Written by Technical Architecure on Friday 22 January 2016
Looking back at all my years as a Business Analyst (BA), Business Analyst Manager and community of practice lead I’m amazed that as a team of highly dedicated professionals (certainly based on the hours worked) we never really challenged the change process itself. Maybe some continuous improvement borne out of frustration, a tweak here, a tweak there - but never anything too radical, never anything that would upset the management or be disruptive.
Looking back I feel guilty about this, I never really felt like I fitted in, never really felt like a true BA. I was always uneasy with those tomes of systems requirements documents. I grew tired and bored writing and reviewing them, I’d pick on a requirements page, any page after about page 20, and start asking my colleagues, business or IT, the same sorts of questions. How did page 60 statement xyz, fit to page 30 statement yxz, page 70 zxy, or appendix K. table ptq. So I apologise to all my past team members and colleagues who listened and responded in earnest, because the fact was I already knew from years earlier…
In 2003 we’d made a discovery with the help of our Actuary and Underwriting colleagues. The discovery was simple, a new commercial lines rating method on a page, though simple it most certainly wasn’t! Every attempt to drill into the Spartan detail was met with the response ‘we haven’t worked that out yet, but can you tell us how much it will cost?’ Hmm, sound familiar?
To cut a long story short, we innovated, we sat the team in a room and discussed ideas and explored, built some code, about a fortnight later showed it back to the team, took feedback and refactored, tweaked and changed. Hmm, also sound familiar?
Well this ISN’T an article claiming to have discovered Agile quicker than a new idea can be imported across the Atlantic from Snowbird Utah.
No I missed the point, and I continued to miss the point until much more recently. My problem was that I used to think innovation was a black art owned by people with vast insight into their market, product creators, really bright guys, and that they alone were the idea generators - how wrong was I.
So now I wake up and every morning I say to myself “je suis un innovateur” - we innovated, and innovation can come in the form of product design, service design, change delivery and so on and so forth.
Even more than this I’ve become convinced that innovation is locked away in UK companies, and in UK companies especially. This innovation is desperate to burst out and come to life within large numbers of staff from claims and policy handlers, customer service staff, underwriters, actuaries, and now is their time.
In true BA style my innovation is to find ways to unlock this potential and be systematic about it, so this is my 10 step guide on how to be systematic in your search for innovation.
- Specialist- Generalist teams are required. A lesson that all innovation programs can borrow from Agile is to bring together talented people from across the organisation and disciplines to work together in a collaborative environment. The use of Actuaries and Underwriters working together to analyse social media exemplifies the skills mix required for the future.
- Foster a supportive environment for innovation. Creativity is only one part of the innovation picture, opportunities and ideas require assessment and authors of ideas require recognition, even if ultimately not adopted. Ideas require publicity to foster others. Any BA who’s run a brainstorming session knows that immediately one idea is posted, a hundred and one option flavours are then thought of.
- Foster a culture of empowerment and ownership. Perhaps one of the reasons why we don’t really innovate even when working in a change department is a lack of feeling of ownership. Staff should always be trained to think of themselves as the owners of the outcome, and empowered to make changes. A friend of mine recently described how claims handlers were split into groups and asked to brainstorm and develop strategies for 4 common problem areas. 6 ideas made it to the board, all were adopted, none were dropped, due to the high quality of the proposals.
- Involvement – leverage the whole organisation. It starts from the top, senior leadership support for innovation is critical. Disruptive companies will expect everyone in the company to innovate. The innovation itself matters far more than the source. Include innovation objectives in all staff member rewards criteria.
- Champions are needed. An organisation needs revolutionary change specialists who can challenge structurally the way innovation occurs. These are senior appointments and not to be badged as continuous improvement roles.
- Actively research and use new technology. Even within the innovation delivery process use knowledge sharing tools as information radiators able to showcase ideas throughout the organisation.
- Partner with external parties for ways to be creative, and ways to take products to market. The financial services industry should learn from the retail industry in all areas of web-site interaction, from design agencies, product pods, ease of use, customer focus groups, customer experience managers etc.
- Sponsor innovation time. Google employees are (allegedly) provided 20% time to pursue innovation projects, unrelated to their day to day tasks. Half of the new launches at Google emerged from this innovation process.
- Involve the customer. Use customer focus groups for speed, and iteration. Partner with some of your customers and encourage them to pilot products early and often, use small beta tests. Test the ideas with your clients, iterate, refine, launch as early as possible.
- Aim to fail soon, whether that’s at the idea vetting and scoring stage, or at the customer focus group stage – But leverage the learning from these activities and move on.