Rebuilding the Base

Foundations are important.  They let your house stand in a hurricane.  They form the backbone of a successful business.  They provide the basis upon which a government rules and conducts itself.  They provide a reason to believe.

There is a set of foundations that we neglect, but articulates itself right under its nose. This set of foundations is something called social capital.

I mentioned this term to many people and all of them don’t know what it means.  That’s not good.  Social capital is perhaps the most critical foundation for doing anything.  It is the most human and relational.  Yet it is the most difficult to quantify because of its asymmetrical, unpredictable, historic and qualitative properties.  It is not a framework applied in doing business analysis.  It has no place in developing a better app or a new process architecture.

So what is social capital.  It is the set of trust-driven reciprocal relations among people of congruent qualities (family, religion, race, culture, education, activities, political affiliation) that provide the basis of value-creating community.  You can find out more about this topic in Robert Putnam’s elaborate 1999 Bowling Alone.  However, it is worth nothing that according to Putnam, social capital in the United States collapsed since the 1960s revolutions.  This can effectively elucidate the myriad problems our country faces today.

Social capital is clearly missing from the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge in its latest version.  Yet it provides a higher-level perspective on the interests, behaviors, needs and desires of stakeholders.  Stakeholders decide however to show trust to others. While it is difficult to identify the needs for a social capital analysis in Silicon Valley, there is at least one sector where it is vital.

That sector is religion, or more specifically the American church.  There is the infamous meme of 3,000 churches closing every year.  Whether it is due to more liberal attitudes, declining attendance, lack of money or rising rents, we don’t really know.  But the church is not immune to the collapse of social capital in this nation.  Where the culture goes, so does the church.

Why is this example important?  It shows that new technology is not the answer to creating more value.  A declining church will not save itself by social media, satellite video link or smartphone apps.  On practice, the basis of a church is the people.  And if people drop in and drop out and not spend extended time for each other, then value is destroyed and the church is closed.  Consumer capitalism is clearly anathema to the principles of the church.

Stakeholders can be looked at on the basis of individual interests, qualities, concerns and objectives.  Yet we would do much better to analyze multiple stakeholders and how they relate to one another.  That is how you understand a church and its needs, current state, future state and candidate solutions.  The state of the social capital base in a church underpins any analysis being done to improve a church’s value.  This is important.

Without a strong and stable social capital base, no solution no matter how effective will ever make a difference.  We can take the example of the church and extend it to any other enterprise.  Uber, for example, is in turmoil because of the crisis at the top and allegations of abusive employee relations.  This startup monster can’t seem to right its ship with its amazing technology.  As long as the social capital base remains toxic, Uber cannot regain its former glory.  Technology means nothing if human relations stay stuck in park.

I just left a company that suffers from turmoil at the top.  Because of a lack of facilitation skill among upper management, the company has missed many opportunities for growth and value in the hostile health-insurance market.  Just like the church, businesses must make primary investments in building a strong social capital base.   Everybody brings value, but that will not happen unless there is a social system of trust, accountability and reciprocity.  Don’t build the tech first.  Business analysts should endeavor to help build valuable social capital base.  The solutions will develop by themselves.


What Is Strategic Accountability

What are you in business for?  Why?  What would make me a customer for business X as opposed to Y?  Can you help me take charge of my life with minimal dependencies?

Notice the last question.  It doesn’t neatly fit the common reasons you should be in business: being the first to market, being innovative, fitting in with the trends, being cooler, etc.  I don’t think you’ll see any advertisement on TV encouraging personal responsibility.

Yet the last point is true; it is reality.  I think anybody in authority needs to foster a behavioral culture of personal responsibility.  From here I would like to present and define the concept of strategic accountability and how this must apply to our business analysis work.

So what is strategic accountability?  It is that however a business operates must always produce value for the interests of its customers and related stakeholders. But that’s not the complete picture.  Why would do we need to create value for our stakeholders?

Are we talking about money?  Are we talking about convenience?  Are we talking about just feeling good and better about ourselves?  The problem is that none of these is always lasting.  Money can be easily lost.  Convenience is transient.  And as we get older, we’ll feel worse.

If customers are real lives, then according to nature real lives follow a path of continual deterioration.  Yet all human beings treasure control, whether they’re babies or sedentary nursing home ladies.  Control is God’s gift for all people to provide mastery and resourcefulness over their lives.  Control is the highest aspiration of the human experience.

This is what strategic accountability is about.  The purpose of authority on this planet is to guide people to exercise self-control.  This is the ultimate fruit of the Holy Spirit as listed in the Bible (Galatians 5:22-23).  This is the ultimate aspiration of the customer, and business analysts must work to deliver it.

From my experience working in an American health insurance company, I have seen my company did everything opposite of the above.  The customer is disregarded.  The staff is selfish and greedy.  Management is not promoting the interests of transparency and accountability.  If strategic accountability is ever deployed in my company, then almost everybody will be on the soup line.

So how business analysts work to deliver this?  Here are a few starting questions to generate an effective conversation.

  1. How are business operations measured?  Is it by production (how many tasks get done)?  Or is it measured by customer value?
  2. How are staff evaluated?  Is it by production, or is it by customer/market state?
  3. What do we understand about our customers today?  How do they procure services or purchase products?  Do they walk to the shop or shop online?
  4. What is the landscape of stakeholder communication?  Is it personal, one-on-one? Is it digital?  Are there paradigmatic differences between these modes of communication?  If so, how can we describe them and provide solutions of reconciliation?
  5. What would create increasing dependency (and helplessness) for the customer? Look at US healthcare for a load of bad examples.

If the customer loses control, then the business loses.  This is clearly important in a time where governments and other public bodies are ill-equipped to empower citizens to exercise personal responsibility.  As we see with Amazon, Google and Facebook, businesses are at the forefront in managing the well-being of orphaned citizens. Business analysts have got to make this work.

Strategic accountability is important.  Before you start developing a new software solution, you need to take the time to explore and understand strategic accountability.

Orienting Towards Value

This is a short persuader on orienting business operations towards value.

Businesses have stuff to manage.  That stuff is paperwork, invoices, inventory, employees, money and most importantly data.  A lot of expense and time is invested towards operations. Yet what has it help accomplished?

Not much.  You still have pissed-off customers, big-box closures, regulatory resistance and lost revenues.  In this fast-paced customer-driven business world, a business that does too much on operations will fail.  Like Jimmy John’s, service has got to be freaky fast.

So what can management do to orient their enterprise operations towards value?  Here are guidelines.

  1. Understand the enterprises place in the market and the state of the market.  If you’re a health insurance company, you need to recognize you’re in a dangerous place.  The context and circumstances should help you understand the next guideline.
  2. Decide what it is you want to happen in response to a problem or opportunity. Do you want to restore confidence in participating network providers? Do you want patients to save money?  This is where value begins.
  3. Evaluate all your operations.  If any process, policy task, or employee does not align with your value, eliminate it.  In fact, kill all your policies and procedures.  They will only separate you and your customer because the customer thinks value first.
  4. If your enterprises comprises several departments, then find a way to create one unified enterprise team.  Sale or accounting should never operate in parallel worlds.
  5. To achieve the previous guidelines, get everybody to start thinking in strategic requirements.  Stop thinking about how you do your job.  Start thinking about building value for the customer.  This requires one unified enterprise in agreement with one set of requirements.

This is not an exhaustive list.  It’s just to help you get started in realigning your operations to  value-oriented culture.

The Problem of State

Enterprises today have a problem of state.  New ways that customers adopt to purchases products or services are changing the market landscape.  The ongoing closure of retail landmarks like Sears illustrate the fact that we need to fully understand the concept of state.

As the BABOK shows, an entity (a company, government, nonprofit, religious organization, school) can contain any number of states during its lifecyle.  Yet the experiential observation here is that there isn’t an awareness of state.  That is why we have a problem of state.

BABOK has a sufficient outline on approaching the concept and principle of state by dividing it between current and future. The purpose associated with state is managing change arising from a problem or opportunity facing the business. These two basic states are shown in the diagram below.


This framework is a basic starting point for examining an entity’s fitness for adapting to change.  If the current state contains qualities that hinder an enterprise from achieving or restoring value, then the future state outlines what the enterprise looks like when the needs are satisfied.  

The problem is if only a tiny minority in a business possess this simple framework, then there wouldn’t be much progress.  Any state change requires informed input. Educating willing stakeholders through a quasi-democratic open-forum process is important. There shouldn’t be just a group of elites who can do state analysis.  It should be understood by all participating stakeholders.

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


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)


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


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.