9 Tactics to being Lean in '17

Lean is not doing more with less.jpg

A couple weeks ago, Roman and I published a massive journal article talking about where business analysis is headed as a field. We proposed that the BA of the future would be characterized by three areas:

  • Enterprise / Strategy -- Today, we are primarily focused on projects; in the future, we will be more focused on enterprise/strategy analysis outside of the project world
  • Lean -- Today, we are primarily focused on doing well with the resources we are given; in the future, we will be more focused on reducing "necessary" resources
  • Agile -- Today, we are primarily focused on requirements; in the future, we will be more focused on solutions

We heard two questions several times from readers:

  • What does it mean to be a lean Business Analyst?
  • How can I put these principles into everyday practice?

Let's address both of these right now.

The Lean Business Analyst

The Lean movement is all about reducing waste and focusing our activities on directly providing value to customers. And we see these concepts all over the place in Lean implementations. Lean Manufacturing adherents might seek to reduce waiting time between steps in an assembly line. Lean Startups will try to reduce the size of the initial product they offer to the market, in order to save investment capital and time. Lean Six Sigma practitioners might examine business processes to find steps that can be removed from a flow. It's all about redirecting the resources to the benefit of your customers (that you would otherwise waste internally).

The lean Business Analyst drives this relentless focus on waste reduction and resource management within the project context (and even beyond that, considering our enterprise-level work).

9 Ways to be Lean

  1. Stop creating documents that no one reads. Spending time to create a document that will simply sit on a shelf for eternity is ridiculous. If corporate policy forces you to make these documents, push back. If that fails, spend as little time on them as possible.
  2. Stop attending meetings that you don't contribute to or benefit from. Are you involved in a recurring meeting where you never speak? Save yourself some time, and stop going. Don't even listen on mute. It's the equivalent of listening to talk radio, but not as entertaining.
  3. Avoid scheduling meetings when possible. Why perpetrate this horror on others? Just call people on the phone, and see what happens. If you schedule a meeting with ten other people, it will be a waste of time for most of those people. Just meet with a few, and let the others know what you decided, and see if they have anything to add. Some aggressively-lean agile teams have even foregone the daily stand-up, and as far as I know, they've all lived to tell the tale.
  4. Reduce by half the time you spend on non-customer-valuing activities. This means you have to look at your calendar and cut things short. Go to your boss, and say, "Hi boss, I really value our one-on-one time, but things are so busy right now that I want to cut our meetings from 60 minutes each week to 30. I really want to focus on getting this product out the door." They will absolutely value that; they will respect you for it. They should give you a raise. They won't, but they should.
  5. Time-box like crazy. "Okay, I have given myself 30 minutes to prioritize this product backlog, and I'm going to give it my all for those 30 minutes and not a single minute more." Be really hard-core with yourself. Your time is your most precious asset.
  6. Ask yourself, "Does my product really need this feature?" It probably doesn't. Products should be as small as possible, because features cost a lot of money to develop, and large products are more confusing to customers.
  7. Ask yourself, "Will customers really use this feature?" I can't tell you how many features I've designed that seemed like good ideas to the project sponsor (and me) at the time that went on to have abysmal usage rates. What an enormous amount of waste: the sponsor's time, my time, my team's time, the company's money, and the opportunity cost of not doing something that clients really would have used.
  8. Ask yourself, "Will customers pay for this feature?" If customers are unwilling to pay for something, that is a clear sign that they don't value it. If customers don't value something, take a good hard look at whether or not it should be built.
  9. Prove it. Even if you have answered "yes" to the questions above, don't believe it. Test it in the marketplace, and actually find out how your customers will react before you spend all the money developing the product.

Can you see why lean BAs are so much more valuable to their employers and stakeholders? A lean BA makes up for her salary many times over by saving her colleagues time, her organizations money, and her customers a headache.

My challenge to you is to recognize that reading this blog post was an absolute waste of time unless you actually implement one thing. Let's do it. Be lean.