The other Fukushima plant

There was a nice article in the latest issue of the HBR about the “other” Fukushima plant.

The “other” Fukushima plan? What?

Well yes, there was another one, that suffered exactly the same earthquake and subsequent tsumani, yet managed to perform a cool shutdown of their 4 reactors in 3 days. It’s true that the situation was slightly different because the power lines were not completely shut down like the other famous Daiichi plant, but still, people were scared to death (and Japanese people are used to earthquakes), they were horribly concerned about their families and the whole installation around them was damaged with no clue of what worked and what had collapsed.

How did the leader do to manage the situation? Well I’m not going to spoil the story for you, but what is interesting for us to know is that he managed all the people around him to make sense of the situation. He didn’t “take charge”. He shared his fears, his information, his ideas good or bad. And that made the magic: as everybody made sense of how complex, uncertain and changing it was, they all followed commonly agreed instructions. To a success.

Read their story, I’m sure there’s a lot we can learn as BA, PM, leaders facing uncertainty, complexity and change.

BA’s be sure to develop the right skills

Dear all,

The 2 following great articles put the focus not on important skills, but on the essential skills for a BA.

Titles are rather self explanatory right?

So if you think that the most essential skills are problem solving and attention to detail, you might want to revisit.

(And make sure you don’t confuse the team collaborative skills and your own! The future of creative design is the team, not your brain…)

All the best,

C.

Do you really want to get this done?

As a senior BA I’m obsessed by 2 very simple questions:

  • didn’t we forget anything in our to do list?
  • do we have an owner for each to do?

Fellow BAs might find this a bit short. Well indeed those 2 obsessions do not define my job at all. I’m also writing requirements, business rules, information models, getting people around the table and creating the conditions of dialogue, designing solutions, making sure they’re built properly and within budget etc etc. What I’m pinpointing are simply my 2 biggest concerns.  And frankly, I dare to say those are the concerns of any entrepreneur.  I’m also very much aware that it overlaps with the PM concerns, but neither is this the point I want to make.

If you accept my 2 statements that

  • each IT project is a change project (from the most evident user facing app till the hidden network software upgrade)
  • impacts are potentially everywhere (everything is linked to everything in complex organisations!)

Then I expect you would agree that the business analyst and the project manager have to look at the whole organization if they really want to get the change project done and delivering value and satisfaction.

Okay, so far, so good.

What do we observe on the workfloor during project ideation or scoping?

Simple: IT teams up with ops and accounting for instance. They quickly identify prominent impacts, liaise with a selection of concerned people, sketch a budget, get it approved, form a project team and there it starts. Professional work, no doubt. Delivered in a very short timing, with the people you managed to mobilize. I.e. there are missing parts? By definition.

Now, let’s look at the mission of the newly created project team a bit. Is it “get that scope implemented” or “make everything necessary for that change to happen”? And, most importantly, are team members entrepreneurs or executing roles?

If you ever were responsible for a project, you know exactly what I’m coming to, because we all suffered from it at one time or another in our career.  It’s the stupid, dangerous and so much engrained belief (or implicit assumption) that if we deliver the scope then the change will happen.  And sorry for change managers, but you believe that too.

Even more inconvenient that this very common assumption is solidly locked by a number of bad organizational habits of cultural shortcomings.

  • silos
  • budgets
  • job descriptions
  • yearly objectives
  • disstrust

And it is also true that there’s nothing you can do as a consultant to change your client culture or organization. And by the way it’s not your mandate.

What can you do then?

4 actions

  • Make sure you’re enthusiastic for the change yourself
  • Make sure you’re straight in your boots, do your homework!
  • Find allies at the highest level you can reach
  • Accept no barriers and do what must be done

Are you ready?

get-it-done

I wish you a New Year full of fantastic results!

 

The triple look and the adaptative brain

Daniel Goleman’s latest article on the focused leader made me think on what the triple look would mean for us BAs.

The article’s central argument is that in order to be effective, leaders should develop a triple focus

  • inward
  • towards others
  • outward

The article explains why those focuses are important and how to enhance them. It’s definitely worth a careful read.

From our perspective, it occurred to me that business analysts acquire those looks as they mature in the following sequence:

  • outward look: at the system
  • toward others: at your stakeholders
  • inward look: am I in the right state of mind?

The First Look is the basic competency of a BA. Unless you start in a rather basic role where you are requested to develop requirements, every BA is responsible of a system, that he needs to understand, improve, document, replace, fix… Whatever the mission, the BA looks with a careful eye to the system (system being here used in the most generic sense).

The Second Look is also a basic competency, but from the few tens of BA’s I saw around me, I have the impression that this competency developed subsequently. As if the natural trend of those BAs I worked with was to make the sytem work without giving too much attention to whether or not it creates satisfaction for stakeholders. (I might post something on that in the future…)

The Third Look, the inward look, is maybe the next step for us all. We might discover a lot of things when looking inward: our needs, motivations, emotions, frustrations, enthusiasm and ambition are all there neatly interwoven and constituting our personality and the way we approach our lives and duties. That is a very broad topic, and I’m sure there are a lot to say on the relationship between our inner state and how good we are at our job. As a matter of fact, as stated by K. Anders Ericsson, experts are made by deliberate practice and constant introspection. You can only keep on progressing if you constantly requestion yourself.

introspection-accuracy_1

For this time I will focus on only one aspect: our stress level and how it prevents us from doing our job.

There are 3 traits of outstanding business analysts that in my experience are difficult to maintain at a high level all the time.

  • curiosity for new information (yes even in case of overload)
  • adapt to unexpected change (even harder: be happy when change arrive)
  • accept relativity of our opinions, no matter how hard we try to see the system (you cannot be right alone all the time)

Anatomically, those traits are typically hosted by the prefrontal cortex, where creativity, innovation, coping with complexity and managing emotions are also located. They are essential parts of the “adaptative” brain. Those traits are normally active when we recognise a situation to be complex or new. It happens that they’re not active when they should, and it’s for us a big cause of stress. So, if the prefrontal cortex is not active (because not all situations require to) or not mobilised (because it didn’t activate automatically and we didn’t manage to mobilize them) we are

  • discarding new information
  • resisting to change
  • claiming our mental models are a complete and valid representation of the reality

And that really doesn’t sound good for a BA does it?

But let’s be clear, there’s no value-based judgment about those competencies. You may not say that “curiosity to new information” is better than “discarding new information”. What you may say on the contrary is that:

  • different situations require different skills
  • complex and new situations are better addressed by the adaptative brain
  • situations faced by BAs are often complex and new.

That’s the reason why we need to keep up on the adaptative traits all the time, even in situations of stress.

And that is sometimes a tough challenge. Assess where we stand on those scales at any point, and have means to reactivate the prefrontal cortex competencies each time we need them (= more or less all the time).

Would you like to know how to do that?

IT projects: fear is everywhere

Several months ago I gave a training on emotional intelligence to a group of professional business analysts and testers. That was a very nice experience. For a lot of reasons. The setting was very nice to start with, and they were smart and experienced. There were also a lot of constructive interactions. But what I found most interesting was to try and open up smart people to the marvellous world of emotions, and to demonstrate how this was important to their daily job. Not sure I managed it fully though, but sure I initiated the thinking.

At the end of the training, we tried to map emotions and the standard phases of an IT project (regular waterfall approach, the point was not project management).

We came up with such a table, featuring basic emotions and phases.

CGB blog post fear

Nothing spectacular yet. We circulated an empty table to every participant with the instruction to evaluate, for his or her experience, what emotion was strongly felt during each phase. I collected the tables after some thinking time, and aggregated the replies.

What struck me was the number of people who had felt fear at various phases. It was really like the dominant emotion felt by project participants was FEAR.

fear

This kept me busy for a number of months. I kept on interviewing business analysts, other project fellows, and the same conclusion was always coming back. Of course there’s sometimes anger and surprise, and the biggest joy of all when the death march is done and project is delivered… but still fear was there. Everybody mentioned it at some point.

Needless to say that few project managers are sensitive or trained to managing fear. Neither is the slightest mention made of fear and anger in Prince2 or the Pmbok… while every project manager in the world face them on a daily basis. I’m wondering how much time it will take for a training dedicated to emotional intelligence for project managers will appear.

So I kept stuck with that concern and no way of solving it. I was indeed giving a training on emotional intelligence myself, but not going further than giving scientific background, naming emotions, communicating them and showing empathy. (Which is way beyond regular IT project member skills, so it certainly remains useful). But that was no fix to fear…

And then the light came out of a beautiful Tweet by @gregnazvanov


(We let aside the procrastination for the time being.) So gratitude would be the antidote to fear then… How strange, how new this was to me… Something new to learn as it seemed. Pushed by curiosity, I spent the evening googling and finally found some actionable advice on Philosiblog.

In order to feel the true link between gratitude and fear, let’s follow the author and try this:

Think about something scary or unknown, something that makes you at least a little apprehensive, if not fearful. It doesn’t have to be ‘hide under the covers’ scary, just something uncomfortable. Now go back to being grateful for a few moments. What happened to the fear? Is yours the same? Mine was diminished

I tried it too. And that worked for even when my gratefulness was directed to something completely different.

Some explanations are useful.

While gratitude won’t remove risk, it can help us to see that there is something useful, even beneficial, to any outcome. Rather than fearing action, we can begin to embrace it. And in that embrace, we begin to start moving, and once again, we can take action.

If you think that point is not very rational, well I have to say you’re rather right. It’s another type of reasoning. If that’s an excuse for you not to try, that’s rather disappointing. You can try it and not tell anybody :-)

And a last piece, wich insists on how important it is to try it in real life.

It is important because it’s one thing for me to say it, but another thing entirely for you to have experienced it. That makes it a bit more real, and vastly more believable. If you can’t find an instance in your past, promise yourself to try this the next time you find yourself fearful or angry.

I have to say I am very grateful to the people who contributed to get this window open in me, and I’m looking forward to putting it into practice.

Are you?

I wish you a beautiful day.

 

A practical post: how to approach task hand-over.

Say we are in a situation where you are moved to other responsibilities and need to hand over all you tasks. How can you do this pragmatically and efficiently?

First of all you need to accept that, whatever the time given, you will never be able to transfer all your knowledge. Trying to do this is equal to spoiling valuable time. Yours’ and your counterparts’. There is knowledge that you acquired in months that simply cannot be handed over in hours. If you’re comfortable with this, we can move on.

1. Make a rough assessment of the time you’ve got. How smaller the amount of time, how bigger the risk to miss a meaningful piece of information. Once you’ve got a fair feeling, communicate to your stakeholders (your PM, your business counterparts, your IT connections).  I usually take the rough estimate of 30h of project work = 1 h of hand over. 6 months in this respect would require 3 to 4 days hand-over. Does this sound fair to you?

Communicating to all stakeholders is important, because you want to let them evaluate the impact your move has for them and maybe make some special requests. If the PM is a bit reluctant, push him. You want to leave a clean situation behind you don’t you?

2. Once the notification is sent, prepare a table like this, fill it up and discuss it with your PM. Make sure you include all comments received after you sent your notification!

Task Status Taken over by HO needed? Comments
         

Once stabilised with the PM, send it for discussion to the people in column “taken over by” and make sure you have an agreement.

3. When the agreement is reached, send the invitations. Short and targeted sessions of 2 hours max, because  such sessions are tiring for both parties.

What will you put on the agenda?

For each task:

  • Contextual information
  • Next actions
  • People involved
  • Requested to complete
  • “Specials”

My advice is to give priority to the contextual information (why this task, what value does it bring, dependencies, challenges) and to the next actions. That kind of information usually is the most difficult to obtain, and therefore the most important to hand over. Also, take time to introduce the people you’ve been working with. Their roles in the company and in the project, and how the relationship went. Obviously, be clear on what needs to be completed to bring the task to a good end.

What is “specials”?

This covers everything you, as a professional, deem important to tell. It is by definition information that is unstructured, difficult to obtain, known by few and probably sensitive.

4. Prepare your session!

A 2 hours HO session requires 2 hours preparatory work! You will have to collect info, remember and document a couple of things and think about the “specials”. Don’t worry too much if not everything is put on paper. However, it is always a good idea to have a hand over doc per counterpart, where all the administrative details will be summed up too.

5. During the session, fight your tendency to tell everything and make sure you time-box the sessions strictly. Your counterpart is also a professional and in a position to investigate and ask questions. If the time is short: think twice before asking for more time. PM are professional too.

 

my-handover-note

 

Handing over tasks is never straightforward, but I expect this easy approach will at least remove the “how do I start” burden. Tell me what you think, and good luck in your new endeavours!

I wish you a fantastic day.

Consultants put the interests of their clients first

Or don’t they?

I’m sometimes surprised and disturbed by how difficult it is to have someone speaking up openly on that matter, how important it can be in consulting relationships. Regardless of your role in your organisation you might even consider the above as an idealistic dream that nobody will ever fulfill. Maybe if you are a consultant, you dared say it assertively during a networking event where you were maybe a bit too pushy (or drunk)… But now, with hindsight, do you believe what you said?

Look in the mirror. Is the guy/girl there always putting the interests of his/her clients first? Of course not.

Relax. Neither do I feel allowed to state that so bluntly.

Let’s analyse this discomfort.

First of all, we rephrase this rather vague sentence.  In something like: “in every decision where their client interests somehow conflict with their own interests, consultants always give clients’ interests a significantly heavier weigth than their own”. (Yes you could discuss “significantly”, you could argue on “perceived” and “true” interests”… but that’s not the point).

So it has to do with decisions and conflictual interests then? Yes, of course, but not only. It has to do with our fear for the future, and our survival instincts.  Even if people manage their fear in different ways, fear is a perfectly normal feeling, and it is normal to have it! Very normal indeed! Still, like in any other human relationship, people around you can capture your emotions, even if not spoken out, even if unaware. And yes, protecting oneself is one of the most expected behaviours for a fearful person. And if you protect yourself, guess what, the interests of your clients come… after.

So, we’re in a situation where you are paid for a service. That service involves making/facilitating decisions. And those decisions are biased by your fear for the future. See? Not good, right?

Okay, that’s for the analysis… Is there a cure? I think yes. Or at least strong mitigators I’d say.

Well first of all, it is a good idea to look at your financial stability. I will not explain how to address that. That should sound rather familiar. What-if scenarios is a possible way to come to a figure. You can investigate that yourself and make a plan. (Don’t forget to take actions too…). If you have financial stability, the bias will be lighter. Still present though, but lighter.

Emotionally and spiritually too it’s important for you to consider if confidence in the future resonates in you. Why so? Or, why not? If you’re not comfortable with why you do this job, what its purpose is, that can be the reason of your fear! Our brain not always tells us things like they are. Sometimes we only get weak signals! Fear is one of them.

Finally, there’s one very strong counterbalancing value: sense of service. If your professional purpose is to serve your clients, you will instinctively put their interests first, even implicitly, in most decisions. I’m mixing value and purpose a bit I know. What I mean is that sense of service is what you naturally live up to on a daily basis. Did you try to develop this value? Do you know where to start?

What will you get from this? Well maybe the question is wrongly stated if you follow me on what sense of service really means. A better question is “how will the consulting relationship benefit from this” ? Simply: mutual trust. And the magic of it is that this mutual trust builds up without any directly targeted action. It simply develops for the simple reason that for your last decision, you put the interests of your client first.

human-trust-image

Mutual trust.

You might find this important.

I wish you a beautiful day.