“Work-life balance” is so wrong!

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When I hear someone talk about “work-life balance“, I fight back the urge to push the person to the ground and slap them over and over, while screaming, in a high-pitched, maniacal, way “Shut up, shut up, you silly person!”

The reason I get this urge is because the whole “Work-life” balance thing is a load of crock. It works on the idea that “Work” and “Life” are two separate things.

Well, my friend…they are not. “Work” is part of “Life“. You cannot separate them. It’s not as if you stop living when you go to work. It might feel like it to some, but, whether you like it or not, you are STILL living.

Andy Clark describes it well in his video on YouTube. It’s well worth a look. He points out exactly what I stated above – that “work” and “life” are NOT separate things. And, in the comments, was this …

Just the fact that the expression puts “WORK” first says it all.

SharePoint – Quick! Tell me why you are doing it.

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I have seen many situations where the actual reason for “doing SharePoint” is something that gets asked long after its implementation (if at all)

Antony Clay wrote a brilliant piece on what the real vision is when companies start talking about using SharePoint. This was originally written as a guest blogger for Cloud2.

Antony has been kind enough to allow me to publish it here also…

The Board and the SharePoint Platypus

Did I say Platypus? Sorry I meant platitude…

Platypus are cool, cuddly and can, from what I hear, add value to any organisation and SharePoint project by giving them a warm fluffy feeling.

Platitudes are not so good, platitudes are a huge challenge for the board and your SharePoint project. Platitudes insight confusion, lack of direction and hinder the delivery of SharePoint business value to your organisation

The definition of a platitude is a word or statement that is:

“…too overused and general to be anything more than undirected statements with ultimately little meaningful contribution towards a solution…”

So what relevance does this have to your SharePoint project and engaging with your board? Well it all stems from vision: Most failing SharePoint projects I have witnessed or been involved with do not have a clear vision; in fact an alarmingly significant proportion of companies I have engaged with don’t have a clear vision!

The challenge for SharePoint projects and their visions are that it is this vision that the board hears about, it is the vision that should tell the story of the value that the SharePoint can or will deliver to the organisation and so if that vision is not strong and clear, the board will get mixed messages, the board “won’t get it”, the board will struggle to engage with the project and, in essence won’t give a damn.

Typical SharePoint project platitudes include some of these, do you recognise them? I thought so!:

    • “Better Collaboration” [better than what, fileshares, our competitors, why?]
    • “Be more social” [why do we need to be more social?]
    • “Take control of our information” [to what end, what if we don’t?]
    • “Improve efficiencies” [Company, department, me? By how much? What does good look like?].

That’s just a sample of platitudes that I see pinned to the mast as visions to SharePoint projects and in every case you can misinterpret, ask the question why and not understand how you measure and achieve that vision.

This is our challenge. In my experience a good vision serves three very valuable roles:

  • Defines the difference that the project will make in business terms
  • Enables us to align business requirements to the project Vision
  • Articulates to the board the value the project will deliver.

These three areas are all equally important and actually can all add substance and meaning to the conversations we need to have at board level.

Get a vision

Your first step to engaging the board effectively is to get yourself a vision. My absolute favourite activity for doing this is using ‘Cover Story taken from the book ‘Gamestorming’ (Gray, D., Brown, S., Macanufo, J., 2010). It is a great collaborative exercise if facilitated well, for defining your SharePoint vision, at a platform, project or even functional level.

Whatever the remit of an engagement, I always use this activity to ensure we all have a clear vision or goal to strive for during the engagement. As the activity is extremely collaborative, one advantage is that early on in the engagement I can gain an initial assessment of the dynamics of the stakeholders and whether they have a shared understanding of the goal. The activity also often unearths interesting insights into culture, personalities and the general dynamics of the group that I will need to work with and the organisation as a whole. In short, it can be a gold-mine of emergent value for you.

The exercise asks the participants to imagine that the project/initiative that they are working on has been successfully completed, actually it has not just been successful, but earth shatteringly awesomely successful! So much so that an international trade publication or Time magazine, have decided to run a full front-cover story on the project and the difference it made to the organisation and its customers!

On a whiteboard or very large piece of paper, in groups of 4-8, depending on the number of stakeholders, the participants build out the template I’ve sketched below using sketches, words, craft materials or post-it notes:

sharepointThe areas on the visual canvas are used to help derive certain ‘vision’ details and are defined as follows:

  • Cover – This is the front-cover and should contain the bold, hard-hitting story and perhaps images, that articulate the big story and the high-level difference that you have made delivering the project
  • Big Headlines – Here you convey the substance of the story, more detail, but still hard-hitting and usually aspirational key requirements or functional areas
  • Brainstorm – This area is used for ‘storing’ any ideas that don’t fit anywhere else, but quite often contains very interesting insights
  • Images – I tend not to use this for SharePoint Governance work, but the areas is meant for any visuals that help define your vision and the difference this has made
  • Quotes – This is really useful, what would people say about this great success? What do project members, business users, stakeholder or even customers say about what’s been delivered and the difference it has made?
  • Side-Bar – This area is for capturing the details; I encourage participants to use this area to come up with measures for the difference they have made articulated in %’s, $’s, £’s, time etc.

The resulting visual canvas is both beautiful, insightful and delivers a clear message, in the words of business stakeholders, of what they are trying to achieve. What you will also find is that as the group or spokesperson report back their ‘cover story’, they will be telling you a story. Actively listen and make copious notes, because as all great facilitators know, there is substantial value in what they say as well as what they have created.

When you are engaging the board, this vision is invaluable as it should really articulate the benefit, values and drivers for the project and you can and will continually refer back to it, as you steer your SharePoint project or platform towards its goal.

In my experience it’s what can make the difference between technology mayhem and SharePoint sanity!

Goal align to your vision

Once you have a clearly articulated vision defined in terms of ‘the difference it will make’, you can utilise another equally effective and disruptive activity in a range of scenarios to ensure the vision is effectively influencing your projects direction. It’s all about ‘Goal Alignment’ and it is a simple means of sense-checking what’s going on in a project:

“Ensuring that we are not delivering the wrong things really effectively!”

In my eyes, in order to truly reach the karmic state of delivering maximum business value, everything that happens in your technology platform and any subsequent projects must be aligned to directly or indirectly making a positive difference to your organisation. If it isn’t then don’t do it, or re-define it. Agile and lean approaches to manufacturing, technology and business, all strive to reduce waste, and however you’re implementing your SharePoint solutions, I think you should too. It may seem harsh or even verging on heretical to go around your projects telling people to stop what they are doing and move onto something else, but consider these common SharePoint ‘feature requests':

  • Move the ‘Search’ box to the left-hand side of the screen
  • Animate the menu structure
  • Make SharePoint more ‘Social’
  • Have an information architecture based on our ever-changing organisational structure
  • Make the text flash if it’s important.

Seriously, do any of these actually add any value to your solution or to the business? The likely answer in all the cases above is no they don’t, so let’s stamp out this waste and focus on delivering the right things really well.

Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t have solutions that look good and exude a great user experience, we should; but let’s focus our precious resources on the things that really matter first.

This approach, albeit perhaps very annoying to the recipients, is relevant whatever phase or activity you are doing whether it’s coding a custom web-part, branding, creating a custom list, facilitating requirements, delivering training, managing on-going change or engaging with the board.

How do we achieve this project nirvana of just doing the things that matter and make a positive difference?

The answer is ‘Goal Alignment’.

Why? Fundamentally, this is a very effective approach to ensuring a shared understanding and allows you to question the value of what you are doing. If you already have a vision, then this is a simple validation technique:

sharepoint visionFor every programme, project, requirement or technical feature we can ask ‘why’ it supports the Vision, if it does, great; but if it doesn’t then we either need to redefine it or remove it from scope, as it must be waste, for this project at least.

This is also extremely powerful and useful when you’re talking to the board and gaining their trust and backing for your project. With a clear vision, any new requirements, ideas or projects the board may dream up you can sense-check it with them as to how it adds value to or supports the vision, if it doesn’t then it is clear and send a strong message as to why that ‘thing’ shouldn’t be pursued.

It’s much easier to say no to the board with your vision, a visual (goal alignment) and some post-it notes than just saying ‘No!’

Socialise your vision

sharepoint vision

Once you have the vision defined it’s time to socialise it, bring it forth in everything you are doing and make sure your aligned to it.

The visuals from the activity are very useful to replay in project documentation and display in project war-rooms, you’ll find that key pieces, statements etc. will resonate strongly with your business, use them, they are the voice of your business stakeholder and they are the backbone of your project.

It’s really important to not let these messages, this vision and your projects story to stagnate and the more it’s used the more it will take on its own life and increase in value.

The board need to be interested in your project, but for the most part they don’t really care about the technology and they’re not that fussed about what requirements you’ll be delivering.

What does matter is the value you’re project will deliver and the difference it will make to their business. The stories your vision can articulate and the messages it will reinforce are powerful ways of engaging and maintaining a strong relationship with the board and ensuring they are keen advocates for the delivery of business value through your SharePoint platform long term.

So for every project your deliver:

Hug a Platypus.

Engage your Board.

Stay away from Platitudes.

Build your own Vision.

Stay Aligned.

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The original post, at Cloud2, can be read by clicking here.

Making your website responsive ≠ great usability!

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Aah – responsive web design – that great technique that allows the layout of a web site to adapt to the viewing environment.

 

 

If you view the site on a normal large screen, it looks good.
On a tablet, still looks good.
On a smartphone – still looking good.

BRO_ResponsiveDesign_BostonGlobe

None of the page elements are lost, they just get moved, or stacked, without becoming teenie tiny, to fit the screen they are displayed on.

It’s promoted as “providing an optimal viewing experience” and as being “a must for tablets and mobile devices”.

It’s all wrong

Well, my friend, I am here to tell you that as good as “responsive web design” might be, you still need to think about what people use your site for before you make it an “optimal viewing experience”.

Case in point (or “let me give you a real-world example”)

I live in the wops (also known as “middle of nowhere”, “the other side of the black stump”, “the back of beyond”).

That, combined with the fact that the house I live in has no telephone lines, means that I need to get my phone, and Internet, through a wireless broadband connection.

The homepage, of the company that provides this service, is a wonderful thing, and the top of the page displays pictures and promotional messages. If you scroll down the page, there’s more information on the products the company offers, along with a list of FAQs on the right side of the screen.

browser -1429703304606 - full - fade

Under the FAQ’s, the “network status” is displayed. This shows if there are any problem with the networks. It’s tucked down on the bottom right of the page, and you have to scroll down to it. No big deal. If I can view the web site, then I know that the network status is all OK.

If I can view the web site, then I know that the network status is all OK.

The site uses responsive web design. This means that all these page elements “stack” in a way that allows for that “optimal viewing experience”. On a smartphone, all the information is sill accessible. This is a wonderous thing, and butterflies and doves take to flight…

However, consider this…

When there is no problem with network, I work happily away online, and the company’s website is the last place I tend to go – I already have their product.

I want to check on the status of the networks. And do you know where I can find this? At the bottom of the responsive “optimal viewing experience” site.

When there is a problem with the network, I can’t get to anywhere on the network.

So I switch to my smartphone, and use the mobile network to open up their site. Do you think that I am interested in their products and services. No! I want to check on the status of the networks. And do you know where I can find this? Three quarters of the way down the responsive “optimal viewing experience” site. And to get there takes time… Not a lot I admit (when compared to a tree growing), but it still takes time, and makes that user experience a very poor one.

Here’s a image of the web site when viewed on my phone…

When viewing on a smartphone

Does it give me the sensation of an “optimised viewing experience“. No.

Several smart people at this communication company have clearly sat around a table, and decided that responsive web design is what they need. Or a web design company (in this case a “web design, app development and online marketing” company), convinced the them that “a responsive web would be really cool and if they didn’t have one, small puppies would start dying“.

This is where responsive web design is a Fail

Having one web site that is displayed nicely on all devices sounds like a great idea. There is only one set of code that needs to be maintained, and when content is changed, it only has to happen in one place.

The big thing, however, that promoters of responsive web design miss is that people have different needs when they view information on different devices. As shown in the example above.

What should be done.

The number one thing that should be done when redesigning a company website is …

Talk with the customer!

Find out what the user of the site are actually looking for when they view your site.

This can be done through a number of ways:

  • focus groups – talk with the customer
  • personas – create “categories” of users, each with its own reason for visiting the site.
  • surveys – talk with the customer
  • actual historic data – server logs, site statistics, etc. – see what the needs and uses of a customers have done in the past

Note – talking with the customers doesn’t necessarily apply to the “design” of the site, but more to the content used/information required. (Check this article out) 

Other useful articles

Create a separate site that is especially designed for a mobile device

Yes, yes, I know that his is going against the current glassy-eyed trend. However, if you consider that needs and uses of smart device users is different from PC users, then it makes sense to have separate sites.

There is no need to make the entire site portable.

Responsive sites are, in the vast majority of cases, thin long versions of the desktop website, with the same amount and type of content and functionality that is optimized for the computer experience, not the mobile device and connection. There is no need to make the entire site portable. In the example given above, as a smart device user, I don’t care about the companies products.

Make a specific app.

Creating an app has its benefits. An app is generally dedicated. Because it is something installed on the device, it can take advantage of the phones hardware. As a result, better functionality.

And its something that the user wants (otherwise it wouldn’t be there).

However, the same principle applies here, as it does for a web site (be it responsive, or separate) – find out what the company wants. The company mentioned in the example above have an app that still does not provide me with the information that I want…the status of their networks.

More resources that are of value:

Test, test, measure and test

During the process of designing the site/app, constantly run usability tests. Get feedback from “real” users. Make sure that what is getting made is what is actually wanted.

After the site/app goes live, keep testing…is it meeting user’s expectations? Is there room for improvement?

Measure the use of the site…there are several measurable metrics that give you valuable information how the site is being used.

Have a look at these resources for more information:

 

Conclusion

Whether you decide to have a separate mobile site, a responsive site, or an app….do your homework, and make sure that it is offering value to the user.

Otherwise, it’s just a waste of space, money, and time (yours and the customers). 

Useful Resources:

 

Why are the CBAP exam questions so friggin tricky?

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Aargghhh!!” I hear as several Accelerated CBAP course participants tackle some sample CBAP questions. “Why are these questions worded so confusingly?”

I glance over my spectacles, and smile. I was asking the same questions not too long ago. It seems that it’s all because of some guy called Bloom.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Mr Bloom, once upon a time, worked out that you could classify learning objectives as being cognitive, affective or psychomotor. And he created a taxonomy – which is just another way of saying “grouping”.
(You can read more about the Bloom’s Taxonomy here.)

Exam creators (and this includes the IIBA), the world around, love to use Mr Blooms taxonomy when they devise exam questions. They especially like using the “cognitive” grouping, which contains six different levels…

Cognitive Levels

1. Knowledge – these are pretty straight-forward questions. Simple beasts, they have only one goal – to test your ability to know specific facts and recall information that you have learned.

E.g.: Which type of requirement typically describes high-level organizational needs?
A. Business
B. Stakeholder
C. Functional
D. Transition

Caution: Even though these appear relatively harmless, it does require coordinated use of a variety of neural structures.

2. Comprehension – These questions want to check how good you are at understanding facts and ideas by organizing, comparing, and interpreting

E.g.: What type of requirements contains the environmental conditions of the solution?
A. Transition requirements
B. Stakeholder requirements
C. Business requirements
D. Solution requirements

Caution: the same as for the Knowledge questions.

3. Application – questions of this nature want you to use your knowledge to solve problems.

E,g.: Transition requirements are typically prepared after which requirements document is completed?
A. Solution requirements
B. Stakeholder requirements
C. Business requirements
D. System requirements

Caution: These can sometimes mistaken for the slightly less harmless “knowledge question”. However, stay alert, and don’t be fooled.

4. Analysis – these beauties want you to recognize patterns and seek hidden meanings in the information you are provided.

E.g.: To capture the process of provisioning a circuit, the business analyst observed an ordering supervisor for half a day. The resulting information could then be incorporated into all of the following types of requirements EXCEPT:
A. Transition requirements
B. Solution requirements
C. Stakeholder requirements
D. Functional requirements

Cautionthese can be tricky little buggers. Make sure you read these questions carefully. They can sometimes throw you by including NOT or EXCEPT, as in the example above.

5. Synthesis – although sounding impressive, the synthesis question just wants to see if you can relate facts, and draw conclusions.

E.g.: After reviewing the existing process to approve a new cell phone order, Ginger realized that the senior manager is not always available to manually approve the purchase. She documented the capabilities that facilitate a faster ordering approval process relative to the existing situation. She felt that the existing process was inefficient and that it needed to be changed. What would be an appropriate way for Ginger to express the cause of the current cell phone ordering delays?
A. Blame the manual process for the inefficiencies
B. State all of the facts in a neutral manner
C. Express opinions on how to fix the process
D. Insist that approvers adhere to strict deadlines

Caution: These nasty little things like to confuse you by adding throwing lots of information at you which actually isn’t relevant. Don’t let this scare you, or distract you. Take a deep breath and focus…

6. Evaluation – A slightly less aggressive question, these expect you to make judgements about the value of ideas or materials.

E.g.: To document why your project was initiated, it is appropriate to include the:
A. Business case
B. Project mandate
C. Solution approach
D. Business goals

Caution: As with the other questions. Approach these carefully. No sudden movements (or guesses).

Other Types of Questions

Yaaqub Mohammed (Yamo), in his book “The Ultimate CBAP-CCBA Study Guide“,  describes other types of questions:

  • Main idea questions: that test your knowledge and comprehension skills – what is the main use of . . . how does this function?
  • Inference questions: that test your ability to synthesize and evaluate scenarios – which of the following or what can be inferred from the scenario?
  • Implication questions: these test your ability to evaluate case scenarios or real world situations – what is implied by the following scenario?
  • Best-fit questions: that test your knowledge of business analysis and require evaluation and application – which method would be best to apply in such a situation?

Specific Question Types

Yamo goes further to list several specific question types:

Question Type Description
Activities contributing to a KA Descriptions of various tasks or activities in the tasks to identify a knowledge area.
Task Application Scenarios Real-world scenarios for how a task could be applied.
Outputs of Tasks Either direct description or an indirect mention of the output of a task.
Inputs of Tasks Usage of inputs referred with the names as-is or description of the inputs.
Stakeholders Involved/Invited Scenarios to identify which stakeholder need to be involved or is involved.
Role of a Stakeholder What is the role of the stakeholder in a given activity as applicable to a given task?
Purpose of a Task Why is a given task performed?
Outside of BABOK / General Knowledge General knowledge that you are expected to know as a business analyst. (These include Maslow, Tuckman’s model of group development, Motivation Theory, etc)
Real-World Application Scenarios Application scenarios where a real project scenario will be illustrated and a question from any aspect of the task or KA couldbe asked.
Techniques Usage Consideration Implied from the “Usage considerations” of a technique.
Techniques–Best Technique For Best technique for a given scenario (with indirect reference to a task).
Techniques–Elements Key considerations for a technique. Implied from the “Elements” section of a technique.
Requirements Attributes-Related Questions related to broadly used requirements attributes.
Skills Recognition in Underlying Competencies Scenarios or examples given to identify which competency a BA is exhibiting or is lacking.
Definition / Glossary Direct or indirect reference to definitions of terms in the glossary.
Requirements State Questions related to state of requirements.
Techniques in Tasks Which techniques would be used – direct or indirect through a real- world scenario with indirect mention of the task.
Exclusion type questions Usually a misleading question if not read carefully and often characterized by NOT identifying the negative of what is being described in the question.
The Next Step What should happen next in analysis – could be answered by applying experience and using the inputs/outputs that flow between tasks.
Knowledge Analysis
– Tricky questions,
– Confusing / misleading answer choices
Questions requiring careful reading .and analysis of the facts to arrive at the correct answer; Misleading answer choices or closely worded answer choices
Elements of Task Question related to key facets of a task directly asked or indirectly by the use of a real world scenario.

So…now you know…that’s why the CBAP questions are so friggin tricky.

ME

Many thanks to Yamo and tothe “CBAP/CCBA Certified Business Analysis
Study Guide” (for the question examples used above).

Brief History of Agile Movement

markjowen:

A nice overview of the path that has been taken for Agile to arrive in our daily thinking…

Originally posted on Technology Trend Analysis:

In February this year agile movement completes 11 years of existence. I am sure you are either using some form of agile methodology or examining the possibility of using them. But, are you aware of how the agile movement happened? Did it happen by chance or was it inevitable? Do you know what influenced the agile manifesto? Who the authors are? What are their backgrounds and what do they do now? How was the name “Agile” selected?

The Influencers

It is clear from the notes published by Jon Kern that 4 methodologies had significant influence on the manifesto – they are:

  1. Scrum (Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber – also Mike Beedle)
  2. DSDM (DSDM Consortium represented by Arie van Bennekum)
  3. ASD (Jim Highsmith)
  4. XP (Kent Beck, Ward Cunningham and Ron Jeffries – Martin Fowler)

Prior to the meet all these methodologies were classified as “Lightweight Methodologies”. The meet happened as a…

View original 1,711 more words

Writing Requirements for the Paper-clip

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David Ordal mused, back in 2008, about what would be necessary to write the functional requirements for the humble paper-clip.

He feels that it should be an easy task, and promotes the idea of “keeping it simple”. The less detail there was the more creative the developers could be.

While I find the idea of writing functional requirements for a paper-clip amusingly fascinating, it’s interesting to take a look at the “short-form’ requirements for this “paper binding device”. Is it really enough? Or is what David describes an “agile” way of looking at it?

Go read David’s article now, and then come back and tell me what you think. The comments at the bottom of his post are also rewarding to read.

When “making it personal” makes it personal

walle

NZPost has a tracking facility (as most postal services do). One of their offerings with this tracking service is to send automated tweet notifications from a Twitterbot when the status of a tracked item changes. Pretty cool, definitely handy. 

To set this up requires “following” @nzposttracking. You are automatically followed back and send you a direct message when the status changes.

On the Twitter homepage I got to read some of the public tweets that this account has been sending out…

NZPostTracking_tweets

These “friendly” tweets that were sent out, for “routine maintenance“, made me smile.

 

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BOK wisdom

Magic_Scrolls

After my last post, a lengthy discussion started in LinkedIn regarding what the BABOK is.

One commenter – Magnus Stensson – posted a superb comment…

I think there are, roughly speaking, three different groups of interpreters when it comes to BOK’s, be it BABOK, PMBOK, etc.

1. Those who see them for what they are. A collection of current best practices, tools, tips, methods, vocabulary, etc.. grouped into somewhat logical sections called knowledge areas. The reader can get tips and inspiration while choosing how to apply the information in there to suit the environment they are working in. This group has the best use of the BOK as they adapt it to reality and use it to enhance their knowledge and practical ability in the area.

2. Those who, because it is not prescriptive and describes everything in a How to manner, see it as fluffy, too theoretical and incomprehensible, and thus unusable. They are the ones who grumble about it being too theoretical and not useable in the real world.

3. The BOK evangelists who see it as the bible of all things in the area, They seek to apply all knowledge areas and techniques to all projects regardless of scope, creating massive documentation and inefficiency. Everything is referred to against the BOK. “We must do transition requirements as the BOK says so”. “we need these models because BABOk says so”,.. etc. (unfortunately I’ve worked with these people….) . This group refuses to adapt the BOK to suit the situation and end up destroying its reputation because their co-workers, who haven’t read it, see it as a theoretical source of impracticality.

He summed it up nicely.

Further to that, his parting shot was…

The views in discussions like this one reflect which group people subscribe to.. :-)

BABOK is all well and good – but in the “real world”…?

Skilled warrior

This post has been updated to include further detail on the way the BABOK presents information.

One of the main comments I heard today, at an Accelerated CBAP course, was “this is all fine, but in the real world things are different“.

The message was that what IIBA’s Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) presented with regards Knowlegde Areas (KAs), and Tasks, didn’t actually align with what happened in projects.

Continue reading

The Pro’s and Con’s of using a Livescribe smartpen – for Business Analysis

In 2013 I purchased a Livescribe pen.

The Livescribe Echo pen

Livescribe Echo smartpen

For those that aren’t in the know, a Livescribe pen allows you to capture the conversation taking place while you are writing notes.

By using specially marked paper, the pen can synchronise the audio being recorded with what you are writing and, at a later stage, you can press the pen anywhere on the page (on which you have written your notes), and the conversation that was taking place at that particular time is played back to you.

I have used this pen in a lot of elicitation situations and, in this post, I would like to describe some of the “lessons learned”.

Which Livescribe Pen have I got?

There are several models of the Livescribe pen available. The latest version in Livescribe 3 Smartpen and it offers some pretty cool functionality.

When I was looking at the pens 3.0 hadn’t been released yet.  And I also reasoned that I did not need real-time syncing to the cloud.

As such I chose the Echo Smartpen (see image above). You can see what this pen is capable of here and here.

How I used it?

In any elicitation situation where I was taking notes, I would use the Echo to keep a record of the actual conversation taking place. At the same time I would take be taking notes.

After the session I would playback the conversation at various points, to confirm that my notes were correct, or to expand on what I had written (you know that written notes don’t always capture everything that was discussed).

Using the Livescribe Desktop app, I was able to convert my written notes into a dynamic PDF that could be archived, or distributed to others in the team. This PDF had the audio embedded and the reader could click on any word to playback the discussion taking place at that time.

When I was not the scribe

Often when you are running an elicitation workshop, you are up in front of everyone, leading discussions, asking questions, prompting and encouraging responses. You can’t do this and write everything done. In this case, there is usually someone else who has been assigned this task (the scribe).

When I was in this situation, I was still able to use the Livescribe. Whenever there was a change in discussion, or a particular point that could be summarised in a word, I would write that on the special dot paper. After the session, I could still playback what was said at that point.

The Pro’s of using the Livescribe

Using the Livescribe pen has a lot going for it:

  • You are able to capture the whole discussion and tie it in with your notes.
  • The audio is synchronised to the notes you have written, so you can playback the conversation that was taking place at specific points.
  • The notes with audio can be shared with other members of the team, or with the stakeholders (f desired), as part of your Work Product.
  • You are confident that you can go back over the audio to pick up things that were said, but not written down.

Lessons Learned

Using the pen has been very handy, but it also has its down-sides. What follows are some of the “lessons learned”.

Ask Permission

Before actually using the pen during any elicitation event where other people are involved (workshops, interviews, active observation, etc), ask if it is OK to record the conversation. Usually people are pretty good about this and don’t mind. However it is important to reassure participants that you are using the pen merely as a tool to support the notes you are taking. And as an professional BA, you need to remember that, also.

Don’t let the pen be a replacement for Active note-taking

Use the pen to capture the conversation, but don’t be lazy. You still need to actively listen, and write down the important points from the conversation.

You still need to Confirm

Just because you have an audio record of the conversations that you have, does not mean that you don’t have to validate, that the stated requirements match the stakeholder’s understanding of the problem and the stakeholder’s needs.

What is written, and what was said, still might not be what was actually meant.

Make your notes meaningful

As I mention above, in a workshop situation you might just write a word of two and let the pen capture the conversation.

I’ve had situations where, after a series of seven one-hour workshops I’ve gone back over my notes, and haven’t been able to work out which part of the workshop the squiggle on the page tied in with, or what that strange sentence that I wrote (which meant something at the time – three days earlier) actually referred to.

When you are writing “headings” to describe certain parts of a conversation/discussion, write something meaningful, so that, after five days, it will still be clear. The discussions in workshops, or interviews, don’t always take place in nicely define “sub-sections”.

Never just record the sessioN

This is a classic newbie mistake, and relates to something I wrote above, Never, ever, just record the elicitation session thinking with the intention of “writing up the notes later on”. You might have have a three day workshop. Remember – when you playback the audio, it will take three days to listen to it! (And this includes all those side-conversations, jokes, and irrelevant comments that get made.)

Secure the output

This is related to “Ask Permission” above.

Regardless of whether you have been given the OK, by the session participants, to use the Livescribe, be aware that a lot of things are said during the workshop/interview/active observation session that might not be relevant,or are “off-record”. It may note be your intent, but you don’t want a situation where something someone says is later used against that person.

Have a way of charging the pen

The pen can be used for several hours, but it won’t last for ever. With the Echo I could plug a USB cable in to it, and plug that into my PC. This allowed the pen to be constantly charged, while I wrote notes.

Ensure you have enough paper

The live scribe uses paper with microdots on them. This allows the smartpen to be able to map what is being written, and the location on the page.

Livescribe sells this paper in the form of notebooks.Ensure that you have an extra notebook with you. You might never use it, but, then again, you might. (You can print out the Micro Dot paper yourself, but read the next “Lesson Learned” for more on this.)

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Keep track of the pages

Each page in the notebook has a unique, sequential, ID. This way, the Livescribe can keep all the pages in the correct order. Don’t write your notes on random pages. It makes it difficult, when it comes to working with the notes, and audio, when you are back at your computer.

Printed Pages

As mentioned above, you can print out the Micro Dot paper yourself. If you do this, you will have several loose sheets. These are handy if you want to put the sheets in a ring binder, etc., but be aware that, as with the notebooks, each page is in sequential order. Keep them in the correct order (the page number is printed on each). This saves a lot of pain when exporting to a PDF, etc.

 

Conclusion – Would I recommend using the pen?

The pen is an incredibly handy tool (with the later version offering even more functionality, as well as looking like a real pen).

However, for the purposes of Business Analysis I would not, personally, recommend using it.

Why?

As I alluded to in some of the Lessons Learned, being able to record the conversation taking place is valuable. But it also makes you relax.

It’s easy to think “Oh I won’t write that down – I’ll go back over the audio later.” WRONG! The idea of the elicitation session is to actively capture the main points, In real-time.

That’s part of being a good BA. Active Listening, and Active Note Taking. You are in the elicitation session to really understand the message that the stakeholders are communicating. And you need to make sure that you have captured it properly.

Going back over a recording of a session, in my opinion, is of little value. The real value should be in your notes. If they need expanding upon, or clarifying, that is something that needs to be done directly, with the appropriate stakeholder.

I’m not saying that a smartpen is worthless. But if you think about it, BA’s have been taking notes as part of the elicitation process for years. How many have recorded the session?

However…

My conclusion above, however, is how I feel about it. For you, fellow BA, it might be a different situation.

In fact, someone pointed out to me that their handwriting was terrible, and they often could not read their own notes. Having the pen would mean that they could, indeed, dive into what was being said at the time the notes were made.

I can’t argue with this reasoning…

Other Reviews

For other reviews of the Livescribe pens, click here.

Your opinion

Have you used the Livescribe pen? What are thoughts on it? Do you think that I am wrong in not recommending it for BA work? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

 

 

What I like in an Agile article, post, or book…

Preaching to the converted

…is balance.

There are so many Agile books, articles, and posts that do one of two things:

  1. spend a lot of time pointing out how evil, backwards, or just plain stupid anything, that isn’t Agile, is.
  2. Spend a lot of time shouting (enthusiastically) about how great Agile is, and that you are stupid for not embracing it.

I like the idea of Agile, but I also believe something should be able to stand by itself, without resorting to slagging off any alternatives. Let the good points of the methodology/ideology/whatever-ology be seen, and leave the reader to convince themselves, rather than trying to do it for them.

At the same time, don’t just rant, and rave, about the fact that I “just have to” adopt Agile, or I’ll be considered a Luddite, a caveman, or just a person who is not willing to “see the truth”. Give me good, sensible, reasons, and I’m likely to keep reading.

A good example of something that doesn’t do either of the two things mentioned above, is something that I am reading at the moment – “Agile Estimating and Planning” by Mike Cohn. He steps you through the idea of Agile, with regards to planning, without once talking about Waterfall.

It’s a strange experience for me. With regards Agile I have wanted to believe. The problem was that every time I tried to learn more I met glazed eyed enthusiasts that just told me “Agile is good…Waterfall is evil”. Agile Estimating and Planning, however, has me nodding my head with every chapter I read.

 What do you think?

Do you agree? Or am I just talking out of a hole in my head…?

 

Age of the App

Originally posted on Brian's Blog:

Rogers and Moore’s customer adoption curves illustrate the results of several factors in apparent opposition; Value and Risk.  This two primary factors have been used to explain customer purchasing behavior as well as clustering customers into groups based upon purchasing time within a product’s lifecycle.  These simple models, which have proven useful to traditional marketing and sales organizations, but may need to be adapted to today’s new market dynamics.

Markets are becoming saturated with feature-rich products that promise value at the end of long implementation and adoption curves.  This had placed the majority of revenue in vendors pockets while placing the majority of risk in customers hands.  However, with the introduction of cloud and other same units of functionality such as smart phone apps, customers are rethinking purchases and demanding value capture for purchase much earlier, almost immediately upon purchase.  This shifting dynamic is requiring companies to rethink new revenue models based upon consumption…

View original 178 more words

CBAP – I made it, but it’s not the destination that I thought it was

CBAP is not the final destination

 After a lifetime of progressive career moves, I started, two years ago, on a serious journey towards attaining CBAP certification from the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA).

At the end of 2014 I sat and passed the exam.

It’s been an awesome adventure. There have been struggles and achievements. I’ve had to fight off ogres that wanted to prevent me reaching my goal. (Most of these were in my head). I have met many wonderful, eclectic, people along the way, and have been supported (both morally, and physically) by many heroes and heroines that have been there for me.

And I have learnt a lot. Studying the IIBA’s BABOK (Business Analysis Body of Knowledge), has allowed me to formalise the skills and knowledge that are invaluable for a Business Analyst.

And while I thought that achieving that right to vaunt that I had achieved CBAP status would be the pinnacle of my journey – the very goal that I was striving for, it turns out that it isn’t.

Everything described in the BABOK was, for me, enlightening. Every sentence written in this tome of knowledge is valuable. As I read, and re-read each paragraph, and viewed each diagram, I felt an enriching of my comprehension. As if my brain started working at new levels….

However, the more I read, the more I realised that the BABOK was merely providing an extremely good high-level map of the BA world. One with signposts to areas that needed further exploring.

CBAP isn’t my destination… 

IIBA CBAP … Merely a stop along the way

5 MarkJOwen Predictions for 2015

 

predictions_2015

What follows is a small selection of my predictions for this year…

  • There will be change

In 2015 expect things to change. This won’t happen for everything, but for the things that do change…expect it.

  • Some things will become less popular

This year there is a very good chance that some things will become less popular. You’ll see a movement of the crowd away from these things and there will be less conversation about them in the various channels (Facebook, Twitter, etc).

  • There will be growth

A lot of movement is expected this year. Growth will be observed in many different areas (with some surprises).

  • Expenses will continue

Something that will most likely affect big companies, small companies, and individual consumers alike. Expenses will continue to occur, with no sign of a turn-down in this area.

  • Discoveries

At some point in the year, something will be discovered. The item discovered, or the person making the discovery, might, or might not, be publicly announced.

Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ    Φ

(Please note: these predictions might, or might not, be accurate. No responsibility will be  taken for any consequences that arise from using these predictions as a foundation for planning one’s future, life, finances, weddings, conception or education.)

 

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

All I did was post a diagram on LinkedIn – I didn’t realise that I was going to learn so much

knowledge

I’ve been trying to get my head around business and data modelling. Two acronyms came up … UML, and BPMN.

I understood that they were both Very Important. Certain sources promoted BPMN, while others maintained that UML was actually better… Unfortunately I couldn’t work out why.

An Answer…

I started hunting for an answer. On the website of BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT) there was an article (by Simon Perry) that made a comparison of the two – “Process modelling comparison“. It is a great article, and contained the following matrix:

uml_bpmn_comparison

 At last – something that explained it for me… UML was superior.

If this article was valuable to me, it would be valuable for others… I posted the matrix to several BA groups on LinkedIn.

Response

Not thinking any more of it, I was surprised when someone made a comment. James Shield in the UK pointed out the following:

This would have been a lot more useful if it stuck to comparing BPMN with its UML equivalent – Activity diagrams.

The other parts of UML mentioned (Use Case diagrams and Class diagrams) can be used to address the things that BPMN doesn’t even try to address, just as they were used to address what Activity diagrams do not address.

Maybe things were not as black & white as I had thought. I explained that I was still new to this area, and asked for help in better understanding it.

And then…

And then a whole of people jumped in with further explanations. All of them adding to my understanding.

Tamas Salamon (South Africa) stated that

I think if your boundary is firmly within process modelling and your stakeholders are just the business community, the choice will depend on which will deliver the message more effectively, i.e. create a better understanding.
Ultimately it is about clear, unambiguous communication of information

Rémy Fannader (France) pointed out that

the equivalent of BPM with UML are Activity diagrams for the processing of contents, and State diagrams for the control of execution. That distinction is critical when the same business logic is to be used in different business or technical contexts. It is not supported by BPM.

Remy gave me a few links to relevant articles.

James commented that

There are pluses and minuses for each. For example I like how Activity diagrams show forks and joins. But they can both do the job.

And added that

BPMN seems to be the more popular. I have used BPMN at my last three clients. I haven’t used Activity diagrams for business process maps for 10 years. For that reason alone I would use BPMN.

 

He then followed up with some useful advice…

– UML Class diagrams are great for data modelling;
at least as good as Entity Relationship Diagrams (ERDs).

– UML is also used for behaviour modelling
—- State Machine diagrams
—- Sequence diagrams
—- Use Case diagrams
—- Actviity diagrams,

– For business process modelling, the Activity diagram is the UML artefact of choice.

– BPMN has nothing to do with data modeliing; it’s a Notation for Business Process Modelling.

As a BA, I use/have used the following UML diagrams
– Package (to group related things together)
– Class (data modelling mainly)
– Object (to show examples)
– Activity (less so these days)
– Use Case (overview of system functionality)
– State Machine (event-driven, state-dependent behaviour)

For me, the other UML diagrams are for design, construction and deployment.

Rolf Weinmann (Germany) then added some useful insight…

I think it’s important when we use things to ask where they come from, what they want to support/do and where they are.

As written above BPMN was targeted, wants and is a “Notation for Business Process Modelling”.
UML comes from a very technical oriented area. Action diagrams/Business Use CASEs- to my knowledge , etc. have been added only at a later stage.

and…

Having taught many BA classes, developing BA Trainings and coaching Business People and Business Analysts on various project my conclusion is…
BPMN is much closer to the business, provides a full set of good stuff to modell the business (not only processes), etc. …

UML on the other hand better allows more technical people to better understand what to do with the Business requirements (e.g. using of UseCases) and document standard IT models… (e.g. Class diagrams, etc.)

Putcha Narasimham, a very smart man from India, adds to that by saying that he agrees with James and Remy and that…

Within process modeling, I found BPMN better defined and consistent though it is too elaborate with too many symbols and interpretations.

He also supplied me with links to some further material that he had developed.

 

Wow

This all started with me sharing (in a slightly “don’t know what I don’t know” way) a matrix that I found .

One person made the effort to comment on that matrix, and it lead to a very interesting, and educational, conversation that involved people from six different countries….Way more than I had expected.

Related posts:

 

The best no-bullshit “Rules of Networking”

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The question was asked, on Quora,  “How do I get better at networking?

There were 38 answers. The response that got the most upvotes, was the one by Zach Freedman. Someone who tells it like it is. His response was certainly different from the other responses, and garnered the most comments (and, as mentioned, upvotes)…

  1. Networking is bullshit. You don’t “network”, you meet people. Get out of the results-oriented mindset and enjoy the conversations. Be a goddamn human about it. Put down your phone, because…
  2. Comfort zones are bullshit. The only network worth having is one that has a diverse group. Wide and shallow is the name of the game. With a wide network, you have more interesting conversations, more options for solving problems, and more ears on the ground to spot trends. Grow some balls, leave your silo, and make friends with people who are utterly unlike you. Twitter and Facebook shield you, which is why…
  3. Social media is bullshit. Talk to people in the real world. A lot. Expand your options using meetups, clubs, mixers, and getting friends to drag you along to their social stuff. Try and talk to everyone at the event. Ignore your business cards, because…
    Business cards are bullshit. There’s exactly one reason to use a card – you take their card because you want to follow up on something they said. They like old Benzes and you have a friend who collects them? Ask for their card, write “Connect w Jeff re Benzes” on the front, pocket the card, and follow up with it. Don’t give out your card unless asked, because…
  4. “Let’s talk later” is bullshit. They’ll never follow up with you. The ball is firmly in your court. If the conversation went well, call them back within two days, link them with what you wrote down, and check in every two weeks or so. Two weeks?! Yes, because…
  5. You never stop selling. You never stop shipping. Your life is vibrant, fascinating, and fast-moving. Every week, you have new people to connect and new developments to tell others about. And you do so.

Your regular contact builds friends. Your excitement makes them want to listen. Your activity spreads the word that you get things done.

Conversations aren’t “How are you doing? Fine, how are you?” They’re real, visceral, and worthwhile. Most importantly, you’re actually helping people, and that’s why you start networking in the first place.

 You can read the original in Quora here.

Six models of Organisation

organic-structure

The following is sourced from Imaginization:

Six Models of Organization

(An excerpt from Imaginization: The Art of Creative Management )

Model 1 is the classical bureaucracy, carefully blueprinted into functional departments, run from the top by the chief executive through various structures, rules, regulations, job descriptions and controls. It is designed to work like a machine, and operates very efficiently – so long as nothing changes!

Bureaucracies, like machines, operate well when there are stable functions to be performed, especially when they can be broken down into a series of separate operations coordinated from the top. But when an organization’s tasks keep changing, it’s a different story. The changes create a host of problems that no one is mandated to solve.

The problems thus work their way up the hierarchy, and eventually fall on the chief-executive’s desk. He or she soon gets overloaded, and initiates a shift to Model 2 by appointing a top management team. Collectively, they now deal with the problems, leaving the bureaucratic machine below (ie. the functional departments) to continue with the routine work.

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