Stealing ideas from Stand Back and Deliver

I am running an “advanced BA course” next week and as part of the course we will be exploring the concept of strategy from a business analysts point of view.

One of the trainers I work with (Shane) recommended we provide the participants with a book called “Stand Back and Deliver” by Pollyanna Pixton, Niel Nickolaisen, Todd Little and Kent McDonald.

The book looks at enterprise business analysis, which in turn covers topics like setting strategy and selecting the right projects to do.

Shane suggested that I use the book to kick off the strategy discussion during the course and then explore the techniques and approaches suggested by the book. Since the class if made up of experienced business analysts, we are hoping to use the book to challenge our own thinking and explore the approaches we use back at work.

So far the book is pretty good. It takes a straightforward approach and it provides a number of useful tools and sets of questions that can be applied to problems in the real world.

Most importantly though, the book argues that both strategy and the decision about which projects to do  are really made up of good discussions rather than being decisions made by using a defined checklist to rate projects. So the tools and approaches in the book are all aligned to facilitating a useful discussion rather than pretending to provide a checklist that can replace thinking.

For example, when starting a new project the book implies that it might be worth asking slightly different questions based on whether the project is aimed at fixing an existing problem or launching a new service (or product) on the market.

Questions for problem solving Questions for new products
  • What is the problem we want to solve?
  • Who is affected?
  • What impact is the problem having?
  • What would be a successful solution?
  • Who do we serve (which customers)
  • What do they want or need the most?
  • What do we provide to help them?
  • What is the best way to provide this?
  • How do we know if we are succeeding?

The book also uses a lot of of two by two matrices to help focus thinking. In fact it almost goes far enough to make me expect to see a new matrix every time an idea is introduced. Of course the matrices are designed to guide a conversation rather than to be the answers themselves. But I did feel a tinge of consultant envy when I saw the number of matrices they had in their book and realised that I am way short of them in the ratio of matrices to paragraphs.

So rather than sharing the valuable content of the book, which helps you to start and lead the right conversations, I thought I would invent a my own matrix along the lines of the ones they used in the book.

As a result, my next article will look at a matrix to define what value a project or idea aims to provide and I will then see if I can use my “question compass” to challenge the idea that we should run a project and to clarify the approach we should take to the project.

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