The Samurai Business Analyst

My Lineage
I am a Senior Business Analyst in a major financial insurance company in the UK. I have been working for the company since 1986 and in that time have performed many roles, which in some respects makes me a grizzled old veteran and in other respects a non-adventurous long term retainer. I have some formal qualification in my job and have mostly developed my skills via experience, training with several leading companies and learning from others. This blog is not an attempt to be a text book on being a BA, instead it is my attempt to bring a slightly different frame of reference to the role and provide a framework for personal development and growth.
In 2010 at the age of 43 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease which has been a major challenge for me as the condition has progressed. Living with a health condition has given me greater focus on leaving a legacy and making a difference; outside of the office I used to be a fencing coach and have interests in Zen, martial arts and samurai history and it is in this area that I initially found a real model around which to structure my personal view of the world. My co-habitation with Parkinson’s has enhanced my views and I believe that people perform better when they have a job that they can believe in and grow through. I also believe that everybody frames their world with their own perception and rules. It has taken me a long while to synthesise my job, life and principles but it has been an interesting journey to get here. Hopefully you will find some of the information on these pages of use.

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“It’s Only Running a Meeting….”

One of the constant urban-myths about the Business Analyst role is the common assumption/assertion (invariably by non-BAs) that all we do is ‘run meetings’. I’ve heard this a few times during my career and it really exercises me. There is a lot more to the BA role than that; in fact there is a lot more to running meetings! As part of my current role I devise a lot of training material and someone recently asked how I go about running a meeting. It wasn’t until I was asked that I attempted to document my thought processes and it proved surprisingly more difficult than I imagined!

As is usual for me when I’m trying to document large amounts of information I decided to do a mind-map. This technique always helps me in collating and organising complex situations and I enjoy doing them. The first draft is always quite a mess but I can then start organising it into groups or clusters of information because once I have the clusters I can then arrange them as I see fit. For instance, I could organise by complexity or priority or even by business value, depending on the question I am trying to answer. Anyway, let’s get back to the point at hand. Once I had completed the first attempt at a mind map I found I had several clusters of information. These represented the main activities that I undertook when running a meeting. In no particular order they were listening, watching, analysing, capturing and storing and once I had identified these groupings the rest of the information flowed quite quickly and soon took the shape of the picture you can see below.

meetings

meeting1

 

meeting2

 

I appreciate the picture is quite a complex one, so I include two blown-up sections and will try to run through each cluster in the summary below.

Listening. During a meeting there are several things I am listening for; issues being raised, the actual input to the meeting, for ambiguity (so I can resolve it either then or later) and questions, either those being asked by other people or questions I may need to ask myself.

Whilst I am listening I am also storing incidental information that I pick up during the meeting. These can take many forms but predominantly fall into things I believe will prove useful in either future assignments working relationships. Sometimes I need to return to this information at a later stage in the meeting so mentally flag this for later action.

I’m also capturing information usually on a whiteboard or laptop. This is essentially the raw inputs from the participants and can be either requirements or issues. If they are requirements I attempt to sort them into functional, non-functional or data requirements. I am also recording who said what and if necessary, when they said it.

Whilst all this is going on I am continually watching the group, looking at body language, checking energy levels (both those of the delegates and myself) whilst also keeping an eye on the clock. If either the clock or apparent energy levels indicate a break is necessary I will advertise this to the group and consider if I need to do any interventions during the break. Interventions come about through observing what is going on within the group and deciding if I need to do anything about it. If I do, it will usually take the form of either:

  • an interpersonal intervention – usually required if you spot an individual who is behaving in a disruptive way
  • introducing a new technique – this can be required when an unexpected process or problem is encountered and you need to examine it in a different way
  • changing the meeting process – again this may be required if something unexpected occurs during the meeting and you need to incorporate a new strategy, such as revising the agenda or desired outcome etc
  • team dynamic – if something is interfering with the team dynamic, i.e. the team is getting tired or a dispute has arisen I may potentially need to intervene

Finally, I am analysing what is going on to determine several important indicators; are we making progress? Does anything need clarifying about what has just been said? Does it provoke any further questions? And finally, is whatever activity we are currently undertaking actually working?

You will no doubt have noticed that several of these mental gymnastics occur on the picture and in the above narrative at several places but this is a symptom of trying to describe an inherently intellectual and instantaneous process in a documentary format.  Needless to say, most of this mental processing is invisible to other participants although there is ho harm in involving them in your deliberations, for instance when bookmarking an issue to come back to you can say to the “let’s some back to ‘x’ in a minute; don’t let me forget as there’s something I feel might be important there”. Thus not only are you making sure you don’t forget, you are also including the group in the process and indicating you are still alert.

So that’s a quick voyage around my mental construct of managing meetings…. To be honest, I probably haven’t got all the things I do on this picture and you’ll probably have things you would add or subtract. But whatever the differences between my view and yours, I think we can put to rest that ‘all we do is run meetings’!!

Planting Trees You’ll Never See

I heard the above phrase a few years ago in a presentation by James Kerr. I think I’d probably heard it (or something similar) before but it was this moment where it really clicked with me*. At that point in my career I had just started presenting at Conferences with reasonable success but I didn’t know quite what to do about it. On a personal level I was still coming to terms with being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease Condition (It’s official; I’ve renamed it as I dislike the word ‘disease’**). I guess at that point in my life I was ready for a little jolt into the right direction and looking back over the past few years it was from here that the jolt originated. I made sure that I had a brief word with James after his keynote to thank him and then connected with him on LinkedIn to thank him again but beyond that there is probably no way that James would know the impact he made on the course of subsequent events.

Shortly after that I was listening to the soundtrack from the film ‘Lone Survivor’ and the next jolt happened. I am a person who is very influenced by stories and especially films. This is especially the case when the soundtrack is emotionally in tune with the story and this is why I am such a soundtrack nerd. This particular soundtrack had been quite different, so I added it to my collection and there were two tracks that immediately stimulated a stream of images and words in my imagination that I built into two animations; these became the underlying melody of my ‘Power of Change’ keynote which I premiered at the following year’s BA Conference. The fantastic feedback I had was then passed up the line to the CIO of my company and I was asked to present it at her annual Global leadership conference in London where I succeeded in making a fair amount of the Global IT Leadership cry (in a good way) and the rest, as they say, is history. My presenting credentials were enhanced and with great support from many great people involved in the conference and also within my organisation I became a regular feature at the event, eventually having the honour of being asked to join the advisory board. This lead to the pinnacle (So far) of my conference career when I was asked to re-present my keynote as part of the tenth anniversary event and had the fantastic opportunity to introduce Sir Clive Woodward as that event’s keynote speaker. Sir Clive is one of few ‘heroes’ I have*** and it was a total gift to have the opportunity to meet him and discover what a genuinely natural and inspirational figure he is. Since then I have learnt much from Sir Clive through his online learning pages (www.hivelearning.com/clive) and have even felt confident enough to contribute my own thoughts occasionally. It is very likely that none of this would have happened if I hadn’t seen James’ keynote speech. Which I guess makes me a tree of some sort!

Another impact this has had on my life trajectory is that I have developed self belief and the self-confidence necessary to become a coach and mentor. I have no badge or certificate to speak of; but what empowers me is some of the wonderful unsolicited feedback I have had from people who have seen my ‘Power of Change’ presentation and the knowledge that I too can plant trees out there. But this is something we can all do. You don’t have to be an officially accredited coach or mentor to be able to help people in some way. In some cases, just asking someone how they are can serve this purpose well.  As a Business Analyst you are often leading from the middle of a major change and have a lot of influence on the outcome, even if people don’t realise it!

Which leads me to the final reason I think the tree-planting reference is relevant today is that in essence this is also what Business Analysts do; quite often the work we undertake is difficult to measure, difficult to trace back to a specific moment where ‘benefit’ or ‘value’ was accrued. Often the questions we ask can be considered no more than seeds that may or not take root within the environment we are working in. This can make the job quite frustrating when it comes to justifying it and can undermine a BA’s personal confidence or indeed make it difficult for a BA Community to carve a place for itself in an IT Organisation. (I will be writing more on the “BA: Service or Servant” conundrum in the near future). My only advice to any Business Analyst finding themselves in this position is to have faith in your calling. Someone has to ask the right questions and in a world facing rapid technological and social change we have to provide the compass through complex technical, moral and ethical change journeys by planting trees we may never see……………….

 

* it was further reinforced after reading James’ excellent book “Legacy – What The All Blacks Can Teach Us About The Business Of Life”

** For the record I also object to the word disability; I’m not disabled I’m differently-abled

*** although I am totally sure that he would balk at the term

Unaccustomed as I am to Public Speaking Part IV

In my last post I discussed crafting the structure of a presentation. In this post I’m going to take you through some of my thoughts regarding how your deck should look. I would stress this is simply my opinion on how slides should look based on my years of experience and also from being part of the advisory boards for BA Euro, where I have listened to many great snippets of advice from my peers. I also tend to use Powerpoint but, before we kick off a debate about the ‘true ruler’ of presentation software I acknowledge there are other applications out there that do an equal, if not better job in some aspects; I just don’t happen to use them. Hopefully my advice will be generic enough to be useful on whatever software you bend the knee to!

So to start off with here’s a few hints and tips that I have found useful to consider, in no particular order:

Design – keep slides tight, clear and un-cluttered. In terms of designs I tend to favour white slides with a simple dark red font or black slides with a white or bronze yellow font. Powerpoint can auto-suggest designs if you allow it on certain versions but I tend to find these a bit too gimmicky. If you do want a design on your slides I would go for something simple such as the examples below.

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Font – in my view it is best to avoid ‘cute’ fonts like Jokerman or Chiller as they are nigh on impossible to read on a slide. Impact can be used in moderation to do what it says on the tin but mainly I tend to use Calibri, Times New Roman or Tahoma. As to font size I think somewhere between 28 to 40+ is fine and anything under 20 is likely to cause the audience to struggle. Some events issue guidelines regarding these so it’s worth checking them out. Also, be wary if an organisation asks for your slides in advance and then pastes them into their own deck as it can completely mess up the format! OH AND CAPS LOCK IS STILL REGARDED AS SHOUTING….        

Text – Avoid the temptation of cutting and pasting huge amounts of text. I personally would rather have an eye-catching slide with a few key bullets on it, than attempt to transpose War & Peace…. There’s a limit to how much the human brain can continuously absorb as we are presented at. Avoid the mistake of displaying miles and miles and miles and miles of text with very little break your audience will soon begin to drop off into the abyss of fuzziness or the lack of any break in cadence or rhythm will slowly drive them off their cake until they can take no more

A common mistake that emphasises the previous error is breaking the prime directive of presenting which is “Thou shalt never say the same thing as your slides” A great quote used by many writers on presentation skills is “If you and your slides are saying the same thing, one of you doesn’t need to be in the room”. This is really worth remembering but can be very hard to do; occasionally I still find myself accidentally reading my slides and at that point force myself to look away from them. It gets easier to ignore your slides the more you practice a particular session so I recommend that you try and get as much practice as you can! If you do need help remembering your content (when using Powerpoint) use the notes box and then display your slides in ‘presenter view’. You will be able to see your notes but the audience will see only the slides. (This is only the case where you can extend your slide deck onto the wall via a projector).

Images – the use of simple images can add a huge amount of value to a presentation, as long as they are relevant and clear. Before using images you might want to consider any copyright issues (Particularly if your slides are likely to be published on the internet) and also their resolution as grainy images can spoil the effect. Complex graphs etc should be simplified as much as possible and you should never, ever, ever utter the phrase “Of course, you won’t be able to read this slide…..” or the Gods of Presenting may strike you down with fruit and vegetables……

Animation – I use animation quite a lot to ‘build’ slides i.e. have them appear in the order and pace I want them. This can be particularly effective when you get used to it as you can talk through the slide points without having to click through them. I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the animation process as it will take too long but suffice it to say you can experiment with various styles until you find the one you like. I would recommend avoiding some of the more frenetic animations though as they can get tiresome and distract from the content of your talk.

In general, it is best to remember that the audience is there to see/hear you, not marvel at your slide deck!

In the next instalment of this series I shall look at some of the practical skills of presenting, such as maintaining confidence, working the room, body language etc….

Unaccustomed as I am to Public Speaking….. Part 3

Well it’s May and the deadline for submitting the first draft slide deck for the BA Conference Europe 2019 looms ahead like a large loom wearing a slightly under-sized cape….. We are now at the stage where we have provided our one page synopsis and are now creating the deck that will deliver it. As a reference point, here is the synopsis of my presentation; I may well refer to it in future…. (NB: I have redacted some of my content to avoid spoiling the surprise at the actual event)

Business Analysis: The Middle Way – synopsis: David Beckham

This presentation introduces a fresh way of looking at the Business Analysis role via the unusual lens of Samurai and martial arts strategies. The Middle Way concept has evolved throughout my career based on a long interest in these topics, plus my out of work interests as a fencing coach and my firm belief that you can learn a lot about your job from other apparently unrelated disciplines and subjects. It has also been heavily influenced  by my recent learning as a coach and mentor of my BA Practice during which I have studied many methods of building confidence in new or developing BAs and as a result have become convinced that by adopting a mental stance of ‘letting go’ you actually become more empowered, confident and correspondingly less pressured and stressed.

I begin with a brief introduction to myself and how my interest in the subject matter came about. I then introduce two main Japanese historical characters who I will reference throughout the session; Miyamoto Musashi and Yagyu Munenori, explaining their background and philosophy before recounting examples of their exploits and thinking which I believe are particularly resonant for BAs. This section concludes with Musashi’s most important tenets which are:

  • Think without any dishonesty
  • Touch upon all of the arts
  • Know the way of all occupations
  • Know the advantages and disadvantages of everything
  • Learn to see everything accurately
  • Pay attention to even small things
  • Do nothing useless

I will explain why each of these is directly relevant to business analysis and why they have become a cornerstone of my career.  This section concludes with Musashi’s pragmatic theory developed from his long career as a duellist and warrior, “It is crucial to think of everything as an opportunity to kill”. 

Section two commences with the heart of the Middle way concept which are in essence my key learning and principles developed over the last 20+ years as a BA. They are intended as an echo of Musashi’s and are as follows:

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 After explaining these I then examine in more detail how these principles allow a BA to deal more effectively with the following areas of their career. Confidence, conflict management, crisis situations, leadership and the ultimate point of strategy “It is crucial to think of everything as an opportunity to make a difference”. This provides a concluding echo of Musashi’s philosophy which concluded section one. There will then be an opportunity for discussion and questions.

Creating a deck of slides is one of the things I really enjoy and over the years I have accumulated some hints and tips that you might find useful; some of them are practical, some of them are more aesthetically based or philosophical but hopefully they will be of some use….

Build your story-line first

As you can see from my synopsis above I already have a structure in mind that is basically

PART 1 – Personal intro/back story + historical examples

PART 2 – My interpretation of a framework

PART 3 – conclusion and questions

The story you are going to tell should be reasonably clear in your head by now, seeing as you’ve had to think it through in order to do your synopsis but if not, it’s probably the main thing you want to concentrate on as it’s what will hold your story together. You can create this by using a model something like the one below ……

story01

 

My presentation is essentially is a journey that introduces the audience to a novel frame of reference (Samurai Japan), tells some interesting tales that can be used as intriguing metaphors for Business Analysis and then presents my own personal learning through contemplating these metaphors over the last fifteen plus years. There is a final call to action regarding employing these techniques which will clearly explain my motivation and encourage adaption by the audience.

At this point it is useful to look at the following:

Your opening – what are you going to say that immediately hooks the audience in? Most people start with an introduction something like this…. “Hello, my name is David Beckham. I’m a senior BA at Aviva and have been a BA for over twenty years… I am really pleased to be presenting today on the subject of how you can create your own effective framework based on the historical perspective of Samurai Japan……” Adequate but not really gripping is it? So my opening will be something along the lines of “The Japanese Samurai were elite warriors who pledged their lives to the honourable service of their clan, swearing to act on behalf of the greater good. As a Business Analyst I commit to providing clarity and efficiency to my organisation in whatever assignments I am given. In my view it is no coincidence that Bushi, the Japanese word for warrior and Business Analyst both start with B and U and in this session I intend to show you why……” If you can craft an opening sentence that gets the audiences’ attention, you are on your way. Then if you memorise it you immediately have a confidence booster at the start which you can build on.

The Transformation – by this I mean how you wish the audience to be changed by your presentation. At a basic level it could be this:

The audience knows little about Samurai Japan transformed to the audience knows a bit more about Samurai Japan

Or

The audience do not have a framework for their activity transformed to the audience have a framework in place and what’s more it’s very similar to yours!

If you can figure out your transformation you can then further develop your story to reinforce it.

The conclusion – usually in the form of a summary/re-cap of the salient points you have presented with either a call to action, a picture of the new world or the potentialities your presentation. My conclusion may be something like “So, who would have thought that the philosophy and writings of a warrior creed from halfway across the world and half a millennia ago could be so relevant to our role today? Hopefully I have shown that this is the case and that we too can do our jobs with purpose and even perhaps a faint tinge of honour…….. Thank you very much, or should I rather say “Domo Arigato”……

So there’s something for you to consider; I shall be posting more in the next few days so do pop round again soon; I’ll have the kettle on……

The Customer Is Always Right – If You Know Who They Are…!!

My esteemed colleague Adrian Reed put a fascinating post on his blog this week regarding thinking beyond customer journey maps which was a great read for two reasons; first, it was a good provocation for anyone doing journey mapping (I particularly liked the concept of ‘service’ journeys and secondly because I was running a mentoring group that very afternoon and had not got anything to hand. Once I’d read Adrian’s article I knew I had a topic! Don’t get me wrong Dear Reader, I fully credited Adrian as the inspiration and did not plagiarise his work. I simply ‘riffed on it’. Now those of you who have ever been lucky/unfortunate to be standing anywhere near Adrian and myself at a conference will know that quite often we will riff or jam on a topic that we have recently encountered and this often translates into a presentation or article. So I riffed on the topic of who is the ‘end customer‘ of a change initiative? The picture I came up with looked something like this.

custPicture1
As you can see there are numerous people who could be considered to be the customer and it is the job of the Business Analyst to figure out which order they are in, identify when that order changes and what value is assigned to all of them! This can be a very fluid and dynamic perspective as whilst you may be delivering a change that is valuable to a customer who is a policy holder or recipient of a service is must also demonstrate value for other highly influential parties such as your company CEO and shareholders, if you have them! All of these customers have influence that can pull you in different directions, much like the tidal pull of the moon. In fact sometimes the conflicting pulls can make you feel like Io, the moon of Jupiter that is so stretched by it’s parent planet and sibling satellites that it is the most volcanic body in the Solar System! But it is an important perspective to have, even though it may be quite high-maintenance, as all these potential customers will have an invisible influence on your requirements.

I also threw together a provocation about what a customer is made of. I was wondering if the constituents of a customer could be broken down into ‘domains’ much like that of a data model and I proposed a theoretical model that looked like this.

custPicture2

The different categories can be described as follows:
Identity – each customer must have some identifying features such as a name etc
Contact – each customer may have a history of interactions with a provider
Payment – each customer may have methods of making payment to a provider
Policy – (possibly better named as relationship or arrangement) – each customer must have some sort or service relationship with a provider
Value– each customer may have some measurement of value associated with an arrangement with a provider (Such as an insurance amount or investment total). This could also include an indication of the value of the customer to the provider…
Preferences – what does the customer prefer? I took this to include prosaic things such as the desired method of communication, data privacy etc but it could also include data for recommendation lists etc.
The point of all this was to provoke debate about the very essence of that which defines a customer and also to see if it provoked any insights about requirements development and perspectives. One addition suggested during the debate was that of affiliations i.e. does the customer feel attached to a particular cultural demographic in a way which would change their requirements? The recent surge in green perspectives being a current example.
We discussed this theoretical model within the group and generally agreed that it could add value in modelling the complexity of the important world of the customer. As I’ve often said, it’s not so much the techniques you employ, it’s equally about the way you think!

Reflections on BCT 2019

My recent London visit was because I was speaking at the Business Change & Transformation Conference run by IRM. This was my third year and the event is certainly growing and attracted a wide range of delegates who were offered a correspondingly wide range of speakers and presentations to choose from.  I was speaking on a favourite topic of mine; how to build powerful teams by letting the team create its own values, rituals and language and it seemed to be well received; well, no-one ran screaming from the room anyway!

I also had the opportunity to network and had some great conversations with Adrian Reed, Steve Whitla, Hilary Scarlett, Liz Calder and Ian Richards, amongst many others! Added to that was the chance to see some very interesting presentations, ranging from ‘Leading from the middle’ by Adrian Reed, some very shocking and thought provoking statistics during Laura Da Silva Gomes’ keynote on diversity and it’s importance as a driver of change and last but not least ‘the magic of creativity’……….  The latter was a very thought-provoking presentation by a Professional Magician known as ‘Butzi’ who had some great insights into the creative process and how to access it throughout your life. It seems tragic but the concept of creativity almost gets educated out of people in modern societies and also tends to vanish through career progression as well. What I suspect happens is that creativity does not (unless you are in a creative industry/role) necessarily help you in the evolutionary death struggle that is work and therefore it gets ‘de-selected’ as a desirable attribute. In other words, in most jobs you get ahead by getting better at the same process; constantly re-inventing the process means it’s harder to get better at it, or at least the investment in effort begins to be out-weighed by the transient nature of the process. In these situations, creativity is actually an undesirable criterion as it introduces more chance of ‘not becoming an expert’, thus reducing your promotion prospects. Oh the humanity!

As a Business Analyst it can sometimes feel like creativity is a dying art; is the definition of accurate business requirements an art or a science? There are numerous techniques available for business analysis activity with a proven track record of success so why invent new ones? Surely there are set and effective ways of doing business analysis so why do we have to innovate or change things around all the time?

Well, you may not be surprised to know that I have a few thoughts on why creativity is hugely beneficial to the world of a BA.

  1. Just because it worked last time does not mean it is a nailed-on certainty to work this time. Different people, different processes and different products can all create a unique blend of circumstances that may require a new approach
  2. You don’t need a badge to be creative and sometimes asking yourself new questions can provide key insights that will enhance your career immeasurably. As an example, me standing up and presenting a seminar on “understanding the business problem using examples from Monty Python’s Life of Brian” to a group of fellow professionals that I’d never met at a major conference may seem unthinkably hazardous at first glance, but taking a chance and going for it seven years ago at the European BA Conference hugely accelerated my enjoyment of my career and the opportunities to make a difference that lie within my grasp. In fact, it’s fair to say that this blog wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t trusted my creative instincts; whether this has increased the literary value of Western society is a matter for debate…………
  3. Creativity promotes enjoyment/happiness. This doesn’t always hold true but it does in my case. I love playing with ideas in work and outside. Out of work one of my main hobbies is drawing and every so often I get a ‘creative’ flash that leads me to create something like my ‘Vitruvian Yoda’ sketch, or riffing on a similar theme ‘what if Vitruvian Man had Parkinson’s Disease?’ It can mentally manifest as an image of two different coloured lumps of plasticine being fired together at high velocity with the resulting SPLAT being the new idea…
  4. Creativity can be contagious. You might be creative in a field outside of work, such as art, poetry, crafts etc but with a little thought you can bring that into your work life. Asking yourself “What if….?” then “What’s the worst that can happen?” can be extremely empowering and instructive. Also if you are prepared to be creative (this making yourself vulnerable) you will be surprised at how many people will respect your attempt AND also start trying it for themselves!

So in summary The Business Change and Transformation Conference was certainly transformative for me! Hope to see you at the next one!

Things I Have Been Pondering Of Late

Train of Thought
I was travelling down to London on the train recently and took the opportunity to indulge in some recreational thinking, by which I mean letting my mind wander over various subjects at random, some that I had been pondering for a while and some that occurred to me in the moment. One of the latter was the ‘Curious Case of Booking Train Seats’. I use our corporate booking system which poses you several questions regarding your seating preference, one of which is whether you prefer seats facing forward or backward. Now it doesn’t really bother me but on the occasions I have indicated a preference for facing forward I have always ended up facing backward. It took me a while to figure out that the booking system had the default position that the train started in London so therefore when it got to Norwich and reversed out of the station to return to London the forward facing seats were actually backward facing from the system perspective. This to me is an example of how a reasonable system condition (I.e. the train cannot turn around at Norwich without physically derailing) can become very frustrating for the customer if it is not explained clearly. It may seem a trivial matter (and the sort of ‘bug’ that languishes on fix lists whilst more significant errors are dealt with) however my Wife and I suspect many other people suffers from motion sickness if she can’t face the direction of travel, therefore her entire day could be ruined by this seemingly small system eccentricity.
I am obviously not average
As part of my London visit I had a two-night stay in a hotel. Continuing my pondering mood there were a couple of things that occurred to me about this experience. I would imagine that a hotel probably has a concept or construct regarding their average customer; of which group I am obviously not a member. This might explain why for me………..
One pillow is too thin and two pillows are too thick
My room temperature is always too warm but the duvet is a winter one
There is a radius of approx. 0.5 degrees on my shower-dial where the water temperature is bearable; everything else is a song of ice and fire……..
You can have full English breakfast or toast; but you still get funny looks if you construct your own ‘breakfast sandwich’…..
So there you have it; two examples of how my brain works. I call it ‘cognitive play’, in the sense that it involves taking an idea and playing with it just for fun in many cases. This may seem mere frippery but for me it is an important part of my mental exercise regime!

“Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking…” Part 2

How’s your submission coming along? If you are intending to speak at this year’s BA Euro conference in September you’re running out of time to put your submission in to the committee. I have decided what I am going to go with this year and whether I am going to present on my own or with someone else. If you are a first time presenter it may be appealing and useful to co-present with a colleague for mutual support and benefit and in fact, this was the way I cut my teeth at BA Europe when I co-presented  a three hour work shop. There are a lot of benefits to be gained from this method but also a few things you should consider before submitting:

  1. Are your styles compatible? Too compatible? Will you gel on the day or will there be jarring segues? This applies not only to doing the presentation but to planning and preparing it; an improviser and a detail junkie will probably thoroughly annoy each other…..
  2. Do you trust your colleague to keep to the plan and timings? I saw one two person presentation once where the fifty minute slot was supposed to be evenly split between two colleagues. However; one got a tad carried away and took 39 minutes. The ever growing despair on the face of their colleague was tragic…..
  3. Are you located together in the same office? This is vital when it comes to rehearsals etc. Also if you are presenting with someone outside your organisation there may be issues with sending files to each other through corporate firewalls etc
  4. Do you have a plan if you or your colleague are unable to attend the actual conference?

You need to consider these questions very carefully before you decide.

This year I am once again presenting (If I am successful with my submission) on my own. I have numerous presentations I could have used but in the end have decided to go with an elaboration of my evolving ‘Middle Way’ framework that I first alluded to on my blog here last year.

So, then I needed to craft the submission… although I had already developed some material for my internal BA Community I needed to summarise it into something relevant for an external committee to judge, something that wasn’t required when I presented it one of my regular community calls as it was my meeting!  So I examined the material I had written to distill the core and hopefully sufficiently alluring message, which I eventually put forward as follows:

Business Analysis: The Middle Way

Drawing on both his 25+ year career in Business Analysis and his long-held interest in Samurai Japan, David synthesises these apparently disparate elements into a practical framework for Business Analysts everywhere. He will recount several historical examples from Samurai Japan that directly relate to the modern Business Analyst before explaining how these examples eventually formed a workable framework for him after several years of rumination. He will discuss the principles that inform this mindset and the advantages of maintaining “a beginner’s mind” whilst undertaking analysis on change programmes. During the session he will discuss how keeping to the Middle Way will allow you to:

Manage conflict situations in a professional way

Assist teams through crisis situations by leading calmly from the middle

Boost your confidence by focusing on outcomes rather than outputs

Discover the surprising similarities between the Bushi of medieval Japan and the Business Analyst of today…..! 

Note it is written in the third person (think of it as a sales pitch), mentions a bit about me, indicates three learning points (positioning a couple of ‘proto-memes’) and finishes with what I thought was a nice flourish; highlighting the letters BU in Bushi and Business Analysis! Obviously I have yet to find out whether I have been successful but I am remain optimistic. If I am not successful, the next article may be quite brief but if I am, I will go on to describe how I will put my story together. Good luck if you are submitting!

Change Resilience

I’m hearing a lot of discussion at present about resilience to change and how to develop it at individual through to organisational level. This, you will not be surprised to hear, has set me thinking as it is a topic not only close to my heart but also to my brain.  As someone who lives with a major neurological condition I am exposed to change every day. Parkinson’s Disease can present its symptoms in a wide range of severity, depending on my levels of fatigue, anxiety and dopamine production. This means that my physical condition fluctuates from ‘almost normal’ to ‘almost non-functional’ within the space of a few hours, sometimes through several cycles in any waking period. This is upsetting in itself but it’s compounded by being largely unpredictable from day to day; some days are worse than others but at different times. For instance, today I felt ‘off’ from the start; I woke up early (0600) and couldn’t get going at all. The first part of this article was typed with one finger and it is only now (1129) that I can feel the drugs beginning to work and two-handed typing has emerged again, although PD does affect my key-board aim so a lot of back-spacing and deleting is going on as well right now. So this means I have been pretty ineffective for most of the morning, not forgetting the cramping and discomfort that accompanies the persistent hand and foot tremors and the associated constant wriggling about in my chair to get comfortable. The good news is it feels great when I feel my motor functions returning, my hand loosens up, my left leg stretches out almost involuntarily and I can do helpful things again, like open bottles, walk without stumbling and smile, all things that most people take for granted. These ‘off’ periods are also stressful because everything takes longer and ironically almost always seem to coincide with multiple skype messages, e-mails and other activities that require much valued ‘brain-petrol’ from my depleted tank. (I am thinking of putting a message on my skype profile and e-mail signature that reflects the fact that sometimes I will be slow to respond to communication; not through indifference, more through incapacity!)  Without labouring the point, this has challenged my concepts of change resilience and I thought it might be helpful to detail a few of the things that help me deal with it.

Resilience vs resistance

I dislike the concept of resistance to change, mainly because I don’t think it’s possible and is thus a waste of resources. It’s true that to an extent you can resist change but its going to get you eventually. I think the following table demonstrates my view here as to the quality of the experience

Resistance Resilience
Aggressive/assertive Supple/pliable
Needs energy Conserves energy
Opposing Absorbing
Angry Understanding/compassionate?
Negatively biased Positively biased

 

In my view, the feelings on the right are much preferable to the ones on the left.

Perspective

I think it’s important to have a perspective on change. Obviously the primary perspective is that it’s happening to you and as it’s your universe* it’s only to be expected that you apportion a lot of energy/importance to your change event. However, sometimes it’s helpful to compare scales of change. OK, admittedly you’ve got a really difficult change to deal with but there is always, somewhere, someone who is experiencing something much more challenging. You can take this intellectual experiment as far as you want; it is entirely possible that somewhere out there an entire intelligent civilisation has just been wiped out by a super-nova, cometary impact etc which does tend to add a different twist to your train being cancelled. Remember, I’m not belittling anybody’s challenges here, just challenging the apparent vs actual scale of them.

Nurture yourself

To me, it’s important to conserve/nurture yourself when going through challenging times. It may seem counter-intuitive but taking time out to relax and reflect, or simply do something that you enjoy and energises you is much better for you than throwing all your energy into ‘solving’ the problem and can often lead to useful insights from the subconscious background programme rather than the in-your-face foreground programme! I also have created some powerpoint decks of a positive meditative nature which I play when feeling off centre that help me chill out and relax and I’d recommend you find something similar; perhaps a piece of music or a picture or video that means something positive to you.

‘Viewing the Distant Mountain’

This is a concept I’ve borrowed from Yagyu Munenori and his tome “Heiho Kadensho” (Do your own research if you’re interested) which essentially reminds me to look beyond my immediate challenge or opponent to see what lies beyond it. This is something that usually brings both perception and perspective around the problem and allows me to see what the future looks like once the challenge has passed. Sometimes we can’t see the horizon for the things immediately in front of us…………

So there you have it; a few of my techniques for embracing change and being more resilient. I hope you get something of value from them; they have been forged in the fires of my individual experience but hopefully they will spark something positive for you.

 

* i.e. you are reading this in your universe, whilst I am typing it in mine……

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking…

For the last seven years I have spoken at the BA Europe Conference in London and it’s fair to say it has changed my life. It has provided me with many opportunities that I would not have got otherwise in terms of networking and the chance to contribute to the development of the Business Analysis profession in general. It’s certainly something I would recommend if you think you are ready for it; it’s a friendly atmosphere and every effort is made to help you succeed. To this end I thought I would put together some advice to assist any of you who are stepping up to volunteer for the first time. I will attempt to put the advice in the chronological order of the process you go through….
It’s submission time!
Once the call for speakers has gone out it’s time to consider your submission (this has now been published – click here for guidelines and to apply online) . If you are a first-time speaker then I strongly recommend carefully reading the advice for speakers that IRM publishes every year. I always review this to check nothing has changed then basically the process I go through is as follows:

What are the conference tracks this year? This can be found in the e-mail issued by IRM to previous delegates or via their website; www.irmuk.co.uk. Once I’ve checked this out I then consider whether I have any material already that fits or whether any of the tracks offer any inspiration. If I have material already it makes the whole thing a bit easier but I’ll treat this as if I’m writing a submission from scratch. In this eventuality the next thing I ask myself is “do I have a story to tell?” My way of working this through is to work backwards from the punchline, or the message I wish to leave in the minds of the audience and then figure out the important components at a high level. Remember you don’t need the whole story at this juncture, but just enough to put together a summary of your talk and the key outcomes and learning points for the submission. It is important at this stage to be concise and remember the guidelines in terms of not letting your submission become an advert or your life story. Essentially, your submission allows you to really distil the essence of the presentation you will ultimately produce and present and should be looked upon as an opportunity to crystallise your thoughts and get useful feedback from the advisory board.

If your submission is unsuccessful, do not be too discouraged. The advisory board receives many more submissions than there are available slots on the conference programme and this means there are always going to be some people who are disappointed. It may also be that you have chosen a topic that is well represented in terms of the number of submissions so you have unfortunately narrowed your chances of success; whatever the reason for the advisory board declining your submission do not be disheartened or put off from trying again. In fact, seek out other opportunities; is there an IIBA event you could speak at? Or another IRM Conference? Or something within your own organisation? If you have come this far and believe you have something to say then it would be a shame not to pursue that desire….!

If your submission is successful, then the fun really begins! You will be asked to submit a one page summary outlining the story-line of your presentation to ensure that the key messages of your online submission are reflected in this.  On the synopsis you will be asked to indicate your speaking experience – don’t worry if you don’t have much experience as the Advisory Board track leaders will be very supportive of you.  Once this has been accepted it is now time to work on the construction of your presentation and again, I suggest you refer to the speaker guidelines mentioned already which will give you plenty of ideas and guidance on the practical formatting of your eventual presentation deck. However, there is more to it than that! In my experience successful presentation has to have a clear and compelling story and it is here that I recommend you concentrate your initial efforts. Consider your audience’s knowledge and experience of your topic before you begin your presentation; what do they know? What do they think they know? By understanding this you will be able to create a clear narrative to allow them to improve their knowledge, increase their understanding, or maybe consider and agree with any argument or opinion you are putting forward. As a presenter or speaker you have to take the audience on a journey with you that will leave them either in a more enlightened or satisfied state at the end of that journey. You may even wish to leave them curious to know more so you have acted as a catalyst for their learning. But, to do so it is essential to put yourself in their position and understand their point of view rather than assuming yours is the correct one.

Once you have the beginnings of your narrative you can then start planning it out step-by-step or even slide by slide. You may do this on post-it notes, a good old-fashioned process model, or even the slide planner aspect of PowerPoint; either way you will start to construct a story-line or through line as it’s known around which you can build the rest of your deck. (I am assuming that you will be using PowerPoint as a standard presentation tool but if not most of the principles I will talk about will transfer to other media. If you are using non-standard software it is worth checking with the events team as to compatibility requirements etc.)

In terms of your actual presentation there are numerous books available on presentation styles and formats and I strongly urge you to read anything by Chris Anderson or Carmine Gallo regarding TED presentations as they contain a mine of information that will add huge value to your presentation and your experience of the event. ‘Resonate’ by Nancy Duarte is also an excellent read. For those of you intending to submit a proposal or those just planning a presentation these books are brilliant homework!

It is my intention to return to this topic over the next few months as we build towards the BA Europe Conference in September. I am intending to submit a proposal and I shall use this as a case study. I will also discuss how to manage your nerves before (and during) the event and also pass on some hints and tips around personal style plus the logistics of presenting at conferences such as using microphones, working with the events team etc.

Hopefully those of you planning a presentation will find it useful and there’ll be interesting stuff for those who aren’t!