Barking With the Big Dogs - Part I: Process of Care

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Let’s face it, business analysts (BA) the world over are challenged with many things. These things can be lumped into loose buckets that include people, processes and tools. Within these categories we could easily compile a long list of challenges we face. They range from selling the value of requirements, our place in an organization, business versus IT, the stereotypical analysis paralysis, gaining management support, the lack of processes to support business analysis activities, lack of tools, difficult stakeholders, time, budget, work life balance and so on. As a business analyst, I often look for a root cause. I often try to get to the heart of the matter. It may come as no surprise to you that time and time again I hear fellow BAs complaining:

“If only I could get in at the beginning. If only I was there when the original idea had been discussed or if only I had been there when the decision was made or about to be made, I could have made a difference.”

In this four part series, I will give you the confidence and motivation you need to make a difference; a difference that will allow you to “Bark with the Big Dogs.” What I’m about to share is tried, tested and true. There are no gimmicks. Before you read on, ask yourself this:

“Am I willing to try something different?”

If you have answered yes, carry on your journey, take notes, prepare, discover and allow yourself to articulate. If not, grab yourself a soda, and know that it’s not going to get any easier. I will give you fair warning, this is not for the faint of heart. This lesson is about interacting with C-level executives, vice presidents and those who wear expensive suits and get paid a lot of money to make business related decisions that send us running! With practice this will become second nature, but understand that this requires practice and admittedly the courage to experiment where one approach may not necessarily reap the rewards you might have expected.

When I think about the process of care, a term widely used in the medical field, in the context of business analysis, I can easily relate this to a number of things: understanding current state, the IIBA’s® Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® and the Knowledge Area of Planning and Monitoring. In this knowledge area there are six primary tasks that we must consider when undergoing requirements management and development activities, all of which are complementary and easily compared with a process of care. For this article the process of care is a three-step process as noted in diagram 1.



Figure 1 Process of Care

Simple right? The items are interdependent. No item can be left out or scrimped on. In most cases, it takes relatively little time to do each, assuming that you utilize a sound approach.

Prepare

There are two elements that are to be considered when preparing for conversations with executives:

1. Content &
2. Style

Content refers specifically to what data points and information our executives are looking for. This means, you can put away your use case models and state machine diagrams for now. When it comes to content I always ask myself this series of questions:

  1. Based on the roles--CEO, CIO, CFO--what information, survey, statistics, financials do they expect to see?

  2. What information is most useful to them?

  3. What structured research approach must I take in order to engage this audience?

Caution: More often than not a structured research approach may be something as simple as pulling up the latest and greatest news from The Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, your company Web site, etc.

When it comes to style--and perhaps this is what causes the most angst, I think of stature and demeanor. I not only consider the people I’ll be working with, but also, I take inventory of my stature and demeanor. This will require that you recall the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears; every choice that Goldilocks made was not too big and not too small but just right.


Before you read further, grab a paper and pencil and jot down your response to the following question:

“What motivates C-level executives?”

Now compare your notes to mine. If you’ve got any of the following, you’re on the right track. If you didn’t, don’t worry – you can steal mine!

  1. Financial results

  2. Operational efficiency

  3. Regulatory compliance

  4. Brand and image

  5. Global strategy (if it applies)

  6. Productivity

A recent study suggests that C-level executives spend roughly 34% of their time on operational excellence or efficiency, 45% on enterprise wide project initiatives and 21% on strategic, long term initiatives . Other points of note and consideration: executives often strive to develop leadership strength, build credibility with business unit owners and “ground staff,” stabilize performance and ensure they are knowledgeable in all facets of their business and leadership abilities. While this might surprise you, there is more statistical information and data by many credible sources that proves this to be an ongoing effort by our executives; after all, they are human.

From a content perspective this is what C-level executives expect:

  • First and foremost, they want accountability and ownership. If you can’t demonstrate this they will likely ask why you are there and seek the person who can take on this responsibility and execute it.

  • C-level executives want to be assured and have confidence that you have a firm grasp and understanding of the organization’s business goals and objectives, and related industry knowledge. If you are not clear about this, seek it out.

  • Executives don’t like when somebody shoots first and asks questions later. What I mean by this is simple: listen first, then when prompted to do so, offer up some good ole fashioned critical thinking and problem solving. Offer multiple solutions and be sure to communicate the value of each. The value must be tied to what motivates an executive.

  • Finally, there is truth in the statement “executives like to buy from executives.” I know you are not selling a product, but this refers to stature and demeanor. Better stated, “birds of a feather flock together.” This means that your ability to have an executive conversation, demonstrate ownership and accountability, present yourself with professionalism, and subject matter expertise will allow you to start barking with the big dogs.

Discover

For business analysts reading this next section, you’ll likely feel right at home. The discover stage ultimately includes understanding the current state. Not unlike any other engagement, the primary objective is to gain a deep understanding of the real pain points that many CXOs are plagued with. Now that you are aware of what they are, it’s time to develop a crystal clear understanding of why. This is no easy task, because your primary objective is to simply listen. DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO SOLVE ANY PROBLEMS. At least not yet. You have to remember that the primary stepping stone for the development of trust is empathy and that can only be realized if one listens deeply. A wise person once told me to step outside of my agenda and be selflessly focused on the organization as a whole. It would be a fatal mistake to label or brand your interaction with CXOs as an interview or an interrogation. Rather, it’s a business conversation with intent to understand why, symptoms, causes and effects. This is NOT a technical discussion PERIOD!

If you have prepared correctly, your ability to inquire, reflect and probe should come easily. If not, you’ll likely find yourself trying to define a solution rather than understand the situation. Typically my conversations could be compared to the shape of an hour glass:

 

One of the critical ingredients in the discovery phase is reflection: think, pause for a moment, give yourself the opportunity to gather your thoughts and then seek validation. You should seek validation by comparison, by rephrasing in your words using your experiences. However, you should be very careful with paraphrasing, because if not done properly, it’s likely this is where the C-Level executives will interpret this as you giving a solution to the problem. I like to start my paraphrasing with “I remember when we had a similar situation…” and I’d finish with “does this sound like something that is comparable?” Remember the conversation must be fluid and not contrived. It must ebb and flow and not feel like an interview or an interrogation.

Articulate

In an iterative process, things take time. I say this to warn you not to boil the ocean in one sitting. in fact there have been many occasions where in the course of executive meetings, I have been certain of solution options but deferred to another point in time simply to “stop play” and allow me to thoroughly think about how I could position a solution. There are no rules that dictate that in the course of a one hour conversation with an executive you must come up with all the answers. In fact you’ll likely gain more respect by asking for permission to take some time and really mull over your input and counsel. In that respect, remember the following prior to walking into your meetings:

  1. Instead of stating the obvious, or pointing out the elephant in the room, consider offering up how the elephant got there, and more importantly your approach to coaxing it out of the room.

  2. You are there to implicitly trigger innovation and creativity through your ability to have a C-level conversation

  3. Your experience brings with it a network of resources. You alone cannot solve the world’s problems. In fact, you’ll gain more points if you suggest that you would like to seek further validation from your colleagues on points that are not 100% clear. An example of that might look like this:

    “Based on my experience my gut tells me this. However given the uniqueness of the situation, I’d like to run this by a colleague and get a second opinion to validate my thinking.”

  4. You are an impetus to change, and every executive knows that change is always challenging. You must build rapport and a relationship with these executives that allow them to be confident of your ability to navigate through change.

  5. Finally, don’t be afraid to propose scope and boundaries. This will keep a check and balance on the excitement of vision and enthusiasm for possibilities of all things grand. Recall we are talking about strategy. The key to success is to ask what the scope and boundaries are. It is not up to you to tell anybody what they are, especially the people who are footing the bill! By addressing scope control at a strategic level you are beginning to set expectations of your concern for any risks that may plague your CXO’s initiative.

This is Part I of IV, the first piece of the puzzle. In the next article, we’ll address how you will become a trusted advisor, through active listening, active conversation, engaging in healthy debate and knowing when you are being manipulated.

Glen Brule - CBAPAuthor: Glenn R. Brûlé, CBAP, CSM, Executive Director of Global Client Solutions, ESI International, brings more than two decades of focused business analysis experience to every ESI client engagement. As one of ESI’s subject matter experts, Glenn works directly with clients to build and mature their business analysis capabilities by drawing from the broad range of learning resources ESI offers. A recognized expert in the creation and maturity of BA Centers of Excellence, Glenn has helped clients in the energy, financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, insurance and automotive industries, as well as government agencies across the world. For more information visit www.esi-intl.com.


[i] CIO Magazine: Best Practices for Advancing the Strategic Impact of IT, 2010, pg. 6

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COMMENTS

jameswerner posted on Saturday, June 16, 2012 1:48 PM
This is a very informative article, I have experienced the crash and burn discussions with the C-level executive. I wish I had insight like this and not as much real life learning. Thanks look forward to the remaining articles.
zarfman posted on Saturday, June 16, 2012 5:28 PM

Glenn:

I look forward to your next articles.

I've been a C-level executive - CFO, vice president of finance, wore $2000 Oxxford suits and got paid a lot of money. If you can solve this problem you will be a very rich man. This of course assumes the C-level types are smart enough to understand what your promoting.

Regards,

Zarfman
questL posted on Thursday, June 21, 2012 1:46 PM
Glenn,

Very insightful article. For an individual that prides himself in being able to "swim with the sharks" or to quote the title of your article "Bark With The Big Dogs", I am somewhat left salivating and wanting to know when we can expect the next part of this article. Would you mind dropping us a note? :)

Regards,

Akwasi
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