Making Chaos Visible, in Order to Solve It.

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As borders are eroded and the speed of business, as well as change increases, it can often feel like a struggle to find dedicated time to untangle the complex problems that we as business analysts must solve. No sooner have you found a path through the fragmented kaleidoscope of business problems that straddle complex technical architecture than the business of disseminating your findings and bringing your stakeholders up to speed be-gins. And it can hurt.

Emem Amana, Business Analyst, Thoughtworks,

Emem, presented at the Business Analysis Conference Europe this past September on the topic of Making the Chaos Visible (and then Solving It)

If you are lucky (in fact, very lucky), your stakeholders have really bought into your pro-ject and your work will provoke discussion. As colleagues kick the tires of your beautiful and well-studied thought-piece, the edge-cases1 will surface. And they can edge-case it to death.

At this point it is, the natural response to tidy these exceptions away, to smooth down their sharp edges and make them tessellate. To make it all fit in. This is an exercise that you might find yourself doing after each interaction with your various stakeholders. At its worst, this work will exhaust you; it may even reduce your desire to collaborate in the fu-ture. At its best; it will slow down the momentum of your project.

Today I ask you to embrace this stilted process. To make all of the chaos visible. By making the chaos visible, you will create a bird’s eye view, where the the larger patterns in the chaos can be seen. From snippets of detail your stakeholders provide you will begin to see the commonality between the ‘exceptions to the rule’. And eventually we end up in a space where everyone shares the same clear goal and is brought unto the same trajectory.

But how do we get everyone to see the Chaos?

There are many methods that you can use to achieve your ultimate goal. The methods available are perhaps as numerous as the people that employ them.

Ultimately, your aim is that the method of visualising chaos will bring your stakeholders together and allow them to see the creation of these larger patterns in the chaos. This wider scope of view will enable them to superimpose the complex and fractured landscape of their day-to-day work (through the lens of their expertise) into a rich portrait. This may take the form of a workshop where everyone committed to the projects success slaps their thoughts on sticky notes that can be grouped together at a later point in the workshop. It could be an email. As a ThoughtWorker, I will always prefer a workshop: it is so much more dynamic and therefore revealing. Furthermore, as the rooms momentum begins to slow, you can be confident that you are now well-positioned to start the task of searching for commonality.

What patterns are emerging within the chaos? Are the similarities between the train and the tube similar enough to bring them together? What is the difference between ice-cream and sorbet? Quite a bit if you’re lactose intolerant, but then they both need refrigerated storage. Workshops are ideal to surfacing chaos, you get everyone together and leave with a shared understanding and if there are hurdles, you see them earlier. Much earlier.

I would like to tell you that you can eliminate the chaos that is made visible, but that would be a lie. Dust swept under a carpet remains dust. However, what visualising chaos does enable you to do is to order it. Sometimes you need a map of London and sometimes you need a tube map, you get to decided which, and its a good idea to know when to use each.

Ultimately, you tame your chaotic beast. Is that enough? Well, greek mythology maintains that Chaos was the first to exist and many things sprung from Chaos. The Roman poet, Ov-id, considered Chaos to be an unformed supernatural mass.

Go on, have a go, its not everyday you get to conquer a Titan.

Emem joined ThoughtWorks as a Graduate Business Analyst building on her previous work in central government as well as in the private sector as an Educational Consultant. She is passionate about organisational transformation and using technology for societal benefit. Self-motivated and adaptable, Emem enjoys learning new approaches to solving problems and delivering business value.

Copyright: Emem Amana, Business Analyst, Thoughtworks


1An edge case is a problem or situation that occurs only at an extreme.

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