Managing Consultant, This is Milk
Change is constant, exhausting and happening quicker than ever. In business we are enabled by technology, challenged by competitors, pressured to deliver more by our customers, and expected to offer more to our people.
It’s a pressure cooker - if we let it be.
And sadly, what I’ve seen in our industry (and by this I broadly mean those we call business analysts, project managers, change consultants and so on) is an inability to meet these demands. Projects fail. They fail in meeting their objectives, often fail to deliver - or deliver meaning - and the people involved often have little faith in the project and leave with war wounds, demoralised and jaded. To quote a business associate “I’ve never known a happy business analyst”. What a sad state of affairs. I could quote lots of research in the field of failed projects, but just do a quick google and it's all there.
Then there’s the new world and small businesses, where I’m beginning to gain useful insights. There's sometimes little thought given to how best to approach a project or how to define what suppliers should do for them.
The desire and pressure to get things done quickly, often leaves re-work, as insight hasn’t been gathered or analysed and the change therefore, hasn’t been defined with a view of actual user needs. For example, I frequently hear – “I need a website”, or “I need SEO”. Yes you do need these things, but they aren’t ‘it’. You need to look at who you’re talking to, what you are trying to achieve, what you are selling and how you are going to build and maintain it first. Your website and your SEO are just a part of the puzzle, and require a lot more than just visual and technical design.
It's often just a lack of the skills required to effectively manage every element of a project, where key people are stretched beyond their skillsets - which is great for personal development, but sometimes we all need a bit of outside perspective and experience to define what a business needs. It is a skill, and it's what business analysts should be able to do.
Or alternatively change just happens organically. To some extent this can’t be avoided. We can’t plan for every eventuality, we don’t have crystal balls, and we need to be flexible. But without foresight, design and management of your business’ change, you build in inefficiency, leave much to chance and often fail to measure how your business is doing.
To quote Francis Bacon:
Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they are not altered for the better designedly.
So why aren’t businesses coming to business analysts and project managers for help with the change? I think there are two answers.
The term business analyst has become loaded, unclear and taken on way too much. People don’t know what we do, and if they do, they don’t think we’re generally good at it.
This is quite an impassioned subject for me. I set up a whole business based on the belief that “Change, needs to change”. I’m a passionate person. I want to deliver for the companies I work for. I want to make things better, and I’m working out how to do this. I won’t get it right first time. I don’t think that’s possible. Change is an evolution. We learn as we go, it’s about capturing, and acting on this knowledge and empowering those around us to make decisions for the betterment of whatever it is we are doing.
Here are my thoughts on why there is a poor perception of this industry.
Change “management” is outmoded
The current industry for change professionals is huge, as we said – change is essential and certain. The people who have carved a career in project change are generally paid well, often on day rate contracts and have often stepped away from permanent employment promising personal development, a hierarchical ladder to climb and empires to build. They are forming a buoyant contractor market that if played correctly they can float around in for a lifetime. However, projects themselves still have massive failure rates, lack satisfaction for the people working on them and generally are not progressive.
Change is everything
It’s as broad a concept as you can get. Change management however is not. Change management could be defined as structures of people, with tools and methods of controlling change – generally speaking. However, where I often see an issue is a clash between designing of change and delivery of change. It’s often a clash of cultures, for example, the architects seen as lofty, designers seen as whacky creatives, with no grip on the reality of delivery, and the delivery teams and change function seen as controlling and inflexible. If not a creative clash, often it's the clash between "the Business" and "Technology". I've always found this is a strange dualism - isn't everyone in a company "the Business"?
Every team in your organisation should be working towards a common goal. That goal should be communicated, and embedded in your culture. Change management needs to embrace communication, innovation and creativity. The world is moving too quickly to stay with our current modes.
Culture, customer and clarity are often absent in change frameworks
I have never - and I mean this - seen any focus on culture within a single project I’ve worked on. There are some good eggs out there that genuinely do focus on the customer and can produce clarity through their deliverables and their socialisation, but they are sadly not in the majority and rarely have the right project culture to support them. To my mind, the 3 key elements needed for a successful project are:
There’s often vision and strategy and business objectives defined. Most usually by a person or group of people who are incentivised to build something that makes a profit, increases efficiency or just bring in a new system, but this somehow seems to get lost once a project is mobilised. Suddenly outcomes for the customer and the business are lost in jargon, change frameworks, project plans, politics and delivery pains.
The industry has lost its competency
Demand has outstripped the ability of the market to deliver quality.
Although there are many people in this industry with admirable skills, great personal resilience, subject matter expertise, experience and more – there are still fundamental competency issues in the profession. Even some of the most broadly accepted concepts within project delivery are not understood by those claiming the titles of business analyst, project manager or their ilk. For example- Agile – it’s not new, yet I still see masses of confusion over its definition, its implication and its application. I’ve heard several times “its Agile with a small a” – I’m sorry that’s just nonsense. Agile is a methodology, a well-defined set of methods in fact – if you have to say its Agile with a small a – I doubt you understand what that means, and are attempting to excuse the point that you have a poorly defined project approach.
Defining and communicating a method for delivering your change is key to success, be that Agile or otherwise - these methodologies still have a place, when understood.
We’ve made ‘change’ too hard to be good at.
It’s as if we’ve tried to make business analysis (specifically), esoteric. We’ve come up with all these different languages for what we do, and you know what – they’re confusing. If it’s really hard to understand the difference between business requirements and functional requirements – then I think the distinction has no place. If it’s too hard for analysts to learn, how on earth can we expect our stakeholders, subject matter experts and delivery partners to understand what we are doing, why we are doing it and to fully respect our role?
To my mind, our key role is communicating. If the methods and the words we use to communicate aren’t understood by us or other project participants - we’ve failed.
Change refuses to learn.
There is an irony in our inability to genuinely learn from mistakes and build them into future projects and future change within a business. This inability isn’t a physical or systemic issue, it’s an unwillingness borne of culture based on blame, empire building and inflexibility. Often a lack of leadership and a loss of sight of the vision for the organisation, a lack of association with a community have led to individuals fighting for their own little piece of land, and defending what they are doing, pointing fingers and looking for blame.
Instead shouldn’t we take a shared ownership approach to projects?
What can we do about it?
Despite the air of negativity here, I am a positive person. I believe in making things better, and I believe in our industry. But I genuinely feel it needs an overhaul, a progressive look at the new, and a new way of working. This is what I think we can do:
Well that’s what I think right now, but as I keep learning and gain more experience, I’ll embrace that and change my views. I’ll change, and my business will change – and that’s good. Good for change, and good for businesses.
Find out how we can help you deal with change!
Blog first published (23/10/2015)