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Expert Interview

Expert Interview with James Towers

Expert Interview with James Towers

Formal Objects caught up with James Towers, Consultant Systems Engineer at Scarecrow Consultants, on the differences in approach between modelling systems for engineering and business.

About James Towers

James_Towers

James Towers, B.Eng (Hons), CEng, MIET, MINCOSE

James holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Nottingham Trent University which he gained in 1996. James has had a varied career in software and systems modelling and has presented papers and tutorials at conferences and seminars, as well as writing and delivering training courses on the subject. He has provided consultancy, training and mentoring to various organisations working in automotive, consumer electronics, defence, finance, information technology, power electronics, telecommunications, rail, retail and supply chain. He is a Chartered Engineer, an OMG® Certified UML professional and member of the IET and INCOSE UK, where he is co-chair of the UK Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) Working Group. He is also a visiting lecturer in MBSE at the University of Warwick.

Q1. James, your career spans Business Analysis and Model-Based Systems Engineering. What is the difference in approach between these disciplines?

I’ll first explain the difference between Business Analysis and Systems Engineering. I will come back to the Model-Based aspect later.

The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) defines Business Analysis as:

“the practice of enabling change in an organisational context, by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders”.

It’s often associated with service organisations, ones which provide ‘virtual’ products or projects involving IT development, since most change involves IT, but it’s not limited to those contexts.

The important point, I think, is that Business Analysis is focused on the organisational context.

Systems Engineering (SE) is defined by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) as:

“an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realisation of successful sys­tems”.

Originally practiced within Aerospace and Defence, it’s now used in a wide range of sectors and is essentially a risk-mitigation approach for large and / or complex projects and programmes.

It’s worth noting that “Systems” is used in quite a wide sense. Take the example of car manufacture:- Systems Engineering would consider both the enterprise that makes them, and the cars themselves, as “Systems”.

Not surprisingly SE is more common in ’traditional’ engineering sectors where it forms part of the overall engineering activity to produce a physical product. Both disciplines are connected to the general philosophy of “Systems Thinking”.

Once you put the history to one side, both disciplines are actually based on the same or very similar principles, such as:

  • Understanding the problem before you define a solution
  • Discovering the real needs
  • Managing the changes and risks, and
  • Ensuring the end result provides sufficient benefit for its cost

The differences are mainly due to the kind of systems being changed or developed and the differences between what could be described as the culture of ‘clerical’ vs. ‘engineering’ focussed organisations.

The ‘Model-Based’ aspect is really just a “way of doing” Systems Engineering. Historically, SE was performed by writing and reviewing lots of documents in tools such as Word, Excel, PDF and Powerpoint etc.

We used these documents to describe and define the problem, design possible solutions, and formulate tests (or more generally verification and validation) strategies. As system complexity has increased, so has this corresponding set of documents, and so it became necessary to manage the information in a different way.

Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) uses a single source of truth (the model) to store all this information and the relationships between them. The information is far more granular than a simple document store, and documents (or views as they are known) are generated from the model, thus increasing their accuracy and consistency.

One of the major advantages is the ability to query the model in complex ways not easily done with discreet documents.

As an example, let’s say my project includes the concept of a boat. I can query the repository to tell me every occurrence of that concept throughout the whole model. This is the equivalent of searching every page or tab of every word document, excel sheet, pdf or powerpoint.

Even more powerfully, if I decide to change the concept from boat to ship, once I change the definition, it is changed everywhere it is used in the model and in all subsequently generated documents.

Models are typically constructed using graphical modelling languages which have additional advantages of precision, expressiveness and comprehension over natural languages (words and sentences).

Q2. You specialise in UML, SysML & BPMN modelling languages. How do you decide which to use and when?

My main focus at the moment is Model-Based Systems Engineering using SysML.

SysML (Systems Modeling Language) is a domain specific version of the Unified Modeling Language (UML) for Systems Engineering.

While UML was originally defined for modelling software, SysML has been developed to address the needs of Systems Engineers wishing to model a wider range of systems.

Business Process, Model & Notation (BPMN) on the other hand is aimed specifically at modelling processes. The choice of which to use is always dependent on several factors. There is some overlap, so for basic procedural models, either UML or SysML can be used rather than BPMN, although BPMN only really covers procedures.

For anything else, and organisational structure is an obvious example, you need to also use one of the others.

You also need to consider the complexity of your model; one which uses only a single language will probably be easier to maintain than one that uses two. Similarly the languages have to be understood by the people who are going to review the outputs. You also need capable tools.

While you can sketch diagrams on a whiteboard, sophisticated models require sophisticated tools, and again, one tool is going be less complex and cheaper to own than two.

Q3. From working with customers across the railroad, medical and aerospace sectors, which issues have proven to be the most difficult to model and why?

The hardest thing to model is always something you don’t understand.

This is actually a benefit and not an issue since often people don’t know or acknowledge what they don’t understand. As a favourite example, someone will often say in a workshop that “we don’t need to model that as we understand it”. My advice is that if that’s true then modelling it will be a trivial exercise.

Inevitably though, even when one of the participants believes they do understand it, there is seldom agreement or other participants learn something new. I can’t recall an occasion where it wasn’t a useful thing to do in some way.

Q4. Which new technologies or advances excite you the most in MBSE?

There’s currently a whole new version of the SysML in development. There are lots of changes but the most exciting one is a standard API so that anyone can write tools to update and query the model.

It is hoped that a whole ecosystem will develop around this which will make MBSE more accessible. Imagine if every time you opened Excel and started editing a list of requirements, you were actually proposing an update to the requirements database? Everyone who had an interest could then be automatically informed and allowed to comment on your proposal before they were agreed and included.

If that happens, you’ve started modelling (and working within a controlled lifecycle) and you didn’t need to learn any new tools or languages.

Q5. What do you think engineers should do to convince business stakeholders to adopt more advanced modelling tools and techniques?

There’s good evidence that model-based techniques have advantages over document-based ones, however people aren’t necessarily swayed by the evidence if the benefits or disadvantages aren’t immediate. Just look at smoking and obesity.

Alternatively, organisations are using MBSE to deliver success. The challenge is that document-based approaches aren’t infinitely scalable, so it’s hard to know where the tipping point is.

Since SE is a risk-mitigation strategy you need to have some appreciation of the risks to consider it worthwhile. Sadly it often takes a large failure for an organisation to realise they need to change.

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Expert Interview with James Towers

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Business Analysis

The Intrapreneurial Business Analyst

The Intrapreneurial Business Analyst

Business analysts have ‘street knowledge’ and deep insights into the main pain points in business. Who better then, to lead the charge in a multinational organisation that has distributed, virtual teams and foster a startup mentality?

Manoj Phatak

Manoj Phatak

A Call to Business Analysts

Would you like to be more involved in identifying opportunities for strategic change?

Would you relish the chance to exercise your natural leadership skills?

If so, a more intrapreneurial mindset (i.e. acting as an entrepreneur within your organisation) would be good for you and also for your organisation.

Intrapreneurship fosters a culture in which the multinational (or some part of it) remodels itself as a startup, capable of disrupting traditional processes and traditional customer expectations, to the benefit of both.

The business analyst occupies the essential and lucrative position of ‘inside entrepreneur’ in this culture, leading teams of customers, investors and suppliers (within or outside the organisation) to solve new or existing problems in innovative ways.

Business analysts must combine both technical and personal skills to minimise the threats posed by disruption and deliver benefits to the organisation, both financially and socially.

Why the BA?

Experienced business analysts have typically spent years developing competences in communication, forming crucial relationships with key stakeholders, identifying business needs and ultimately delivering solutions.

Business analysts have ‘street knowledge’ based on myriad conversations, workshops, customer shadowing and deep insights into the main pain points in business.

Who better then, to lead the charge in a multinational organisation that has distributed, virtual teams and foster a startup mentality that cuts through the traditional bureaucratic red-tape and drives the business unit to innovative and profitable new products and services?

Key competences

Key competences of an Intrapreneurial Business Analyst include:

  • Fostering an innovative mindset focussed on the bottom line rather than on implementation details
  • Quantifiable and controlled risk-taking
  • Communication, leadership and relationship-building
  • Measuring business benefits and delivering on them
  • The capability to ‘Show Me the Money’ i.e. knowing how to sell an idea to senior management

The role of the BA is transitioning from a humble ‘Taker of Requirements’ into a Leader, an Innovator and a Disruptor.

Christian Koch (in ‘Rise of the Intrapreneur’, Director Magazine) claims that intrapreneurs are the ‘secret weapon’ of the business world.

If businesses stand still for too long, they will find themselves being overtaken from the right, from the left and from above and below.

So, the real question is:- Can you afford NOT to innovate?

Benefits to the Organisation

Some of the benefits an organisation would receive would include:-

  • Being voted into the coveted ‘Best Place To Work’ awards and consistently winning top talent
  • Capturing young energy and new ideas with a sandboxed, lean approach to innovation with shoestring budgets
  • Forcing your BAs to think in terms of ROI, which can permeate into other more traditional projects in your organisation

Back to The Garage

How do we enable such a change in culture?

Take some lessons from Google X Labs, the LinkedIn [In]cubator, John Lewis JLabs, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works programme, Intel, 3M, HP, and the list goes on.

All these companies have survived today thanks to innovation.

Here are some quotes from these companies:-

LinkedIn [In]cubator

“We see [in]cubator projects as small investments that have the potential to become big wins for the company. So far, we’ve approved five projects. One of our projects, an internal tool called go/book, has already shipped and is deployed across all 26 offices worldwide, and has completely changed how we book meetings at LinkedIn. The project was so successful, in fact, that we approved the go/book team for a second round of development.”

Google X Labs

“The self-driving car project started in 2009 to develop technology that could make our roads safer and improve mobility for everyone. In October 2015, the team completed the world’s first fully self-driving trip on public roads in a car without a steering wheel, pedals or test driver. The project graduated from X and is now Waymo, an independent Alphabet company”

John Lewis JLabs

“JLAB is recognised as one of the best and most popular retail accelerator programmes attracting hundreds of hopeful companies from around the world. We listen to feedback every year so we can continuously improve the JLAB experience for the startups involved, which is why we are delighted that Waitrose have decided to be part of JLAB. The knowledge and expertise Waitrose will inevitably add to the programme makes for a very exciting fourth year”

Salesforce

“We’ve finally understood that the key to “Sustainable Transformation” is in democratizing Innovation. Organizations must embrace and reward employees who explore, experiment and learn as part of their daily job, not just the “special project”. That’s how you drive continuous and holistic innovation, that’s how you make it a sustainable way of being.” – Kristin McClanahan Raza (Salesforce)

Key Tips to Ensure Success

  • Do not penalise failure
  • Foster out-of-the-box thinking
  • Use early customer validation
  • Force a shoestring budget to reduce risk and increase potential ROI

And finally, ask yourself this question:-

Can you name one market-leading organisation that has succeeded in the last decade by standing still?

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Business Analysis for IoT

Business Analysis for Internet of Things (IoT) Projects

Business Analysts need to figure out how to provide a seamless fit between customer experience, burgeoning IoT technologies and the continuous drive for business operational efficiency.

Manoj Phatak

Manoj Phatak

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, computers lived in large ventilated rooms.

Then they moved to your desktop.

Then they moved into mobile phones, and smart traffic lights and ‘black boxes’ for automotive insurers.

Once Upon Another Time, Business Analysis was only performed in large companies, with large mainframes and even larger teams that spanned IT, marketing and finance.

Then, with the advent of cloud-based business intelligence and web analytics tools, it became possible for everyone to customise market demand estimations, explore KPIs and to see click-through metrics. Anytime, anywhere and for free.

What, Another Dashboard?

We are now so used to seeing dashboards, that we forget Business Analysis, Business Analytics and Business Intelligence are simply different facets of the same underlying ‘movement’. To visualise. To explore. To discover.

And as the Internet of Things (IoT) brings more intelligence to more devices which pervade invisibly into every aspect of our lives, Business Analysts will need to factor their existence into the Use Cases that drive business today:-

  • Smart shelves in supermarkets that reduce understocking by comparing the measured popularity of items to the sales figures for that item.
  • Smart boarding passes that check up on lost passengers who according to the FAA cost airlines USD 28 billion in 2018 alone.
  • Smart windows with embedded IoT sensors to measure light incident on building facades and to change the glass transparency, reducing the incoming heat that balloons the air conditioning costs in commercial buildings.

As you can guess, all this technology is going to have a major impact on people’s lives wherever we are; at home, at work or at play.

The work of the Business Analyst will be to figure out how to provide a seamless fit between the customer experience, the burgeoning IoT technologies and the continuous drive for business operational efficiency.

In the Beginning, There Was Darkness

The companies that are really driving IoT are Startups, of course.

And by Startup I mean the hungry, bootstrapped, seat-of-the-pants type companies, founded by 15-year-olds in their parent’s garage.

In fact, this has been the case since the days of Microsoft and Apple. Nothing has changed.

Recent IoT startup success stories include:-

  • Nest (bought by Google for USD 3.2 Billion, in cash)
  • Fleetmatics (bought by Verizon for USD 2.4 Billion)
  • Ring (bought by Amazon for USD 1 Billion)

The startups listed here have all shown the potential to deploy cloud-based IoT technologies that can change lives. The really interesting thing is how such tech can change the way Business Analysts view the user persona.

My User Story

Business analysis involves principally two things:-

  • Understanding the business issues of most importance (problems and opportunities).
  • Proposing changes to improve the business.

The first step remains the same, irrespective of the technologies available and involves interviewing stakeholders to understand strategic goals, business processes, use cases and a conceptual data model, culminating in a detailed statement of requirements.

It is during the second step that BAs need to map those requirements to a set of features which can be implemented within the project budget and project timescale. All this needs to be driven by the User Story.

So, when your supermarket client complains that customers cannot find nappies on the shelves because they are understocked, BAs must work with technologists to find solutions, which could include IoT-based smart shelves.

  • But how will a ‘smart shelf’ affect the customer buying experience?
  • If personalised discounts are also shown alongside the merchandise, will customers realise that certain behaviours can trigger a larger discount?
  • Will the technology drive people away because it is deemed ‘too salesy’?

Let’s take another example:

What if your airline client complains about missing passengers who delay flights and cause excessive costs and even regulatory fines?

BAs would need to bring together IT and Operations that may need to explore the benefits of smart boarding cards.

But will such devices constitute an invasion of privacy?

Should they be available on existing smartphone platforms or on a dedicated piece of hardware so you can track passengers’ location within an airport?

What will the delay be in recovering the physical hardware during boarding?

You get the picture.

It Only Gets Better

The good news for Business Analysts is that your job just got more difficult.

This protects your hard-earned degree from being superseded by AI-based software (at least for the time being).

Bringing together complex technologies is hard enough when the systems in play are primarily large-scale software apps. But when the tech involves hardware and software and changes to the customer experience, then BAs had better get their act together and up-skill.

You will need to understand what IoT is of course, but you will also need to dig into case studies on the legal ramifications of how IoT can affect everyday business scenarios.

You will also need to consider the costs, the benefits, the risks and the compliance issues in typical business scenarios, for example, a beleaguered mom dragging a screaming 4-year old round a ‘smart’ supermarket, while trying to find washing-up liquid and getting distracted by a 10% discount on shampoo which just popped up on her smartphone.

Because this stuff is already here. And it is being deployed right now.

Summing Up

Business Analysts who develop the knowledge and experience in how IoT affects customer buying journeys, customer experience and business models can stand out from the crowd and propel their careers into the future.

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Expert Interview with Neil Shorney of Navanter

Expert Interview with Neil Shorney of Navanter

“Businesses are unable to sell in a way which delights the customer due to insufficient understanding between salespeople and project managers”.

We catch up with Neil Shorney, Managing Director of Navanter Ltd., who shares with us his insights into sales and management training.

Manoj Phatak

Manoj Phatak

What is Navanter and why did you set up your company?

Navanter is a specialist consultancy working with customers who have flexible solutions to offer their clients, and often long, drawn-out sales cycles.

I have two main passions in business – Sales and Project Management. It comes from my background being a sales manager for a project management training consultancy. Many of the conversations I had with project management clients were about how their lives were made difficult by salespeople who had no understanding of what came next in the customer journey, after the sale had been made.

This lack of insight leads to dissatisfied customers, who find that their experience of the selling organisation changes dramatically once the salesperson hands off to someone else in the business.

As a result, these customers are less likely to become regular clients, and the sales team’s job ultimately becomes harder because they have to win more new business to make up for this loss.

So I set up Navanter to help my clients to break out of this vicious circle by helping them to bring sales and project management functions closer together in ultimately create more satisfied customers. Then after a couple of years working in this area, I realised two more huge benefits could come from sharing these skills – salespeople could use established project techniques to help them win bigger more strategic sales, and project managers could become more alert to new commercial opportunities once they start delivering the solution to their clients.

What excites you most when you start working with a new client?

The ability to really impact what they’re doing in a positive way, and in a way they don’t realise is possible.

There are many businesses who are good at sales and good at solution delivery, but it’s rare to find one where the two teams are sharing these vital business skills to benefit the organisation as a whole.

It’s partly lack of interest in how sales and PM skills complement each other, and often a little selfishness, particularly on the sales team’s side, about sharing their commercial skills with others.

What is the Nr 1 problem you are solving for your clients that other training providers do not?

I can’t tie that down to one, I’m afraid, because there are 3 main challenges which all stem from this lack of collaboration:

  • Businesses are unable to sell in a way which genuinely delights the customer due to insufficient understanding and appreciation between salespeople and project managers.
  • Project managers miss new business opportunities due to a lack of commercial awareness once they’re involved with the implementation of a solution.
  • Salespeople struggle to close the biggest, most complex deals because they rely too much on personality and getting the message across, yet don’t have the strategic organisational skills to manage a long sales cycle.

What trends are you seeing currently in the corporate training space?

There are trends happening now which really should have started 15 years ago – training courses are getting shorter, yet training programmes are getting longer.

People are realising that you can’t attend a 3-day training course and remember it all. We just don’t have the capacity to use everything we learn, and much of that learning gets lost.

Customers are beginning to realise this, and the programmes I’m delivering at the moment are mostly multiple one-day courses spread out across the year.

Attendees get the same knowledge as on a longer course, but it’s having a much bigger impact in the workplace because they have one day of learning, then several weeks to really integrate those skills into their roles before continuing the learning path for their next session.

The result is much stronger ROI on training.

What is the future of corporate training, given that most teams nowadays are virtual and distributed?

Digital is definitely a feature. For a long time, I’ve been shocked at how far some people will travel to attend a training course, but today’s technology allows trainers to emulate the experience of a physical training room much more effectively.

The learning can have the same impact delivered in a live online environment if the trainer is skilled in this format. There will always be a requirement for face-to-face training, because it’s hard to create the same relationships and networking in an online environment, but I see it becoming less important in the overall training landscape.

I remain unconvinced by the effectiveness of self-paced virtual learning. When I take courses in that format myself, I really struggle with motivation, and the lack of interaction means a poorer learning experience.

But who knows… with the rapid development of AI, perhaps that will change?

Bio

What is Navanter and why did you set up your company? Navanter is a specialist consultancy working with customers who have flexible solutions to offer their clients, and often long, drawn-out sales cycles. I have two main passions in business - Sales and Project Management. It comes from my background being a sales manager for a project management training consultancy. Many of the conversations I had with project management clients were about how their lives were made difficult by salespeople who had no understanding of what came next in the customer journey, after the sale had been made. This lack of insight leads to dissatisfied customers, who find that their experience of the selling organisation changes dramatically once the salesperson hands off to someone else in the business. As a result, these customers are less likely to become regular clients, and the sales team's job ultimately becomes harder because they have to win more new business to make up for this loss. So I set up Navanter to help my clients to break out of this vicious circle by helping them to bring sales and project management functions closer together in ultimately create more satisfied customers. Then after a couple of years working in this area, I realised two more huge benefits could come from sharing these skills – salespeople could use established project techniques to help them win bigger more strategic sales, and project managers could become more alert to new commercial opportunities once they start delivering the solution to their clients. What excites you most when you start working with a new client? The ability to really impact what they're doing in a positive way, and in a way they don't realise is possible. There are many businesses who are good at sales and good at solution delivery, but it's rare to find one where the two teams are sharing these vital business skills to benefit the organisation as a whole. It's partly lack of interest in how sales and PM skills complement each other, and often a little selfishness, particularly on the sales team's side, about sharing their commercial skills with others. What is the Nr 1 problem you are solving for your clients that other training providers do not? I can't tie that down to one, I'm afraid, because there are 3 main challenges which all stem from this lack of collaboration: Businesses are unable to sell in a way which genuinely delights the customer due to insufficient understanding and appreciation between salespeople and project managers. Project managers miss new business opportunities due to a lack of commercial awareness once they’re involved with the implementation of a solution. Salespeople struggle to close the biggest, most complex deals because they rely too much on personality and getting the message across, yet don’t have the strategic organisational skills to manage a long sales cycle. What trends are you seeing currently in the corporate training space? There are trends happening now which really should have started 15 years ago – training courses are getting shorter, yet training programmes are getting longer. People are realising that you can’t attend a 3-day training course and remember it all. We just don’t have the capacity to use everything we learn, and much of that learning gets lost. Customers are beginning to realise this, and the programmes I’m delivering at the moment are mostly multiple one-day courses spread out across the year. Attendees get the same knowledge as on a longer course, but it’s having a much bigger impact in the workplace because they have one day of learning, then several weeks to really integrate those skills into their roles before continuing the learning path for their next session. The result is much stronger ROI on training. What is the future of corporate training, given that most teams nowadays are virtual and distributed? Digital is definitely a feature. For a long time, I’ve been shocked at how far some people will travel to attend a training course, but today’s technology allows trainers to emulate the experience of a physical training room much more effectively. The learning can have the same impact delivered in a live online environment if the trainer is skilled in this format. There will always be a requirement for face-to-face training, because it’s hard to create the same relationships and networking in an online environment, but I see it becoming less important in the overall training landscape. I remain unconvinced by the effectiveness of self-paced virtual learning. When I take courses in that format myself, I really struggle with motivation, and the lack of interaction means a poorer learning experience. But who knows… with the rapid development of AI, perhaps that will change? Bio After gaining a music degree from the University of London, Neil Shorney decided that becoming the next Julian Lloyd Webber or Brian May was too much effort, so got a job as an Energy Broker. After working briefly in IT sales, he started working for ESI International – a leading global project management training consultancy. Neil began as a salesperson, and after a couple of years, he was promoted to sales manager, where he created and led an international sales team. Neil quickly developed a passion for 3 things: sales, project management, and developing others. He now runs Navanter, a specialist training consultancy based in London. During his career, Neil has trained professionals from start-ups through to major global organisations such as Shell, HSBC, Novartis and European Central Bank.

After gaining a music degree from the University of London, Neil Shorney decided that becoming the next Julian Lloyd Webber or Brian May was too much effort, so got a job as an Energy Broker. After working briefly in IT sales, he started working for ESI International – a leading global project management training consultancy. Neil began as a salesperson, and after a couple of years, he was promoted to sales manager, where he created and led an international sales team.

Neil quickly developed a passion for 3 things: sales, project management, and developing others. He now runs Navanter, a specialist training consultancy based in London.

During his career, Neil has trained professionals from start-ups through to major global organisations such as Shell, HSBC, Novartis and European Central Bank.

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Expert Interview with James Towers

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The Whole Requirement

The Requirement, The Whole Requirement and Nothing But the Requirement

Business Analysts must take care to observe the ‘real’ requirements. What stakeholders say may not be the same as what they do.

Manoj Phatak

Manoj Phatak

An Exercise in Observation

Whilst working on a large automotive project to build an infotainment system in Germany during 1999-2000, I conducted an academic exercise in observation. I wanted to see how difficult it would be to capture the ‘real requirements’ for a hypothetical In­Car Email Dictation System.

Car and Driver

So, I fitted a video camera to the dashboard of my car and asked 3 colleagues to drive round a pre­-specified route. Their objective was to ­dictate an email to an imaginary dictation system whilst driving the car. I filmed all 3 attempts and transcripted the videos:-­

[Engine starts running]
Hi…[engage clutch][change gear] errr…I would like to send
[1 sec pause] an email [change gear][look in rear view mirror]…errr…
I would like to send an email [2 sec pause] to Mary to tell her…[brake as approach turn­off]
[down a gear]. This is an email for Mary [up a gear][accelerate] just to tell her [change gear]…errr…that I will be late home tonight [down a gear for upcoming ascent] [1 sec pause]….errr….. so
please don’t wait up [brake][down a gear], as I have a meeting running late so please don’t
wait for me [down a gear][decelerate][turn left]…….

From the transcripts, it became clear that the system would have to be very smart to make sense of the above…..garbage…!! The transcripts contained:

Pauses: do these mark the end of a phrase or sentence? Repetition: does the user mean to repeat? Words which are not really words: such as ‘errrr’, ‘ummm’ and ‘ahhh’

It was obvious that the driver was much more concerned with driving the car than dictating the email (quite normal considering his / her life depended on it).

When I showed the video to my project manager, we both decided that email dictation systems posed a challenge since the requirements were much more difficult than we had imagined.

Now, if we apply this to a project where you are looking to improve process efficiency, it would be wise to not take for granted what our business stakeholders tell us. It will always be safer to carry out pure observation (just as above) to ensure we have the right data regarding how long a process takes for example (and therefore the ‘real requirements’) before starting out on implementation.

Business Analysts must take care to observe the ‘real’ requirements. What stakeholders say may not be the same as what they do.

Another Example: UK Mortgage Application Process

Business Rule:­ A mortgage loan of a given borrower can only be secured by securities that are owned by the given borrower.

OCL Business Rule

From the above UML fragment, we see that a MortgageLoan is associated to a Property (which it views as it’s Security) and to a Borrower (which the MortgageLoan views as the Customer of the bank). The Property views the Borrower as the Owner. There are different types of MortgageLoan: namely, InterestOnly and Repayment.

The business rule above may need reading a few times to fully understand it. We realised in fact that this statement alone may not be correctly interpreted by our development team, so we decided to break it down further using OCL, the Object Constraint Language:-

The OCL statement says basically what the business rule above says, but in a less ambiguous way, which is less open to misinterpretation by the development engineers. In fact, we found that this process often unearthed problems early on, well before they reached development. Many times, we had to go back to the business to clarify specific aspects (and sometimes even they were not sure).

context MortgageLoan 
inv onlyOwnedSecurities:
security.owner­>forAll(owner | owner = customer)

Conclusion

It is wise to use whatever techniques we can to discover the ‘real’ requirements and business rules before embarking on development. Videoed observation is a key technique that allows us to see what is really happening in a business process. After all, the camera never lies.

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Business Analysts Can Enable Innovation

Business Analysts can Enable Innovation

Business Analysts must learn to decode the wishes of customers into requirements that focus on what the solution must achieve, but in a way which allows for multiple possible implementations.

Manoj Phatak

Manoj Phatak

Horse and Cart

“If I had asked my clients what they wanted, they probably would have said a faster horse.” — Henry Ford, Founder of the Ford Motor Company

This infamous Henry Ford quote is often mistakenly used to justify that we do not need to talk to our customers, because they do not know what they want or because they do not know what is best for them.

This thinking is essentially flawed.

If Henry Ford had had access to a Business Analyst at that time, he might have arrived at a better statement of the ‘real’ requirement, namely:- ​ ​

A medium of transport capable of carrying 100 kg of persons and goods a distance of 10km within 1 hour, without stopping for ‘food’.

Now, if you give such a statement to your engineering department, they will need to think outside of the box to reinvent the concept of a ‘horse and carriage’ that can meet those requirements.

It is this very thought process that may force them to create the concept of a ‘mechanical horse’. This is the basis of innovation.

The Business Analyst contributes to innovation by defining the requirements in an abstract way that focuses on the end-result, without specifying how the design or implementation is to achieve it.

Here is another example:

Good-Requirement-Bad-Requirement

The bad requirement specifies how to implement the idea, whereas the good requirement abstracts away from the implementation details to focus on what we are trying to achieve, namely ‘to search’.

If we take the ‘good requirement’ to our IT department, they will be obliged to find a mechanism that can search effectively through an ‘infinite’ list of media items. Given some thought, they may come up the idea of a circle.

It is possible that this was the basis of creating what we know today as one of the most revolutionary changes in digital user interface design – the Apple iPod, which was one of the first digital products to introduce the concept of scrolling using a circular search mechanism. ​

On the other hand, if we had given the ‘bad requirement’ to our IT department, we would have stifled any attempts at innovation because the engineers would have been forced to work with a drop down listbox, which may not be as effective at allowing rapid search within a very large group of items. ​

Instead of an innovative product, we would have ended up with a real turkey of a product..! ​

Comparing Patent Claims to Requirements

So, even if you are convinced that writing requirements in an abstract way can facilitate innovation, how far should we go? Well, patent claims take an approach which is somewhat similar to writing requirements (although the end-result is protection of intellectual property, rather than solution development).

Let’s look at some similarities:-

Patents vs Requirements

So, do Business Analysts need training in how to write patent claims before being set loose on requirements definition? Not at all.

However I do believe that Business Analysts can learn from how patent attorneys build abstract and legally binding descriptions of products as patent claims in order to allow breadth (and therefore value) to the patent.

If only Business Analysts could write requirements in the same way. After all, when is the last time you saw a requirements document that would stand up in a court of law?

Conclusion

If Business Analysts are to enable innovation, we must learn to decode the wishes of our customers into abstract requirements that focus on what the solution must achieve but in a way which allows for multiple possible implementations.

This opens up the design space to ideas which may not have existed previously and hence fosters innovation, both within the multinational as well as for small enterprises.

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It’s Traceability, Spock, just not as we know it

It's Traceability, Spock - just not as we know it

Change happens on a project – whether we choose to manage it or not. What are you currently doing to minimise it’s negative impacts? A traceability matrix can be the answer.

Manoj Phatak

Manoj Phatak

Introduction

If you change the Product Price on a line item in a Purchase Order, you expect to see the Total Price at the bottom also change, right? That is traceability!

We can achieve the same thing on projects, by mapping business needs, stakeholder benefits, product features, requirements and designs – such that if one of them changes, we can assess the downstream impact.

And since traceability is bi-directional, we can also assess which benefits, features or requirements map back to the business needs, and eliminate those that do not have a strong mapping.

Traceability Matrix

Some people claim that traceability tools are too expensive. Some cannot justify spending time on them. Some claim they are difficult to explain to business sponsors.

For small or medium sized projects, traceability can be managed with a simple spreadsheet. The question is whether we can afford not to put in place the processes, tools and people that manage change.

Change is going to happen anyway. What are you currently doing about it?

Projects need to be managed, whether or not there is a Project Manager on the team. The same is true of Traceability.

Stakeholder Benefits

Describing stakeholder benefits can be a challenge. If we fail to accurately understand what the real benefit is to our customer, it is difficult to know what to implement and whether the customer goal has been met by the end of the project.

I often find that Twitter helps on these occasions.

Can you describe each benefit (in your current project) in less than 140 characters? And get consensus across your stakeholder community?

BeneTweets

Product Features

iphone-features

But what benefits are received by users of having a taller display? Or a longer battery life? Or a better camera?

The stakeholder benefits will depend on who we are talking to. Some users may see great benefit in faster connectivity or a higher-resolution camera, some may not.

It is up to the Business Analyst to ‘measure the value’ to the stakeholders of each feature and map this on a traceability matrix.

Traceability Mapping

The example traceability matrix below maps business needs, benefits and features to the requirements and design for the iPhone.

Traceability Matrix for iPhone

Can you connect the boxes together and thus show how the design maps back to the requirements?

And how requirements map back to features?

And how features map back to benefits? And finally how benefits map back to business needs?

Of course, building a solid traceability matrix cannot be done alone – you will need the help of your stakeholder community. That means business, IT, legal, marketing and son on…

If you would like to see the finished result, please contact me.

Conclusion

Change happens on a project – whether we choose to manage it or not.

What are you currently doing to minimise it’s negative impacts? A traceability matrix can be the answer.

If properly managed, this simple, inexpensive tool can minimise threats and identify the value to our stakeholders of key features, before starting implementation.

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Digital Business Analysis

Digital Business Analysis

The Digital Business Analyst combines market analysis, competitor analysis and keyword analysis to understand the Voice of the Customer.

Manoj Phatak

Manoj Phatak

What is Digital Business Analysis?

The Digital Business Analyst combines market analysis, competitor analysis and keyword analysis to understand the Voice of the Customer. ​

With this knowledge, we are equipped to feed market intelligence into product / service development to give customers what they need. ​

A Cry Out for Help

After all, each keyword typed in by a person somewhere in the world is a cry out for information, often at the time of maximum need. ​ It is at this crucial time that our products and services must be ranked highly enough that our prospective customers can find us. ​

Not only that. ​ Our content must be engaging enough to create real interest. Our brand must convey trust. Our team must convince. The value we provide must be tangible. ​ Not easy, right? ​ Right.

Traditional Business Analysis

But not impossible either. ​ The traditional role of a Business Analyst has often been limited to internal projects, with face-to-face interviews, workshops and surveys to understand what our internal customers often do not understand either: what they really need. ​

Cost Centre vs Profit Centre

The traditional Business Analyst department / service / team is often seen as a Cost Centre, often within IT, so often ignored by Business and seldom given the chance to explore the real business needs. ​

Enter the Digital Business Analyst, capable of deciphering the wants, needs and desires, typed in as queries into a web browser, by prospective customers, often looking desperately for an answer to a burning issue. ​

So, why can Business Analysis not be seen as a Profit Centre, rather than a Cost Centre? ​

Why can Business Analysis not be set free into the Big Bad World to explore what customers really need, be they B2B or B2C, or even C2C? (Think eBay). ​

Connecting The Dots

What if Business Analysts could connect the dots from the vast resources of global keyword databases, cutting through the noise and define the requirements of our next killer app, without having to conduct a single face-to-face interview.

After all, how could we interview the world, anyway?

I am talking about using the power of the Web to understand our Customers better. ​

I am talking about using Big Data metrics to find out what Customers want or need, and assess the market size, market demographics and market trends before developing products. ​

All the data is already there. We just need to connect the dots. ​

So, empower the traditional Business Analyst with Digital skills and set them free to explore the world.

We might just define that Next Killer App before our customers realise that our product is exactly what they were looking for all along.

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