The Secret is in the Wings

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Nov 29, 2020
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I am no aviation expert, but an enthusiast of this prodigious revolution in human travel.  The entire experience of taking-off, ascending, cruising, descending and finally landing safely on the ground fascinates me to no end. The collective ingenuity involved in making air travel to be what it is today would have surpassed the imagination of the Wright brothers when they successfully flew the first plane on 17 December 1903, not to mention the imagination of generations who lived before them.

We know that it takes more than the wings for an airplane to soar into the skies. However, its wings are of great interest to me. A year ago, on my flight back from Cape Town to Johannesburg, I sat in a seat overlooking the left-wing. I spent the entire two hours of the flight observing this critical component of the airplane that I had boarded.

I could not help but observe in awe the agility of this monstrous wing. My mind could not stop analyzing how an airplane uses the agility of its wings to control the pressure of the air that flows through them and manipulates the latter to enable it to navigate its journey into the skies.  The airplane does not change the physical or scientific formation of the air, but it changes its wings to adapt to this natural phenomenon. How intriguing. Adaption. Agility.

The Secret is in the Wings - Business Analyst

The wings are designed such that, on take-off and once the plane has reached high speeds, they throw the air down towards the ground. The fascinating part is to see the wings extend their flaps to increase the area they have to manipulate this air. This, together with the angle of attack or angle of climb (the slight tilt of the wings to the back), allows the plane to generate an upward force called lift which overcomes the plane's weight and allows it to detach itself from gravity. Once the airplane is airborne and has reached its cruising altitude, it retracts the extended part of the wings to enable an even balance between the air pressure above and below the wings. This enables it to maintain stability, and let the passengers enjoy a smooth flight. When hitting turbulence, it uses its wings again to fight against these unwelcome disruptions.

On the descent, again it uses its wings to change the flow of air. Lastly, in reducing airspeed and assisting it with deceleration, you see the wings extending again. Once the airplane lands and starts the braking process, you cannot help but notice the wing flaps opening up to give it as much resistance as possible against the air.

As I said, I am not an aviation expert, and the description given above is not a conclusive account of what the airplane needs to fly. It is a layman's account of part of the science of flying. I am fully aware that a lot of other components play a part in the science behind air travel.

Now, you may ask as to why am I even giving such praise to the wings of an airplane or where am I going with this? Throughout the entire observation, I could not help draw parallels to how agile the airplane wings are and what we need as business analysts to ensure that we can deliver business value while navigating all the challenges we encounter in our daily jobs.

As highlighted above, the airplane can soar and stay in the skies because it can use its wings to alter the behavior of the air to its benefit. This is what you need to learn as a business analyst. You cannot alter the nature of our stakeholders in your environment, but you can use the agility of your people skills to alter the behavior of your stakeholders to your benefit. This means that with people skills that are rigid or territorial, your wings are completely useless. The air around you cannot be manipulated to your benefit. If you are too focused on defending your position as a business analyst, without recalibrating your perspective, and try to see business challenges from your stakeholders perspective, you are dead in the water. We often refer to the Agile mindset – but this is never broken down to its simplest form – hence there are still challenges around getting to this mindset. The agility of the wings of an airplane can be easily equated to the agility of the mindset we need to cultivate as business analysts.

Let us start from the beginning.

  • Who are your flaps and what is your angle of attack when you embark on a new project?
  • How do you make sure that you can change the air pressure enough to make sure that your project takes off, without the engines stalling? Remember, the flaps help the wings to increase their area to ensure effective take-off.
  • As a business analyst, do you consult with the right stakeholders and get their buy-in to make sure that your flaps are extended long enough?
  • And do you know when to retract these flaps midflight so as not to create unnecessary drag to your project?
  • Do you realize that constantly escalating your project team to senior management might be a sign of flaps not retracted midflight?
  • How about having a different approach based on the relationship you have built with your project team on issues that might be causing challenges, and only rely on the flaps if you are not making inroads. Escalation is not the first point of resolving challenges when a project is in flight mode.

Take-off

When you kick off the project, this is when you need to ensure that you extend your wings as much as possible to break away from the center of gravity (which is resistance to change). You can do this by making sure that you have involved all of your stakeholders who are going to be impacted by the change and received the key buy-in that is needed. The technique that never fails in this instance is the use of a context diagram. Through this diagram, you can extend your wings as a business analyst and successfully identify all impacted stakeholders and systems. Through the context diagram, you will be able to alter the air around you to allow you not to have to abort the take-off or to abort it beyond the point of 'rotation', which is a point beyond which airplane take-off cannot be aborted without catastrophic consequences. The false start of a project may come at a huge financial cost to the business. Watch your flaps when you prepare to kick-off a project.

In-flight

I like to think of the cruising altitude as the point where the project is in full flight mode, and the passengers (your stakeholders) are enjoying the flight – mainly because they trust you and that your wings are in the correct position for a safe flight. Upon turbulence(unforeseen challenges during the project), you should be able to fall back on the agility of your wings. In this case, the action required to address the impediments will be highlighted and driven mainly through your skills to communicate eloquently, confidently and with clarity (both vertically and horizontally). It may also require the assessing of the impact and the extent of the threat posed by the turbulence. Through extending your flaps, once again, you may need to facilitate the change of the airspeed, altitude or flight plan. This agility is necessary to ensure that you can bring the flight back to a safe and enjoyable cruising point.

Landing

When the team is approaching the end of the project, once again your skills as a business analyst to facilitate safe landing are tested. Drag is necessary when approaching landing, hence the wings will extend its flaps again at this point. In your world, you can think of this as vertical communication – making key stakeholders aware of what is about to be delivered and when it will be delivered – including simple things like release notes (which might be horizontal communication as well) to notify all impacted stakeholders about the changes. In most cases, release notes are compiled by release managers, but the content comes from business analysts. You own the change and thus should be much closer to the details of the change. This is when you must extend your flaps again. Most importantly, an airplane extends its flaps with the environment it is landing into. If there are crosswinds, then the extent of the wings extension will differ compared to when there are no crosswinds. How flexible are you as a business analyst to adapt the extension of your flaps in response to the environment you are working in when wrapping up the project?

It is important to note project deployments are not immune to external disruptions. Such disruptions can either work in favor of or against our planned timelines or sprints. Consider Covid-19 – an external disruption that has shaken the world. These disruptions are like gusts of wind that change direction rapidly. These winds require pilots to react with a clear course of action – either try to land or abort landing (whichever will be safe to do – a decision taken within a short space of time). Furthermore, these headwinds, crosswinds or tailwinds do not make life any easier for the pilots. For the pilots to land safely, they must work within pre-defined weights and speed of winds and make a decision. Any false move could have catastrophic results. 

Decision-making affects business analysts on any project. The go or no go (in terms of deployment) might not be your decision, however understanding the environment you operate in (your cockpit), and the external factors surrounding it (the airspace you fly in) will guide you in the change of direction. You will be able to be as agile as the wings of the airplane. They play a critical role in assisting the aircraft to brake and come to a standstill safely. So can you in your project.  


AuthorEdward Ngubane, Head of Business Analysis, DVT

Edward Ngubane, the current Head of Business Analysis at DVT, started his career as a mathematics teacher at Senaoane Sec School in Soweto. He has been in the IT industry for almost 20 years, and worked for the following companies: Telkom SA, Investec, BMW Financial Services, Wesbank and FNB (Online Banking and eWallet Solutions). He has held numerous positions, viz:- Systems Developer, Systems Analyst, Business Analyst, Product Development Manager, Business Analyst Manager, Head of PMO, Practice Lead (Business Analysis and Architecture), Practice Manager.

He has setup and ran BA CoP’s (Community of Practice), developed and mentored a number of business analysts and published papers on the business analysis discipline. Over the years he has received numerous awards, and is passionate about the business analysis domain.

He holds five degrees, two of which are at the Masters level – the M.Ed (Maths Education) and the MBA (Cum Laude) – both from the University of the Witwatersrand. The title of his dissertation for his M.Ed was ‘What are links between a teacher’s views of mathematics and his/her classroom practices’. And the title for his MBA dissertation was ‘Managing IT Knowledge workers within South African Financial Industry’.

He is currently doing his PhD (part-time) at the University of the Witwatersrand, and is a recipient of a Post Graduate Merit Award. His thesis is on the ‘The development and sustainability of SMME’s through Cloud Computing in South Africa’. He is the former Secretary and Treasurer of the IIBA-SA, and is currently the President of the same organisation.

Contact details:
Edward Mzwandile Ngubane
DVT (https://dvt.co.za/))
Head of Business Analysis : Gauteng, South Africa
Business Enablement Division
Mobile +27 (82) 851 3638
enguban[email protected]

 

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