Category Archives: Uncategorized

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,


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.


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.


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.