Business change is typically driven by technology innovation and is a vital aspect of organisational success or even survival. Organisations talk about embracing ‘digital’ and having ‘agility’ in order to succeed in the fast-moving global business environment. It is worrying, though, that the focus often seems to be on how the work should be done rather than what should be achieved. The emphasis is on applying a new approach or technology rather than thinking about how it might improve customer experiences or staff satisfaction or even cost efficiencies. In many cases, the need to adopt the shiny new toy becomes an end in itself.
The problems with this are twofold. There is a sense of collective hysteria as many organisations start announcing their credentials regarding the latest idea and people are suddenly morphed into new roles that are deemed to be essential for organisational success.
Digital transformation is a current example where, suddenly, anything non-digital is deemed 'outdated' as the new dawn offers the holy-grail for the business world. Some brave individuals raise their voices to query or challenge how this will help the organisation to grow or what the desired outcomes might be but these voices are often drowned out. Dissenting opinions are overlooked and any suggestions about adapting the new approach are deemed to be 'not using it properly'. Concerns are still raised – although often in whispers.
To behave professionally though, we should challenge the need to adhere to a process and instead focus on delivering an outcome. If we look at this from an analytical perspective, the application of a new approach or standard places the focus firmly on following a process rather than achieving an outcome. Similarly, statements such as ‘we need to have organisational agility’ or ‘we have to adopt Digital’ or ‘we must use AI’ are all concerned with ‘how’ rather than ‘why’; again the focus is on means rather than ends. Attempts to vary an approach or consider how a new technology might be used, which requires a high degree of experience and confidence, leads to criticism of those who are not ‘following the approach correctly’.
Following a process without having an outcome in view can be compared to using a cook book but without any picture of the desired result. Following a process means doing everything the approach dictates but without considering how it will help achieve what is required. Following a process removes the need for analysis because the process tells you what to do. None of these are likely to demonstrate the importance of an analytical mind set or, perhaps more importantly, enable organisational success.
Analysis is vital If the potential offered by digital technologies and responsive, adaptable approaches are to move organisations forward and enable improvement. Without analysis we would just be buying the latest shiny toy and then deciding how to use it. The focus would be on a solution but to resolve what problem or to deliver what outcome would be unknown.
The great benefit of analysis is that processes can be adapted, shortened, refocused or even abandoned if they don’t meet the need. Lean thinking tells us about waste and the need to remove waste. Following a process without focusing on an outcome, is surely one of the great wastes of our time. And yet, we still encounter the process police who insist on us doing things that won’t help move the initiative forward, will eat up time and effort, and will only be justified in the name of ‘doing it correctly’.
Let’s consider a different way:
- Start with an understanding of the problem we are trying to solve.
- Understand where we want to get to as an overall outcome.
- Decide on the best way to bridge the gap.
- Reflect and analyse to adapt as we gain more information and things move on.
Anything else is just going through the motions.
There are always new ideas and these are welcome - they help to move organisations forward – but they are only useful if they help us to achieve something. And, to begin in the right place we have to know what it is we want to achieve. Stating that whatever the situation we want to use xxx approach or yyy standard is not sensible. Understanding what we believe should be delivered in order to delight our customers and then deciding how we do this, seems a much better idea.
Business change projects have to work within the relevant context. This means that they are never black and white, the approach is rarely 'standard' and nuances - shades of grey - have to be expected. As a result, any new method or approach will need to be assessed within that context. Sometimes that will mean adapting – varying Agile to achieve agility, if you will. The ‘follow the process’ approach never works, whatever the situation. We need to keep our eyes on the prize which ultimately is what we wish to achieve for our customers, project and organisation.
So, let's accept that what we do is difficult - and sometimes a hard thing cannot be made easy by just following a process. We have to think and we have to have the intellectual and analytical ability to be able to do this in a range of contexts. We have to work within constraints that are not only related to budget and time but are also concerned with softer aspects such as culture and people. This is what makes the BA role so important and why the best practitioners analyse, challenge, suggest and sometimes dissent; they never follow the crowd - they stand out from the crowd! – and in doing so, they co-create great outcomes.