Agile and Our World in Need

I have not updated this blog in these several months.  Humble apologies.  It is certainly not agile practice.  However, I have obtained some pivotal insights persuading us that business analysis has vital social purposes.

Right now, business analysis is in the domain of software development and IT adoption. It is the communication of technology for solving business needs.  As businesses and their customers use new internet-driven technologies, their operations must operate in kind.

If smartphone apps or operating systems get upgrades every three months, so much business plans, operations and strategies.  In an IT-saturated world, nothing is set in stone.  Everything is subject to testing.  There are no longer any products that stand the test of time.  Welcome to agile.

Much of business analysis that I have engaged in and observed is about operation and customer service.  These are significant purposes.  Of course, any enterprise must operate and serve customers in alignment with current technology.  Yet, there arise more pressing questions that hit us at an ontological level.

Everybody uses a smartphone. Everybody is connected to the social-media economy. Everybody expects to undergo continuing education, especially if you don’t want to lose your job.  What does it mean? How does the way we work change?  How does society change after all?  What can we do for those who really have fallen through the cracks?

Moreover, where are we when this digitization of all of life throws more and more vulnerable people onto the street?  There have been stories in the media about the decline of work and economic viability for prime-age men.   This is an example of a class of people displaced by the new tech-savvy agile hipster class.  Without mincing words, this is shameful.

Of course, in good faith with best business analysis practice, I have to propose candidate solutions.  I will describe two possible examples of candidates I have engaged with.

YWCA Hotel Vancouver

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I have had the immense pleasure of staying at this wonderful hotel a couple times in Vancouver, Canada.  The hotel rates are quite affordable, especially in such an expensive world city.  Yet that’s not the draw.

The selling point here is that YWCA Hotel Vancouver is a social enterprise.  This is not a concept I hear too much right now.  The hotel “is a mission-related social enterprise providing affordable accommodations for all travellers and generating revenue that sustains YWCA Metro Vancouver’s community service work.”  What are we really looking at here?  What model can we represent to encapsulate this description?

Think of the social enterprise as, let’s say, a publicly traded organization.  When, for example, you own stock in Microsoft, you are one of millions of public owners of the corporation.  A corporation can change policy when a majority of owners vote to dump stock.  So investor scrutiny and expectations can really help steer the course.

The same can almost be said of YWCA Vancouver.  As a paying guest, you can use your wallet to help YWCA Metro Vancouver help those in need in ways that align with real circumstances appropriate to the environment at present.  I don’t know if that’s really true, but I hope that’s an opportunity to thrive.  The major implication is that guests who have succeeded in the ever-changing business world can consider using their experience to help YWCA change more lives.  I hope that’s a good example of social investment and social enterprise.

I have not seen further evidence that such business-to-social networking is taking place. But by writing this, I am issuing a call for business analysis to engage in social analysis in an agile society.

Rainier Valley Leadership Academy (Seattle)

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In August, a brand-new charter middle school is opening in the diverse, multicultural south end of Seattle.  Rainier Valley Leadership Academy is the new startup in American public education.  It is a member charter school of the Green Dot Public Schools national organization.  In the not-so-great capacity of a community representative, I have engaged several times with the school’s principal.

From the few chats I had, Rainier Valley Leadership Academy is proposing an agile, hands-on approach to “prepare every student for high school, college, leadership and life.”  As the target student demographic includes many people of color, RVLA is seeking to effectively educate students with a stakeholder approach in mind.  Clearly traditional public education is not doing too well in helping minority students succeed, to put it tritely.

In this case, demographics determine any enterprise-wide activity.  This is an agile principle of customer-driven business operations.  Because of the presence of arguably non-traditional students, agile has entered the classroom.

So watch this space as RVLA prepares to kick off in August.

The Significance of All This?

These examples give inference to a disturbing reality.  Our traditional public-services mechanisms are no longer able to provide the services that citizens expect and need.  If you learned anything in the last ten years–the global financial crisis and its impact–our tax dollars have little power to make a difference in people’s lives.  Soon enough, the government will by attrition exit the welfare business.  No wonder why health-care reform in America is a mess.

What exacerbates the enervation of public power is the Uberizing of our society. Suddenly, the traditional authority systems that are supposed to sustain a decent existence for citizens are now outwitted by more nimble, crafty and treacherous digital actors.  In other words, a Somali cab driver in Seattle will be quickly driven out of a job by self-driving cars.  There comes the gap.

In view of this disruptive picture, I believe business analysts have critical value in helping a society in desperate need.  From homeliness to drug addiction to mental health crisis to racial underachievement, the traditional social workers, activists, counselors and other parties are more stuck than ever before.  The reason is the flow of services and provisions have radically and absolutely changed.  We can barely understand the change that is happening.

This is where business analysis need to come in.  Moreover, what we need are social analysts.  We need these people now as the scale of change becomes ever more disruptive.  YWCA Hotel Vancouver, if it is willing to obtain social analyst capabilities and assets, can pioneer remarkable change.  So can Rainier Valley Leadership Academy. Nobody knows where everything will end up.  Yet all the unpredictability and flux has to be managed.  And that is the job of a business analyst in an agile world.

The End of Policy

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What is a good policy or procedure (PP)?

One that succeeds must account for an enterprise’s overall market situation.  One that fails serves to make a process or other work task easier.   A good question to ask is:  will this PP add value to the customer and the market?  If if doesn’t, then the PP is just another layer of bureaucracy.

Here is an assumption of restraint:  a customer has needs and therefore any PP needs to be designed specifically to address the customer objective.   Good PPs should not be an exhaustive list of operational tactics that make the job easier.   If they are so, then only the employee achieves the benefit.  All operations and the PPs that undergird them must fully satisfy a customer’s needs.

For PPs to be customer-centric, the tactics have to be open-ended, flexible and personalized for each customer.  One assumed set of instructions for one customer is different from another set for another customer.  This prompts the employee to adopt a comprehensively strategic view to all his work.  The reality is that customers hate policies and procedures, even though business operations depend upon them.  No customer has the same service requirements.  And as businesses cater to a more and more individualized and personalized customer base, operations employees have to game up to develop and demonstrate better strategic aptitudes.

Process improvement (PI) has now become a continual necessity.  PI assumes that standard operating procedures be tossed out the window.  New computer technologies including automation make PI critical to any business success.  Certain industries, including healthcare, are fully taking stock of the implications of new technology.  As always, the problem is the people.  If the people who man the operations cannot demonstrate higher strategic skills above and beyond their tactical capabilities, then progress is surely impeded.  People who get PI will succeed.

In fact, PPs ought to be obsolete.  They really are stumbling blocks for customer service.  In these transitory technological circumstances, PPs need to be temporary, not enshrined. The goal, then, is to identify, recruit and advise new operations employees who can readily solve problems at the highest strategic level possible.  This is what the customer wants.

What It’s Really About

Business analysis is really about two activities:  inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning.

These activities may on the surface don’t pertain to anything about business.  But wait.  If BA is about identifying problems and forming appropriate customer solutions, then the capacities to reason are critical.

You may have forgotten these activities from your English lit class.  So let me define them.

Inductive reasoning involves choosing a particular item for study and slowly and organically recreate the very world that validates the item’s existence.

Here is an example, the entry of credits and debits to a checking account.  What world contains these processes? The environment of a banking system and its customers validates posting credits and debits to your checking account.  So a posting tells you something about the current state of the banking system.  This is the pattern of thinking you need to develop to master inductive reasoning.

Deductive reasoning, however, takes the opposite direction.  It involves choosing an environment for study in order to identify the constituent parts.

Let’s take the world of social media.  If you study it adequately, you will identify some key parts.  They include messaging, blogs, shared video and teleconferencing, Facebook walls, tweets and etc.  So analyzing social media should lead you to determine the applications listed above.

This all sounds academic and business, doesn’t it?  Let me say something politically incorrect.  Many people who work don’t give a damn about reasoning.  They are intellectually enfeebled because of the rapture of celebrity, spectacle and the good life. Work is not treated with the same academic rigor as graduate school work.  It should be.

Don’t accuse me of being a paleoconsevative on business aptitudes and intelligence.  Look, customers are giving many businesses a bad rap, including the healthcare industry. Because we don’t do the work of adequate reasoning, because we don’t think things through to their logical conclusion upon independent initiative, we are failing our economy.

This is why business analysis truly exists.  If failed IT projects lead to an annual global loss of $6 trillion, then business in general has a serious intellectual problem.  Failed IT projects fail our customers and the markets being served.  This is unacceptable.  So business analysis is now rising to turn the deadly tide.

Yet business analysis should not be the domain of a few specialists.  Everybody who works must be adept at the most basic and intellectual fundamental skills of business analysis.  Companies need to have the will to make it happen, and be willing to cull their staffs of feeble-mined welfare-check bureaucrats.  This is serious.

Harnessing Intelligence

This is an advisory call to managers and business supervisors.  You have to make a critical choice regarding your intelligent subordinates.

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I am very sure many of your employees look like the picture above.  Ignore your visceral reactions regarding the ethnicity of the young man.  I’m not going there.

Yet whoever they are, you do have very smart employees.  They have talents and skills and expertise that may potentially transform an organization, from its business processes to strategic visioning.  Because of that potential, with all the concomitant risks, you have a choice to make.

I will enumerate three options.

1. Do nothing

It is social nature for all of us to assume that we’re walking on eggshells and pretend that if you don’t provoke drama, everything is going to be alright.  As social beings, we hate conflict.  We hate to get involved in any confrontation that demands our pound of flesh.  So if you know that your smart aleck of a staffer has what it takes to steal your office, like Absalom attempted to capture David’s throne, then you ought to do something.  But in the interest of maintaining a corporate safe space, you would be “wise” to do nothing.

As I will elucidate later, sitting at your desk thinking nothing is wrong is not wise.

2.  Confront your smart employee as a risk

In many cases, this is the wisest course of action.  Businesses rise or fall on the back of strong authority.  Lazy employees are enough of a threat.  But they are not the major threats.  Your biggest enemy is an employee who has intelligence that surpasses that of other colleagues and you.

When you find out that one of your employees demonstrates high intelligence in performance, in speech and in the mannerisms and other presentational elements, you need to confront him.  You need to ask questions likewhere do you hope to gain in your employment at XYZ Company?  Do you seek my position?  Do you have an interest in starting your own business?

These questions, and many more, are restraining questions, for they put your smart employee on notice that his intelligence is a threat to the authority and order of the team and organization.  Yet nobody like restraint, and people will travail in any way to destroy all restraints imposed on him.  That’s human nature.  You have already provoked conflict. And you will run the risk of your smart employee forming a retaliatory attack against you and the business.  At that point, no further restraining questions will be effective.  And you will lose that employee one way or the other.

3.  Offer a partnership role to your smart employee

I would call on you to prefer this option.  This choice is a sure win-win solution.  I’m very sure your smart employee cares very much about the state and direction of the organization.  If you see that, you need to capitalize on it fast.  You have to establish a co-regency with him.

Co-regency does two things.  The first is that it already exposes the risk as exposited in number two.  It reveals the office politics and risk of having a smart employee.  The second is that upon exposition of the risk factors, you also establish a workable peace between you two.  This peace gives confidence to your smart employee that he has value and he will be respected by permitting him to set the agenda.

Look, people want to be respected.  Yet it is only right for an employee to receive respect on the basis of his merits.

Along with respect, there is a desire for a company to perform better.  This is the Japanese Toyota philosophy.  And any company that pursues continuous improvement inspires customer confidence.  With all things being automated by data science, continuous improvement has to be bold and radical.  Therefore, you should never dismiss your smart employee.  You have got to partner with him, fast, or you and your company will lose everything.

 

A New Order of Management

I heard a supervisor say that her job is to management people.  This is why she is in management.  That is what management does.

Or is it?  Is managing people an entirely pathetic exercise in the new order of automation?

Management

Yes it is.  If you are a manager, your job is never to manage people.  You solve problems. Maybe you just deploy people to provide a solution.  Maybe you need to use a particular vendor and hand the problem off to somebody else outside the company. Or perhaps you will use big data and let machine learning do the rest.

The latter strategy will become more prevalent as everybody knows.  I think by and large customers are welcoming this new landscape of automation because they’re sick and tired of sinful human beings handling their issues.  Call center anyone?  Any business solves problems, and if any business creates problems or any instance of disorder, then it is illegitimate as perceived by the customer.

In this new order of management, people under it are the problem.  People treat their jobs like a welfare check.  This sad state of affairs occurs across the board, from fast-food workers to attorneys and doctors.  Businesses under threat by $15 wage hikes and Greece-like employee corruption are experiencing a painful epiphany.  For supervisors to elevate people under their charge and make them happy is suicidal folly.

Automation, or the mass conversion of employee tasks to computer code, is a blessing in disguise.  Yes, thousands will lose their jobs.  But those left in the labor force will now have to dedicate their lives to offering solutions.  In fact, more and more supervisors will manage fewer and fewer employees.  Only a few will game up.  The rest, content with doing their routine jobs–whether blue collar or white collar–will be homeless.  I don’t sympathize with their plight, because they haven’t solved a damn problem.

Business doesn’t need more employees.  It needs problem solvers.  Only then can customer trust in companies be restored and retained.

 

 

Outsourcing as Defense Strategy

If your enterprise plans a transition to a outsourcing-based B2B solution, then you must be knowledgeable of all implications of the solution as it relates to your current state.  You need to have firm understanding of the enterprise’s direction appropriate to the current state.  You have to be decisive.

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Regarding any outsourcing transitions involving replacement of staff, there cannot be a half-in half-out approach.  The future direction of the company, including retaining the trust of customers, is at stake.  So to gingerly retain replaceable staff, who are the biggest threats to any enterprise’s viability, is an immediate demonstration of failure.  Therefore the implications must be comprehensively communicated to staff who will be replaced.

The problems that validate the solution are the staff’s personal responsibility.  Staff attitude is a cardinal risk to an enterprise, and like any good risk-management program, it must be vigilantly restrained or suppressed.  Management’s failure to suppress the risk ought to catalyze radical strategic change.  Outsourcing fully considers the irrational realities of the FTE landscape.

A Simple Welcome

A Simple Welcome

Leverage.  Big data.  Unions.  Pensions.  Downsizing and outsourcing.  Diversity. IPOs. Social media.

These terms are indicative of the issues our business world faces today.  That world once confronted problems including national interest, society, morality, war, home, family and humility.  What a world of difference.  It’s an illusion that any diligent man starting a business today will always succeed.  There is the real world. It’s no happy ending.

With a very saturated, fragmented and corrupted marketplace, the imperative is not starting a business, but keeping a business.  It’s easy to say why you want to start one.  It’s painfully difficult to explain your reasons for staying alive.  This is where the consultants, including project managers, business analysts, communications specialists, advisers and others step in.  Because the reasons for staying alive are absent, there’s a lot of work to do on advocating why any business should continue to exist.

This, as stated above, is the purpose of this site.  It is to help people who are concerned about this, people like you, envision a highly significant mission for doing business. Before continuing this introductory discussion, do you remember what it means to be a neighbor?

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Do you a remember a time when a neighbor help you with your shipwrecked finances?

Do you remember a neighbor babysitting your child while you were away?

Do you remember a neighbor giving you a car when you didn’t?

Do you remember a neighbor offering you a job lead after you were laid off?

Do you remember a neighbor taking meals to your sick mother?

If you’re unable to answer these questions, then it is obvious that your marketplace is devoid of that care, integrity and service that it should have had. This site is by no means politically correct, because being PC in the marketplace already inhibits the business from being a good neighbor.

The reality is this:  you’re either a neighbor or a slave to individual liberty.  That is the problem business faces.  That is a problem the customer agonizes over. That is why recessions happen.

Remember, corporations are people because they are managed by people.  We want people to be better, don’t we?  Can we help corporations or other businesses become better?  Stay tuned.