The Times They Are A –Changin’

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David Beckham, Senior BA – Aviva Life,

David will be speaking at our Business Analysis Conference Europe 2015 on The Power of Change – A Personal Journey

Date Masamune was a 17th century Samurai Lord known as ‘The One-eyed Dragon’ due to having lost an eye from childhood smallpox. He was feared and respected as a cool tactician and a ruthless warlord but as is often the case with Samurai, was also a great patron of the arts, particularly of the tea ceremony. One day, so the story goes, this great warrior and battlefield supremo was presented with a priceless tea bowl. As he took it in his hands he nearly dropped it, causing him to momentarily flinch. His momentary disquiet was noticed by his retainers, much to Masamune’s chagrin and, ashamed that he could face battle unflinchingly yet start in fear at the prospect of dropping a tea bowl he deliberately let the tea bowl drop to the floor where it shattered into many pieces. He had learnt to overcome attachment to unimportant things.

The question we all face at some point in life is what do we deem important? The answers will all be different based on your view of the world, but one thing is important and consistent; change will happen and your ‘favorite tea bowl’ may be lost, smashed or replaced by something else which is when things can get tricky. Have you ever dropped a favourite mug? Did you feel a momentary sorrow? Perhaps, but I suspect you soon got over it. However some tea bowls are more valued; a job, a friendship, or a family member for instance can be much harder to move on from. As a person with Parkinson’s Disease the tea bowls I have to get used to losing are things like the ability to tie my laces in under three or four minutes, the skill of doing up buttons or putting a t-shirt on. All quite frustrating but not quite the end of the world as we know it.

So, how does all this philosophising add up to anything work related? Indeed, is it at all relevant to Business Analysts?? Well, we too go through change; a favourite method or strategy ceases to work, use cases go out of fashion, process models adopt vertical swim-lanes (NEVER!) or waterfall is replaced by Agile or System Thinking. As a professional we must be prepared to change based on both internal or external forces; our internal experience may lead us to change our usual approach in favour of something that works better or external forces may mean we need to learn new things to keep abreast of developments. The BA has been subjected to many changes in their environment over the last decade or so, particularly in the realm of popular change delivery methods. Most of these changes can be traced back to the way our economic culture has transformed since the eighties, particularly for Financial Institutions[1]

[1] In my humble opinion. Other opinions may be available and indeed, more valid

Here’s a table to illustrate the point

Decade Cultural reference Delivery Method Cultural Vibe
1980-1990 Wall Street – Lunch is for wimps Waterfall Large monolithic opaque organisations throwing large amount of money at problems with minimal accountability
1990-2000 The end of the world is nigh!! Six Sigma/Lean Introducing management and production efficiencies through empirical data measurement
2000-2010 The shareholder is King QMS/CMMI Introducing measurable processes to ensure shareholder gets value and companies are attractive investments as they de-mutualise/float on the stock exchange
2010-2015 Don’t you know there’s a recession on? Agile Deliver code as quickly as possible to get maximum benefit from an ever shrinking change budget, whilst dealing with the increasingly dynamic changes consumers desire

In reality the changes we face in doing our job have probably been much more complex and potentially bewildering than the organised sequence I show above but one thing is clear, as Business Analysts we have to be prepared to sometimes drop that cherished tea bowl and move on. HOWEVER One thing is constant in all this; the skill set of the Business Analyst. At the heart of every method there has to be an intellect applying it. One of my favourite analogies is that the method is the car and the BA is the driver. You may have a top range Formula One ready vehicle but if you can’t drive it you won’t get very far. It seems to me[1] that a lot of Senior Managers mistake the car for the Driver and spend huge amounts of time looking at spending training budget on methods rather than skills or behaviours. Good business analysis is done via an intellectual/social process not a technical one; a BA who has solely been trained in a method will not thrive as much as one who has trained in facilitation, negotiation and stakeholder management and can apply a specific method within that framework. A good BA adapts, adopts and evolves rather than insisting on rigidly following dogma.[2]

Finally, there are some things we should not be prepared to lose and just shrug our shoulders about and these things are honesty, integrity and respect, both for our colleagues and from our colleagues. When we lose these we really have lost something important so no matter how much smashing is going on around you, cherish those particular vessels intensely no matter what else occurs.

[1] See footnote 1 above

[2] A somewhat dogmatic statement in itself – oops!

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