shoes and will email you to let you know you when you need a replacement pair (without sending you ads for shoes).

Mark and Michael didn’t want to simply offer an alternative. They set out to be of service, to make things more satisfying, to tell people a story they wanted and needed to hear.

They built something better, and they let the user not only spread the word but do the things that someone else might consider work.