Sunday, April 29, 2012

Communicating with Executives to get approval for a BA Assessment

by Kitty Hass

In the previous blog, we emphasized the necessity to customize strategic messages to the individual or group – focusing on the age old wisdom: WIIFM (What’s in it for me?).  In this entry, we will focus on the nature of successfully communicating with busy executives about the value of business analysis and the advantage of using BA assessments as a tool to know where you are and develop an improvement roadmap.

Executive Communications
There are many opportunities for BAs (and PMs) to communicate with executives: 
  •  Proposing a new project initiative
  • Providing project status at key checkpoints and seek approval to move to the next phase
  • Escalating project issues for executive resolution
  • Proposing a course correction for a project
  • Proposing a BA Practice or Workforce Assessment as an effective first step in advancing BA capabilities
Always remember, executives are very busy people with little patience for communications that they don’t really care about.  Communicating at the executive level carries lots of pitfalls:
  • Management is distracted, impatient, overburdened
  • If the message is too long, they will lose interest: be brief and don’t whine (meaning, don’t communicate about issues or barriers without proposing a solution)
  • If a decision is asked for without supporting information, you are not likely to get the decision you want
  • If there is no decision needed, why are you wasting their time? Always ask for a decision, approval, or concurrence
Steer Your Steering Committee
Your message will mean more to executives if you are asking for a decision, not just reporting information. How can you ensure you can get the decision you want? Some critical factors include:
  • Link your message to organizational strategies, goals and objectives
  • Speak native “executive” language
  • Be short and sweet and to the point
  • Communicate to the right person at the right time
  • Be cognizant of existing pressures on executives and other major change initiatives that are underway or planned
  • Link your message to the culture and political norms
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the message immediately after each meeting
Getting the Decision You Want
To get the decision you want, alternative analysis works every time.  Assemble a small group of experts, people who are respected, influential, and credible.  Select individuals who have differing perspectives, e.g., a senior project manager or the PMO director, an architect, a business visionary.  Make sure they are system thinkers, risk takers, and innovators.  Facilitate the group through an analysis of the situation. It goes something like this.

Step 1: Clearly state the Problem/Opportunity in Business Terms
What are the business problems or drivers that are leading up to the idea of conducting a BA assessment and as the first step toward improving business analysis at your organization?  It might be:
  • We have too many failed projects
  • We don’t know if our project solutions add value to our customers and wealth to our organization
  • We are not strategically focused when executing on a project
  • Requirements don’t hit the mark because of gaps in BA capabilities, causing costly rework
Consider the chart below listing the BA capability gaps found in virtually all organizations today. Any one or all of these may be present in your organization.

Or projects could be costing too much and taking too long. Consider the cost premium for a BA workforce that is not capable enough.

Or Business Analysis practices are not commensurate with the project complexities facing our project teams.  See gap in capabilities vs. project complexity in the chart below, determined by conducting research on the state of BA practices in organizations in multiple industries: Insurance, Financial Services, Information Systems/Information Technology, Non-Profit/Government, Health Care, and Transportation.

Or our Business Analysts and Project Manager capabilities may not be commensurate with the project complexities facing our project teams.

After analysis, determine the best problem statement.  More examples of your problem/opportunity statement:
  • Business Analysis capabilities are not commensurate with the project challenges facing our project teams.
  • To greatly increase the number of successful projects, we must increase our focus on the business.
  • To be able to measure business benefits from project deliverables, we must increase our Business Analysis capabilities.
  • To execute our strategy, we must have stronger BA capabilities.
  • Or something way cool you came up with when designing memorable messages (see April 23rd blog).

Step 2: Divergent Thinking - Idea Generation

Create a safe environment and encourage your team of experts to generate as many ideas as possible to solve the problem or seize the opportunity.  Encourage the experts to think “outside the organization” – look at the entire ecosystem surrounding your company.  When facilitating:

  • Accept all options
  • Look for unusual possibilities and combinations
  • Combine like ideas, build on other’s ideas
  • Encourage participants to challenge each other, experiment, get crazy,
  • be chaotic, “get in the zone”
Examples of potential options:

Step 3: Convergent Thinking - Analyze, Refine, Prioritize

  1. Refine and prioritize the list of ideas
  2. Build a feasibility analysis worksheet (see example below)
    • List all high-priority ideas in the first column of your feasibility analysis matrix
    • Determine decision criteria, e.g., cost, time, cultural feasibility, technical feasibility, etc. and list across the top of your feasibility analysis matrix
  3. Determine the feasibility of each high-priority option
  4. Analyze the feasible options
  5. Decide! The most feasible option(s) should stick out.
Feasibility Analysis Matrix

Step 4: Prepare Message to Executives
  1. See 4/23 blog to prepare a memorable, effective message
  2. Prepare a 1-page handout that contains:
    • The problem/opportunity statement
    • The pitch/elevator speech outlining the recommendation to conduct a formal BA Capability Assessment
    • The alternative analysis matrix that provides the rationale for the recommendation
    • The experts involved in the identification of options, the feasibility analysis, and formulating the recommendations
In most cases, once executives understand that you have identified a business problem, and a group of experts have come together to identify the most feasible solution, you will get the green light to proceed.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Memorable Messages: The Who, What, Where, When, and How to Convert Your Executives to BA Assessment Believers.

by Kitty Hass and Lori Lindbergh, PhD

So, we have spent the last few months singing the praises of real, scientifically-based assessments.  But how in the world can you convince your management team of the value? 

It’s a Daunting Road Ahead

As you can see in the table below, there are many elements that need to be in place to implement a mature BA Practice.  So, it begs the questions: How are we ever going to get there?  How fast can we get there?  How do we know what to work on first?

Cultivating Mature BA Practices – the Message

BA Assessments are the first step in building a mature BA Practice.
Why?  Because assessments provide:
  • Information about the current state of your BA practices (you need to know where you are), and…
  • A roadmap to more valuable BA practices (you need to know where you are going), and…
  • The readiness to accept and support the new BA practices (you need to know who is on your train, and who is off your train), and…
  • An understanding of how BA will bring value to your customers and wealth to your organization (or why else are we investing in projects?)
So you know all this, but your message to your leadership team must be short, memorable, and convincing.

BA Practice Assessment – In Brief
  • What is it?
    • An independent appraisal of Business Analysis practices
  • Why do it?
    • Provides a foundation for improvements to ensure business value is generated from project investments
  • How is it used?
    • Determines where we are today; where we want to be in the future
  • How is it conducted?
    • Uses an appraisal process based on assessment best practices
  • BA practices assessed against what?
    • Current capabilities are compared to a BA Practice Maturity Model based on project complexity and benchmarked against a global data base

Building a Memorable Message
The secret to effective strategic communications is to devise custom messages for each of your key stakeholders.  For the message to be memorable, take your team through these steps.

Step 1: Assess your Political Environment

Quickly assess your organization’s readiness to invest in mature BA Practices. 

Step 2: Identify your Audience

From your environmental assessment, identify individuals and/or groups that you need to convince. Note: this information may be sensitive; if so, use numbers to indicate the stakeholders.

Step 3: Identify Influence Strategies

When identifying influence strategies, be sure to keep these in mind:
  • What’s in it for them?
  • What do they need to view BA Practices positively and actively support the assessment and subsequent improvements?
  • What actions will you take?

Step 4: Get your Message Heard - and Remembered
There are four steps to developing memorable messages targeted at executives.  Facilitate a small team of experts through these activities.
  1. Compose a customized message for each stakeholder
    • Determine the purpose of the message
    • Tailor the message to each individual or group
    • Write from the stakeholder’s perspective
    • Use the information in your political and audience analysis for help 
  2.  Add memorable phrases
    • Use short phrases that adroitly to capture the heart of your message
    • In media, these are referred to as sound bites: they stand out in the audience's memory and thus become the "taste" that best represents the entire "meal" of the larger message or conversation (hence, “sound bite”
    • To be memorable, they must:
      • ü  Clearly and cleverly make the point
      • ü  Capture the message in a snippet
    • Examples,
      • ü  I have a dream – Martin Luther King
      • ü   The Buck Stops Here – Harry Truman
      • ü  All politics is local - U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill
      • ü  Building Locomotives to Move Freight to Your Home Town – G
    • BA Examples:
      • ü  Successful Projects Hard To Achieve? Not Anymore!
      • ü  It’s not about the Technology – it’s about the Business!
      • ü  A Day without Business Analysis is like a Day without Sunshine
      • ü  A Day without Business Analysis is like a Day without Value
      • ü  Business Analysis: our Best Defense Against Project Failure
      • ü  Assessment first - Improvements second - Value third
      • ü  Assessment first - Improvements second - then comes Value
      • ü  Building Business Analysis to Drive Wealth to our Bottom Line

3.  Develop clever slogans and mottos
    • Short phrases are memorable, are used as a rallying cry, intend to be motivational – cause the audience to act.
    • Used to express the aims or nature of an enterprise, organization, candidate, or BA Practice; often expresses a valuable aim or purpose
    • Examples:
      • ü  Don’t Leave Home Without It – American Express
      • ü   Yes, We Can – Obama, 2008 campaign
      • ü  Pure Systems – IBM
      • ü  A Smarter Planet – IBM
      • ü  Imagination at Work - GE
    • BA Examples:
      • ü  Value Driven by Business Analysis
      • ü  Get the Business Analysis Habit
      • ü  The Business Analysis Effect
      • ü  Smarter Projects
      • ü  Pure Value
      • ü  Business Analysis at Work coverts to Value


4.  Trim the message to become your "pitch" or your "elevator speech"
    • Delivered in 30 seconds/100-150 words
    • Used by:
      • Entrepreneurs pitching an idea to a venture capitalist
      • Project managers, sales people, evangelists, policy-makers, job seekers, speed daters, and
      • Business Analysts to sell their value
    • Compelling; the “hook” that catches people to further engage
    • Use catch phrases, mottos, and slogans to be memorable

You may only get one change to craft and deliver your message. So create a clear, memorable message that will catch your executives’ attention and stick. Remember, sticky messages make a difference by triggering emotions and feelings in your audience. The emotional reaction is what will call your executives to action.

Next week, we will discuss strategies for communicating the compelling message you have created to your executives.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Organizations Often Have Difficulty Investing in BA Assessments, But,…

by Kitty Hass and Lori Lindbergh, PhD

Why Can They Always Find the Money to Spend on Ineffective Solutions?

We have been blogging for about three months now. We hope you have become a more discerning consumer of assessments and understand how to evaluate the value that an assessment will bring to your organization. When a valid and reliable assessment is used appropriately, it becomes a powerful tool to focus your organization’s performance improvement efforts and streamline improvement investments.

So then, why do we often hear this from senior managers and executives, “This sounds like exactly what we need, but we don’t have the money to invest in an assessment.”? We have seen; however, that these same executives always find the money to spend on ineffective solutions. And later, they wonder why performance did not improve as expected, or should I say, as they had hoped. We all remember, however, that, “Hope is not typically a great strategy.”

Our next series of posts will focus on the challenges we, and you, may face when recommending a BA or PM assessment to your senior leadership. You may have become a discerning consumer yourself; however, those holding the purse strings may have yet to be converted into believers in the value of assessments. Whether the challenges you face relate to not having enough money, not having time, or not wanting to wait and “just do it,” the goal of your executive influence actions should always be the same: Demonstrate to your senior leadership team the potential cost of NOT conducting an assessment.

First, your leaders must understand that the dynamics and behaviors within and across organizations are different. Furthermore, current research indicates a low correlation of success when organizations implement anecdotal recommendations and solutions based on case studies (i.e., what other organizations have done). This is because

  • Organizations have become even more complex, dynamic systems;
  • Organizational culture matters – no two organizations are the same; and
  • Change is not so easy anymore because of the prior two bullets.

These three bullets relate to understanding your organization’s Applied Capability, which we discussed in last week’s post. Here is an example to illustrate further what we mean. When most organizations decide to improve the business success on their projects, leaders will naturally focus on implementing PM and BA training, processes, portfolio and resource management processes, and implement Centers of Excellence to support BAs and PMs. Should help, right? There may be some initial improvement; however, our research indicates that stronger, more significant correlations exist between business success and:

  • Supportive organizational leadership orientation;
  • Open communications and information exchange across the organization;
  • Decentralized, rational decision making; and
  • Clear strategic direction, mission, and objectives;

which are all components of the organizational culture and influence the functioning of the overall organizational system. Without making these organizational changes in conjunction with changes at the BA and PM subsystem levels, the organization may not experience full benefit from implementing the PM and BA improvements, thus wasting money on ineffective solutions. This resembles the “Force-fit” improvement culture we discussed in our February 27th post.

Not many organizations think out of the PM or BA box when implementing improvements because many executives do not believe that they and their organization’s culture need to change. Even if they were willing to change, how would they know what really needs to be changed? The most obvious solution may not always be the most critical. Research-based assessments can provide the guidance executives need to be willing to invest a little more up front to save a lot more later.

So how do you overcome the challenge of the “OK, we need to change, but you go first” mentality? Stay tuned. Our next series of posts will provide you with the answers you need.

Monday, April 9, 2012

What BAs Think They Can Do—Don’t be a Legend in Your Own Mind!

By Kitty Hass and Lori Lindbergh, PhD

You often see this quote used in statistics and research textbooks and publications,

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your own thoughts, advanced the state of science, whatever the matter may be” (Lord Kelvin, 1891).

However, Lord Kelvin makes no mention of the quality of your measurements. Just because you measure it, does not make it is so. We believe that traditional BA multiple-choice competency assessments and one-dimensional self-rating competency assessments hover around that “beginning of knowledge” point referenced in the quote: Just barely enough information to advance your BA professional development and performance….in your own mind, not necessarily in your organization.

Our research indicates that BA experience and training are not enough to ensure success in many organizations. BA training improves competence and confidence initially; however, the organization eventually gets in the way of further improvement. We have provided an example to illustrate what we mean by this.

Which of the two organizations will achieve greater project outcomes?

If you base your answer on the one-dimensional, BA competency score (5-point scale), your answer would most likely be, Company A. Company A’s average competency score indicates that overall, BAs are highly proficient, which should obviously lead to greater success. Could organizational performance really be this simple?

Our research on BA Applied Capability indicates otherwise. After measuring the level and impact of the organization’s BA culture and overall organizational culture on BA competency and performance (what we call organizational culture index), here is what we would find using our assessment approach.

After using our multi-dimensional BA Workforce Assessment approach that integrates BA competency, BA culture/practices, and overall organizational culture, you can see that the BA Applied Capability is actually higher for Company B. Furthermore, compared to Company A, Company B can expect to achieve more successful project outcomes for all performance measures other than schedule. Both organizations can expect to be over budget, over schedule, and achieve considerably less business success; however, in spite of this, Company B will achieve greater scope and quality than Company A.

What this really means is that, based on the current state of each organization and its BA workforce capabilities, these are the average performance outcomes BAs, managers, and leaders should expect. (If you informed your leaders of this, I’m sure it would go over like a lead balloon.) Without this information, you can see why projects in some organizations consistently fail to meet stakeholder expectations.

This example illustrates the complexity of the organizational system and why one-dimensional competency assessments and solutions provide limited value. Things are not always as they seem: To improve BA, you may not need to focus on BA. The key is understanding the complexity of your organizational environment and the interrelationships between the three critical components necessary for BA performance improvement: BA competency, BA culture/practices, and overall organizational culture.

BA improvement is not as easy as implementing training, tools, and processes. BA Practice Leads and senior leaders must change their thinking. Single focus solutions or solutions that don’t target all three components won’t work in the long term. Remember, examine the entire forest, not just a few trees, and Think Out of Your BA Box! Review our February 27th entry to gauge the current thinking of your managers and leaders.

Monday, April 2, 2012

What Should BA Capability Assessments Assess?

by Kitty Hass and Lori Lindbergh, PhD

We don’t get asked this question very often; however, we should. The reason we think we don’t is that most people continue to accept the one-dimensional perspective that standards organizations and other assessment providers promote. It’s a BA assessment; you assess BA skills, right? Well, that’s not quite correct, unless you simply are looking for a passing score or a high level of proficiency. Hooray, you!

But, to really get more than just a score and understand how your BA workforce’s level of proficiency translates into business outcomes, you need more. You need to examine the application of your BAs’ skills within the context of your organization and your BAs’ current work responsibilities.

What are the nuts and bolts of a BA Workforce Capability: What is Assessed?
We introduced our BA Workforce Capability Model back in our March 5th blog entry. The model provides the skills and capabilities required for BAs to be successful on projects of increasing complexity. To state the obvious, as the complexity of work assignments become more complex, higher level skills and competencies are needed.  One could say levels 3 and 4 of the model are much more about leadership and creativity than about BA technical competencies.

BA Workforce Technical Competencies and Techniques
All tasks required in the BABOK® Guide should be included in a BA Workforce Capability Assessment – and much more.


BA Workforce Supporting Competencies
Since and business analysts fill a leadership position within organizations, driving change and improvements, they need to possess effective knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that are related to successfully bringing about positive change and innovation through their projects.  The following supporting competencies are also assessed as a vital component of a BA Workforce Capability Assessment.

BA Workforce Characteristics
In addition to evaluating technical competencies, techniques used, and supporting competencies, a BA Workforce Capability Assessment should collect data on the following workforce dimensions:

·       BA workforce demographics, including:

o   Years of experience
o   Education Level
o   Acquisition of skills
o   Professional training attendance
o   Percentage of time performing PM or BA activities
o   Other roles played on projects
·       Project and workload information, including:

o   Number of core work requests and number of concurrent projects
o   Project complexity characteristics of current projects
o   Perception of current workload status (under/over allocated)
·       Organizational culture influences and support

Without this information AND the detailed analyses necessary to create meaningful findings, your BA assessment score is just a one-dimensional score with little meaning. What good is a high BA competency score when your organization’s projects continue to be challenged and deliver less business value? You don’t need us to answer that question for you.