Agile Development, Behavior Modeling & Design, Business Analysis, Information Technology, Innovation, Product Development, Requirements Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User-centered Design

It is beyond doubt that the current times of digital, mobile and social age demand professionals who are versatile, agile, sociable and dynamic. Business Analysts and product specialists are no exception to this. Whether its due to the industry demands, peer pressure, market needs or pure evolutionary tactics, BAs today are far more leading-edge, competitive, assertive and visionary contributors to the products, processes and businesses, at large. From an also-ran team player role, new-age analysts have come a long way as the multi-disciplinary, multi-skilled and multi-dimensional professionals. In this post, I will touch upon the many facets of the new-age Business Analyst and how they are adapting to the continual changes happening in the spheres of business, technology, professional and personal lives.

Emergence of the new-age BA/PO

As we discussed in the previous posts, there have been several factors that led to the emergence and evolution of the Business Analyst. The BA today moved on from just a requirements owner and a document expert and is now addressing several facets around products, processes, business and technology. Their focus still remains pretty much around the problem space, compared to the facilitation role in the solution space. The analysts identify problems, dependencies, needs and opportunities. However,  products, processes and business domains. The BAs today have been involved in scoping, release management, continuous engagement with customers and users, strategising, laying out roadmap, and working with multiple teams.  In a nutshell, the Business Analyst of the modern age is much like a leader, architect, soldier, team player…all rolled into one.

NBA_Leader.Architect.Soldier.Team Player_Texavi

Leader, architect, soldier, team player & more – the new-age BA

From being an analyst, the BA needs to transform into a leader, architect, soldier, team player and perhaps many more such roles, all rolled into one. Of course, they need not be all of these roles at the same time. The analyst today has to don one, few or all of these various roles based on the context, time, stage of implementation as befits the occasion. During the initial stages, the emphasis could be on being an architect, while during the scoping it could be that of a soldier. However, throughout the project, or initiative analysts have to keep their hat of leader and team player, no matter what stage the work is in. I touch upon the four primary facets of the new-age Business Analyst in the following paragraphs.

1. Sensible leader, not just an also-ran

You can’t talk enough about the all-imperative skill and art of analysts to work with people. They must have their hands firmly on the pulse of the different categories of people. These include the various stakeholders – direct and indirectly responsible for the product and process, from senior management all the way through to people working on the factory floor. As an able leader, the analysts must not only lead the way, but also set an example by following and working along with the team members. They should  listen actively, take steps pro-actively and be able to put in their efforts with sustainable passion, drive and commitment to achieve this shared vision and common goals.

2. Architect and a builder, not just another player

New-age business analysts must be able to look beyond the near term goals and benefits. They must have a really good and long term vision to not only lead themselves but also the team members and the organisation, at large. They must think far and beyond, using their rich experience, in-depth and specialised domain expertise. The added advantage is that these help the analysts with a “peripheral vision” around the markets, business domains, products, processes and technologies.  Besides, the new-age analyst adds great value by laying a robust roadmap that is flexible, scalable, high-performing.

3. A soldier, well-equipped and prepared

Like a soldier, who is well-equipped and well-prepared to face any kind of challenges, the new-age analyst must be prepared with all the right tools, methods and a positive attitude. The very nature and aptitude of business analysts help them to stay on the top of their game, be it at home or outside their turf. Their ability to adapt easily and quickly depending on the situation helps build on to the agility of the new-age analysts.  Analysts’ skills of being sensitive, scrupulous and open-minded, help them usable insights from ideas and actionable intelligence from information. In addition to these, the BAs try to keep ahead by addressing all possible scenarios, potential challenges and constraints, internal and external dependencies and assumptions – stated and implicit.

4. Team player, not just a one-person show

Business analysts over the ages had been looked at more as specialised consultants who come in, do their work and get out. The contribution of analysts is considered from the prism of a “support” role who comes in early in the project, find problems, specify scope and requirements and exits the scenario. However, with the advent of agile practices such as Scrum, user stories, XP, BDD and TDD being put in place, organisations are increasingly looking for analysts to be well-integrated into the development teams. The analysts today are very much an integral part of the teams and by being  participative, they contribute to the collective value delivered by the team. So, new-age analysts are equally adept at being followers and team members themselves as much as they excel at leading the teams.

I hope this post helped you understand the many dimensions, skills and demands of the new-age business analyst. We will cover more specific details on the tools, and methods for the business analyst/product owner in the upcoming posts, until then, ciao!

Agile Development, Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Product Development, Requirements Development

When I visited the National Gallery of Arts in Washington D.C., one thing that struck me among all others, was a fridge-magnet in the display. It bears a popular saying of the great artist, Romare Bearden, that reads…”what you don’t need is as important as what you do need”. This caption has relevance to everybody in today’s world, and especially I would like to draw its benefit to the product managers.  I give below a snapshot of the magnet for your reference and I think it could be a powerful mantra for the product managers among us.

Get your priorities right

Getting your priorities right will not only help you to be successful at creating a great product, but also in continually delivering superior experiences to your stakeholders, customers and users. As a product manager, you need to not just prioritize the product’s features, but also plan your product releases, expedite the time-to-market, and help in marketing activities such as product launch campaigns. In this post, I wish to touch upon the challenges that constrain the proper scoping of a product, and how you can leverage the right tools and techniques to help prioritize in the constantly changing world.

Prioritizing is not easy

Today, more than ever, we are witnessing flux everywhere and little wonder then that whatever we are exposed to has been undergoing a rapid change. Change and chaos are posing the biggest challenge to all of us today, but in them also lie huge opportunities and avenues for achievement, cheer and success. The key to success lies in making note of the changes that happened and also in sensing the impending changes to come through in the areas of your interest.

What drives your prioritization

To come to grips with the changes and chaos, you really need to look at the various factors that are either directly or indirectly responsible for your product. Let us try and basket them into two categories- internal and external, for simplicity’s sake.  To be able to prioritize better, you need to consider the internal factors such as the resources available say people, schedule, cost, organizational goals and business vision. I would also like to add to this list the often unseen or unspoken aspects such as internal politics, power dynamics and the relationships among the various management and team members.

Vendors, partners and third party service providers

Also you need to pay heed to external factors such as stakeholders i.e., vendors and partners’ expectations, needs and demands of customers and users. While its true that customers and users’s needs take the attention of product management team, its also imperative that the capabilities, constraints and commitments of your vendors and partners need to be considered while planning and prioritizing your product.

A case in point is Apple’s inability to fulfill its iPad2 delivery requirements in some countries. This was due to the shortage of material at Apple’s suppliers in China which resulted in the delay in shipment of the final products. One might argue that this is a good problem to have because the demand is more than the supply and you can keep your customers wait for your product. On the other hand, there might be a worst case scenario where the supply exceeds the demand and then you will be in trouble with the excess stock. In both cases though, the lesson for you is to consider your vendors’ and partners’  constraints, capabilities and commitments while prioritizing and planning your product release.

Beware of (pressure due to) competition

Perhaps the one biggest factor that could play with your prioritization game is competition. Often times, as product managers, you get undue pressure to look out at the competing products in the market and re-adjust your priorities as per your competitors’ new releases.

For instance, just because your closest competitor announced (not even launched) a new product in the market, you will get tremendous pressure for ‘doing something about it’ from the senior management, peers, media and worst of all, your own team. While most often, all of this could be genuine and help in the cause of better product development, other times, it could be a knee-jerk reaction without knowing the ground reality. This is something you must be really wary of and ensure that you don’t succumb to the pressures beyond the capability of your organization and team.

Scope, de-scope and re-scope

The single biggest contribution from a product manager, if you ask me, is the ability to prioritize the features and plan the releases for the product. This is the area where team really looks up to the product manager or product owner in the context of agile software development. Prioritization, as per my experience, comprises three simple tasks of scoping, de-scoping and re-scoping. As I keep telling people, sometimes it is more important to specify what is not in scope, than to say what is in the scope.

In a traditional sense, you might be maintaining a ‘product roadmap’ which spells out all the things your product will be and do, in the times to come. In agile development, product owners need to maintain a ‘product backlog’ which is a configurable document that lives across the life-cycle of the product. For some people, the term ‘backlog’ might connote a negative intent of not being able to complete some stipulated work. But now the artifact as well as this term has become an industry-standard accepted by many. Remember, though that this product backlog is for the product and not, as many people mistake it, for the project.

Important vs. Urgent

Another key dimension in prioritizing is being able to specify either tasks or things on the scales of importance and urgency. Note that all things that are important need not be urgent and vice versa. You need to clearly delineate among things and tasks that are important, urgent or both.

I usually map all the items across four quadrants classified into the following four categories across the two axes of importance and urgency:

  1. [important, urgent]
  2. [important, not urgent]
  3. [not important, not urgent]
  4. [not important, urgent]

Use the right tools and techniques

Most of you are familiar with the prioritization techniques such as ABC or 1-2-3. You can also try the MoSCoW (Must, Should, Could and Won’t) technique which is helpful in further shortlisting the features. I use index cards and post-it notes to do a quick sorting from within the shortlisted features to get to the most important ones. At times, to simplify you might just mark the items ‘Need to have’ and ‘Nice-to-have’. You can use any, all or some of these techniques based on your preference to arrive at the prioritized list of features in your product.

We can talk about more such tools and techniques in my next blog posts. Hope you could have some takeaways from this post to help make your product, a success. Till the next post, ciao!

 

 

Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, User Experience, User-centered Design

‘You are the Controller‘ says Kinect, the new gaming experience from Microsoft. Kinect beats its nearest rivals Sony Playstation and Nintendo Wii on the concept of playing games with a handheld motion controller. While PS3 requires you to play games with its ‘Move’ and Wii with Wiimote (or Wii Remote), Kinect doesn’t require any external motion controllers.

You are the controller

Why am I so excited about Kinect that I have started this blog post with it? I am not so much of a gaming freak to compare and contrast the quality of the games, nor am I interested in analyzing the top three ‘players’  from a business view in this market segment. I am really excited by Kinect’s promise of giving the control to YOU, the user. Well, in this post, I wish to review a few of the successful products out there in the market, analyzing why and how they thrived in the world of me-too products and those offering not so pleasant usage experiences.

YOU are the focus

Not just Microsoft or Kinect, but nowadays there are quite a few companies and products which are trying to lure you. They come in different shapes, sizes, colors, industries and domains. In this post, I will touch upon a few of them that have made a mark and succeeded in keeping their products, services and brands You-focused.

They make YOU (the users) omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent
Vodafone repositioned itself by giving “Power to YOU“. With the advent of innovation in the Telecom industry, jumping from 2G to 3G to 3.5G has been a breeze. Faster downloads, better connectivity and more things to do such as streaming videos etc., offered by the advanced technologies such as 3G provide a fillip to the users’ experience. Now, you can work faster, easier and better accessing your mails on the go, watching Cricket and Football matches when and where you want, watching the previews of latest movie releases.

Power to you

They make you super-hero
Sample this, Yahoo which struggled to get it right for the most part of the initial releases of its products, for once changed its positioning and perhaps along with it, a few of its products design too. Along comes an enhanced and delightful Yahoo mail and Yahoo’s portal. There was a sea change in the way users now interact with Yahoo’s products and no guessing why all this happened. Yes, Yahoo realized and believe strongly that “YOU are the new master of the digital universe.”

Its YOU!

They make you happy
Canon, with its continual innovation in the imaging products has been “Delighting YOU always“. If you look at the innovation that happened in the cameras and phtotography areas over the last few decades, you will agree with Canon. There were the days when you had to go to a certain photographer to get yourselves shot and wait for days to see the output. When on the first glimpse of your photo you felt really happy and pleased. You were delighted then. And what are you doing now? Clicking away hundreds and thousands of photographs, all by yourself with that tiny camera fitting in the pocket of your jacket.

Delighting you always

Who is YOU

You are the typical office goer, a home maker, a young student aspiring to be a champion, a tech-savvy banker,a professor, an engineer working an oil rig… in short, you are a user, consumer, customer, stakeholder. As a user/consumer, you use the product and enjoy the experience offered before, during and after the usage. As a customer, you buy the product and so are an easy target for the manufacturers and marketers, who have been striving to grab your attention. As a stakeholder in the product, you are either directly or indirectly influencing the customers or the consumers in using the product. So, its only logical for these product vendors to go after YOU.

Take the (Yo)U- Turn

As an organization which offers products and services, you need to note that this is the age of consumers and they dictate the ways companies operate, whether they are large, medium, small. From companies selling computers to schools teaching primary students, there had been a rise in the awareness of Global awareness and local impact. They realized that their true fortunes lie not just in knowing about their users, and understanding them, but in treating, pleading and pleasing them. Its not the features, nor the technology that would help them get to their objectives of surviving the dog-eat-dog markets and making profits. It is the experience and delight brought out by the organization, brand, product or service,  that makes the maximum impact on your customers, users and stakeholders.

What should the organizations do

To be successful in your industry segment, follow the leaders in your own or other industries. Google, Apple and Facebook did hinged their entire product strategy on the User-experience factor. YouTube , for instance, changed the way people create, consume and share the video content online. With the ability to upload videos of any (pre-defined) format and length and sharing the content, YouTube gave a new definition to user-generated content. It gave the users an easy and quick way of viewing,uploading, downloading, sharing, embedding videos anywhere. YOU got the power to “Broadcast Yourself“!

Broadcast yourself

As a product manufacturer and marketer or a service provider, you also need to re-orient the ways in which your products or services have been designed, developed and delivered. Think about the major focus areas which have been in your product strategy and re-define them to suit the need of the hour. Onida, a  reputed Indian manufacturer and marketer of  white-goods realized this earlier than others in their segment. Over the years, white goods (a.k.a. consumer durables) have become commodities and it had become extremely tough to maintain the market shares one enjoyed a few decades back. Onida re-positioned itself knowing fully well that consumers are the king and they should be the central focus of their product design. This had been evident in the recent launches of their products such as Microwave and Refrigerator which are easier-to-use and offer greater experience to the users. These products had been well received by the users because they were “Designed with YOU in mind“!

Designed with you in mind

YOUsability rocks!

To conclude, I suggest this is the time to know that YOU are the most powerful entity in the universe. Relish the lavish praises, attention and luxuries being offered to you to the extent that you can choose the type of bank account that suits your choice and requirements. You can decide the talk plan to fit your wallet, the holiday to suit your family, budget and lifestyle  and even you can decide how you wish the end the climax of a movie! You are the guest, for which most of the companies are going beyond their briefing to offer their service. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the privileges. No wonder, Time Magazine fittingly named the Person of the year, 2006 as ‘YOU’. Rock on!

Person of the year 2006 is you

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