For those who have followed my blog for a little while or know me, will know that I’m a massive fan of the BA Techniques books and that I turned some of my internal training material into a workshop pack, that I was lucky enough to present at the Business Analyst Managers Forum.
Well when the authors of the book were finalising their third edition, I was lucky enough to be asked to review the draft manuscript, something that really felt like quite an honour, given the calibre of all of the authors involved.
Here is my review that features in the latest version of the book:
The latest version brings even more techniques to bear, extending to areas of user experience, process improvement and testing; helpfully mapped against key project phases. This book is a must have resource for all BAs at any stage of their career.
Jamie Clouting Lead Consultant BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
Along with providing a review, I committed to updating the materials for the latest edition, that can be found here.
I’ve recently completed the Design Sprint 2.0 Facilitators Masterclass, the most up-to-date and improved version of the Design Sprint developed by AJ&Smart and the original creator Jake Knapp.
The Design sprint is a four-day workshop process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Developed at Google Ventures, and largely credited to Jake Knapp who authored the book “Sprint” in 2016.
In the book Knapp emphasises that he applies design philosophy, thinking, and approaches to solve various organisational challenges such as the launch of new products or features, growth, improvement of internal processes, innovation, and development.
Combining the best practices of Design Thinking, Lean UX, and Agile Knapp created a clear, efficient, rapid, and adaptable framework to reduce risks of innovation, align teams on the same vision, and eventually save money and time.
Design Sprint 2.0
There are a number of changes in the 2.0 version of the design sprint that make it more efficient and flexible, allowing you to achieve the same outcomes in less time.
The Sprint takes 4 days. Originally it was 5. This became possible by improving the general flow with some new elements (User Test Flow), changing the order of exercises (starting with Expert Interviews) and their structure (Mapping the System). This is really helpful for those that deliver sprints to customers, as Friday can be used as a write-up day.
Senior stakeholders are involved for just 2 days. In the first version of the Sprint your ‘Decider’ (CEO, senior executive, director) was required for the entire duration of the Design Sprint. This was a serious bottleneck as often executives weren’t able to clear their schedule. In Design Sprint 2.0 you can leave the last two days to the designers and interviewers and let the CEO and management go. They will receive the report with all the insights afterward.
Expanded organisational focus. The initial version of the Sprint was very much focused on delivery benefits to tech start-ups. However, Design Sprint 2.0 expands this framework making it accessible and relevant to large and small businesses across different sectors, not for profits, government departments, and NGOs.
I’ve already delivered my first Design Sprint and have supported the delivery of some great remote sessions, while not working in the office. I’m looking forward to sharing more about them in the coming months.
Context: I’m writing this blog post during the COVID-19 outbreak. The UK government (along with many governments around the world) have instructed people to work from home where possible. This is unprecedented and has forced many teams to change their way of working over-night.
As I have discussed before, I’m a Certified SAFe Agilst and work with teams and teams of teams to facilitate Scaled Agile delivery. PI Planning is a great way of helping teams to plan and give stakeholders visibility to what the teams have committed to, but what happens when nobody is in the office and everyone is dispersed?
This post was inspired by a really timely podcast. Many of the ideas and insights in this post are inspired by the podcast and the subsequent conversations I’ve had with colleagues and customers about it. I’d recommend giving it a listen if you’re considering running your first dispersed PI events.
Firstly, there is nothing new about doing remote or distributed PI Planning. While SAFe do encourage PI Planning sessions to run with all the participants in the same room, it’s common for teams to be split geographically for a number of reasons and it’s not always possible to bring all the teams together.
In this case a ‘Distributed‘ team usually refers to a group that is split across two locations. This can often be where a company have engineers in Europe or India, for example, and bringing them to the same location can be difficult.
Unlike Distributed teams, ‘Dispersed‘ teams are all in different locations. This is the situation we find ourselves in during the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK.
I’ve tried to compare and contrast some of the differences between Distributed and Dispersed teams and the things that you might need to think about while running a PI event with them.
1. Requires a facilitator in every room
1. Requires a facilitator in every comms channel
2. Common for a teams in a different timezone may work late to stay connected – Consider safe transportation late at night – Consider food for the team late at night
2. Colleagues in different timezones may work late to stay connected – Consider other people in their homes – Consider food times (for families)
3. A technical issues may mean you loose 50% of your team (and you’ll notice)
3. A technical issue may mean you loose 1% of your team (and don’t notice)
It’s not common in agile teams to advocate from much up-front planning, however, this is going to be the difference between your PI event being good and it being excellent.
As individuals are in different locations, timeszones and potentially in unfamiliar work-patterns, it’s important to try and be flexible around the format of the event and allow people to engage in their own way and at their own time.
These are my thoughts on ways to improve your distributed PI events and help your attendees get the most from (and contribute the most to) the event:
1. Plan your use of technology
Consider carefully your tech stack and what users may need to be able to use it. If everyone is working from home and has a different technology setup, there may be a need to understand what users have at their disposal before you mandate technology that could alienate some of your participants. A helpful list of things to do in advance could be:
Communicate in advance the technology you are going to use
Supply guidance to your teams on how to signup, do you want them to use corporate email addresses to make them easier to identify to administrators? How about using their corporate headshot as their avatar to make them easily recognisable to colleagues?
If participants need to install plugins to make Webex or Zoom work, ensure that they have the time to do so and supply guidance. Some of your colleagues will need a bit of help to do this
Ensure that the you test whatever you pick with a small group, but try to understand if there are any limitations to your chosen platform, if used at scale.
2. Consider adjusting your timings
A PI event has a full agenda that is difficult to fit into two days at the best of times. So think about your timings. If you know that you’ll struggle to retain your participants for a full morning of briefings, consider asking your Product Manager to pre-record their PI vision presentation and get this to your participants to watch in their own time, maybe 48hrs before the event.
Allow a channel for participants to record their questions and use your time together on the first morning to answer those questions, rather than watch the presentation live.
This gap gives the participants the opportunity to ask questions and allows the presenters the opportunity to think through their answers and supply updated material if needed.
Linear schedules may be difficulty for attendees with family and school-age children at home. Try to give suitable breaks and allow people to engage with content in their own time – maybe you’ll choose to leave your retro board live overnight to allow people to come back to it later in the evening after the kids have gone to bed.
3. Create a place to work for every team
Your teams need their own spaces to work, one per-team. They may already have an electronic board, but ensure everyone has access and can see it.
Consider how the teams can chat amongst themselves and how they’ll collaborate in the feature elaboration effort. One thing a team could do is update their leave before the event on a team calendar – helping the Scrum Master to plan for capacity before the event has begun.
While it’s perfectly normal for people to have side-chats at these events, try and think of ways to keep people together where possible and workout how you’ll present your commitments back to the wider group.
Interactions and follow-ups
It’s understandable that many teams aren’t familiar in working this way. The situation could be stressful and all of the participants are likely to have distractions and worries, outside of the event.
It’s important to be mindful of the situation that we find ourselves in and take care no to unintentionally upset or offend people. Written text can often be interpreted differently to how it was first intended and so offer to follow-up with a colleague verbally if you think they have missunderstood.
If you’re struggling to contact a participant, be aware that they may have stepped away to get a coffee, take a call or look after a family member. Don’t bombard them with multiple messages, instead – ask them to contact you on their return. And if you as a participant want to step away, consider adjusting your status to allow others to know you’re not there and when they can expect you back.
Imagine the sorts of status you might see:
“Feeding the kids, be back at 1pm”
“Just nipped downstairs for a coffee, back in 5”
“On a call with a customer, trying to get some clarity”
“Taking the dog for a walk, be back soon!”
Delivery starts… soon!
Playback at a PI planning is very visual – it may take some time to produce the sorts of artefacts needed to get teams started and you might need to give a couple of days to people to get copies of all the agreed commitments.
Think about what might aid you in pulling this together. Should the Scrum Masters be sharing time-stamped screenshots of their Scrum boards at each scrum-of-scrums? Would this help give someone a head-start at putting a quick powerpoint together to aid playback? Knowing that this would be needed, could a deck be created before the event, with gaps for each teams boards and objectives to slot in?
Whatever you do, its important to not rush the start of the delivery cadence, until you’re confident that all participants have a clear set of objectives and know what they are doing.
Be agile and keep learning
Getting through your first dispersed PI event will be an incredible learning curve. Accept that not everything is going to be perfect and find ways to capture feedback and look for creative ways to achieve the outcomes you need, even if you have to do them very differently.
We might be working like this for some time to come, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice and improve your skills at delivering PI events in this way!
With the UK going into lockdown this week, I thought I’d list some of my favourite BA resources here. I’ll continue to revisit this page and add to it – recommendations welcome.
Virtual Meet-ups & Events
Th International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA) is the membership organisation for business analysts in the UK and is run entirely by volunteers. They’re an independent body, run by business analysts for business analysts.
The IIBA team host a pack calendar of events all year round, but seems to be doing more than usual (virtually).
IIBA podcast series, hosted by BA Times, brings together leaders from a wide range of business analysis disciplines to share stories, tips, and advice.
Mastering Business Analysis
This incredible podcast, blog and resource by Dave Saboe is a must. Marketed at the “key to leveling up your skills and advancing your career” could be just what you need to use you time in lockdown for the best.
Tribal Unity by Em Campbell-Pretty
I tell everyone to read this book. While you’ll get loads out of it if you are working in Agile, especially SAFe, Tribal Unity: Getting from Teams to Tribes, is really about scaling culture and leading people in a smart and effective way.
Agile and Business Analysis: Practical guidance for IT professionals by Lynda Girvan and Debra Paul
I’m a real fan of the authors of this book and so it’s easy to recommend Agile and Business Analysis. The reviews speak for themselves:
“This book is invaluable to anyone undertaking agile analysis, illustrating that by using new techniques to supplement and extend the BA toolkit, and adopting a “just enough, just in time” philosophy, a truly agile delivery approach can be supported.”
“The complex world of Agile made relevant for BAs.”
An OKR is a popular management strategy that defines objectives and tracks results. It helps create alignment and engagement around measurable goals. First iIntroduced and popularised in the 1970’s at Intel, it has since spread throughout technology companies as a simple framework that helps everyone in a company focus their efforts on the same important issue throughout the organisation.
Ideas are easy. Execution is everything. It takes a team to win.
John Doerr – the ‘father’ of OKRs (2017)
So what do we mean by Objectives and Key Results?
What do I want to achieve?
How will I get there?
Companies around the world use OKRs to manage an adaptive strategy that allows them to respond to changing external events, drive innovation, and align teams to a common purpose.
OKRs begun in objective setting theory of the 1950s before being adopted and implemented by Andy Grove (former CEO of Intel). OKRs came to prominence at Google in the 2000s.
Management by Objectives (MBO) Peter Drucker release his book “The Practice of Management” in 1954. It calls for an objective setting framework across an organisation coupled with performance incentives.
1970 & 80s
OKRs are born Andy Grove, the Carter of OKRs introduces the framework to Intel. Intel use the OKR framework to win the microprocessor war with Motorola.
Andy Grove goes on to win Time Magazine’s man of the year in 1997.
OKRs implemented at Google John Doerr, an apprentice of Grove at Intel and now a venture capitalist, invests in Google.
Doerr introduces OKRs to Larry Page & Sergy Brin. They credit OKRS with propelling Google to market cap.
OKRs go mainstream Twitter, Uber, Zynga, Amazon and many more follow in their footsteps.
A short history of OKRs
Objectives are a what a company or team are prioritising for the next OKR planning period. They are ambitious statements that will stretch teams and encourage innovation.
They are memorable, qualitative descriptions of what you want to achieve. Objectives should be short, inspirational, and engaging. An objective should motivate and challenge the team.
When setting objectives, the following can be used as a guide:
3 – 5
To maintain focus, make it clear what you are doing and limit to a small number of objectives.
~50% of your objectives should come from team. Source ideas and encourage commitment.
Make it real
Use tangible terms that are clearly aligned to the organisations mission. How will this objective add value?
Reach for amazing
A complete objective should feel monumental. By creating challenging goals, your team will be encouraged to think innovatively to find a solution
YouTube example: Reach 1 billion hours of watch time per day by 2016 YouTube’s Objectives set in November 2012
Key results are how a company or team will demonstrate progress towards an objective. KRs are the measurable checkpoints on the path to achieving an objective.
They are a set of metrics that measure your progress towards the objective. For each objective, you should have a set of two to five key results. More than that and no one will remember them.
For each Objective, the following guide will help to set Key Results:
3 to 4
To maintain focus, each objective should have between 3 and 4 Key Results. Each of the KRs must have a named owner.
Each KR must have a start point and end point that can be measured. The measure must be ambitious.
Move us forward
The completion of a KR must move the objective forward in a tangible way.
KRs should not be a list of tasks or activities. They should describe the impact of your activities in the form of a measurable change.
YouTube example: 1. Grow engagement of gaming watch time from X watch hours a day to Y hours a day 2. Launch YouTube VR experience and grow VR catalogue from X to Y videos
What do OKRs give us?
OKRs can drive 5 critical behaviours through an organisation:
OKRs help everyone understand what they should be doing (and importantly) what they are not doing
Every OKR is transparent. It encourages people to work together to achieve a common goal
OKRs are time bound and owned by an individual
OKRs are measurable and are tracked week to week using real data
Completing 70% of OKRs should be considered a success. Any higher and they are too easy
I’m really proud today to announce that I’ve joined BAE’s Applied Intelligence business as a Technical Consultant.
I’ve had some fantastic opportunities over the past couple of years working with Rayethon, from their Cyber Centre in Manchester – but the time has come to try something new and return to the sort of consultancy that I love.
I’m looking forward to getting started and meeting the team.
I had a great opportunity recently to attend the Leading SAFe course, led by Dan and Phil at Add Agility.
Here are some of my thoughts about the two-day course, where attendees gain the knowledge necessary to lead a Lean-Agile enterprise by leveraging the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) and its underlying principles derived from Lean, systems thinking, Agile development, product development flow, and DevOps.
I have been working in and leading agile teams for a number of years, but in more recent months I’ve worked with customers that have decided to adopt SAFe as their framework of choice for conducting multi-team planning.
The course outline states:
Participants in the class gain insights into mastering Business Agility in order to thrive in the competitive market. They discuss how to establish team and technical agility and organise and re-organize around the flow of value. They also learn and practice the skills for supporting and executing PI Planning events and coordinating multiple Agile Release Trains (ARTs). Participants in the class explore the importance of adopting a customer-centric mindset and design thinking approach to agile product delivery. Learners also develop an understanding for implementing a Lean Portfolio Management function in their enterprise.
Things I found:
The course is full on. There is a lot of material to cover (over 400 slides in 2 days) and so make sure you have coffee on tap!
A lot of the course content and principals come from other methodologies. If you have a good grounding in Scrum, XP, Lean etc you’ll do well.
The course seems to be traditionally based around synchronising releases. I think of this like how it must have been to release software versions onto CD-ROMs. If you ‘missed the train’ your feature wasn’t going to customers until they bough the next CD. SAFe have clearly tried to leverage DevOps and push towards more regular releases
Attending the course prepares individuals to take the exam and become a certified SAFe® Agilist (SA) – but not all the content is covered in the course. You should prepare to do some home study in order to complete the exam successfully.
Would I recommend it? Yes. If you’re interested in adding some governance around how you do agile at scale, this course could be really beneficial to you.
BAMF events are held twice a year, with the agenda for the day being set by those who regularly attend. The format of events are typically a mix of presentations, workshops and a networking lunch. Events are supported and sponsored by the staff of the BA training and consultancy company – Assist Knowledge Development www.assistkd.com
The November event saw 150 BA Practice leaders gather to attend four workshops and swap notes on BA best practice.
Ayo James and I led two 90 minute workshops of about 65 practitioners per session.
The workshops were based on a triaging technique I created, based on the BCS book 72 Business Analysis Techniques and updated to reflect the latest addition of the book “99 Business Analyst Techniques”.
The documents and artefacts for the workshop can be found below:
I have had fantastic feedback from BAs all over the country about the usage of the technique and a number of BAs have reached out to me to tell me that they have translated the technique into different languages, for use with their colleagues around Europe.
A few weeks ago I shared something with my friends and family on Facebook that got quite a reaction. It was an article entitled McDouble is ‘cheapest and most nutritious food in human history’ .
The originator of the claim, Stephen Dubner, who co-authored the best-selling book Freakonomics went on to say:
The double cheeseburger provides 390 calories, 23 grams of protein – half a daily serving – seven per cent of daily fibre, 19 grams of fat and 20 per cent of daily calcium, all for between $1 and $2, or 65p and £1.30.
Kyle Smith, a New York Post columnist, agreed:
“For the average poor person, it isn’t a great option to take a trip to the farmers market to puzzle over esoteric lefty-foodie codes”, Mr Smith wrote.
“Facts are facts – where else but McDonald’s can poor people obtain so many calories per dollar?”
It was a ridiculous claim, a controversial one at best and yet one that the data showed to be true. It got me thinking about what Return on Investment (ROI) and how we model it to help better decision making.
ROI measures the amount of return on an investment relative to the investment’s cost.
In the example above the McDouble returns the highest number of calories per dollar. To phrase it in a way that the ‘business’ might describe a potential solution, it “delivers the biggest bang for the buck”. http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/bang+for+the+buck
As a Business Analyst I strongly believe that it’s my job to table options to my stakeholders and to back up the options with data, modelled in a way that helps them make informed decisions. I know many will find that difficult, stating that it’s not the role of the BA to provide solutions, but I’m not actually suggesting that here (although for the record I disagree – that’s a different blog post). What I’m suggesting here is that however ridiculous or unpalatable the solutions suggested are, it’s the role of the BA to model benefits and potential outputs to aid stakeholders in making a decision.
Lean tells us we should validate a hypothesis with the minimum amount of effort, this sounds like the “maximum amount of calories for the dollar to me”.
In Agile delivery we would say that an MVP can be defined as the least amount of work we can do to in/validate the hypothesis.
Modeling options is the the best way to ensure that you’re helping stakeholders make informed decisions (and gives them the ability to defend themselves when they get caught eating a burger!)
 Daniel Johnson. Jul 30, 2013. “McDouble is ‘cheapest and most nutritious food in human history'” [online]. The Telegraph
 2014. “Return On Investment – ROI” [online]. investopedia.com