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This chapter is from the book

Jack Be Quick

How long does good analysis take? Isn’t analysis all about doing things that some projects skip over? Yes, it is. And we do it because we know that doing the right things and solving the right problems is the fastest way to deliver the right solutions. Until you solve the customer’s real problem, you haven’t provided any value, and you certainly haven’t completed your project.

  • Simply because they are the right things to do does not mean that they take a long time.

Let’s go back to Bernie’s Books. You know this business from Chapter 1, “Agile Business Analysis,” so we can use it to talk about how much time is needed for the analysis activities.

Let’s make this simple and say that you have access and cooperation from the business stakeholders and that any questions you ask will get an immediate answer. Also assume that you have ready access to any other information you need.

Hour 1: Customer Segments

You interview Bernie and find the customer segments. You will recall that we spoke about three segments: the loyal customers, the twenty-somethings, and the book cover bandits. We shall also include the store sales clerks as a customer segment even though they don’t buy anything. A few minutes more with Bernie and his assistants reveals a few more segments. You discover the gift-giver segment, but because it is a long way to Christmas, you put that one aside. The rest of the segments are so small that you decide there is no value pursuing them at this stage.

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In your own projects, you will usually have many more than four segments, so you must perform triage on them. There are some segments that are crucial to your business—the ones that provide a significant share of revenue, or segments that your organization cannot do without. You probably do not have enough resources to deal with all the segments at the same time, so pick the mission-critical segments and deal with them first.

Bernie tells you that the twentysomethings segment is the most valuable to him. They don’t spend as much as the loyal customers, but to give the business a future, it is vital that he cultivate them and turn them into loyal customers. The loyal customers will, he assumes, remain loyal for some time, so you and Bernie decide to make them second priority. The store clerks are considered a high priority because probably anything you do involves them.

Within the first hour, you have identified the customer segments that are the target for your early solutions.

As we mentioned, when you do this for your own projects, you will find more than four customer segments. However many there are, it will rarely be more than you can discover in the first hour.

Hour 2: Value Propositions

Keep Bernie close to you, as you need to determine value propositions for the highest priority customer segments. You have four of them, so this shouldn’t take long. At your work, you would do everything to include as many of the real customers as resources allow. You could also consult people from the marketing department, along with other people who have an interest in the customers. Product owners and managers, or other people with decision rights, should automatically be part of this activity. Bernie doesn’t have a separate marketing department, but he can answer any marketing questions.

Back in Chapter 1 you read this:

  • As a twentysomething,

  • I receive value when I discover that buying books from Bernie’s is a better experience than buying from wherever I bought them before.

Let’s question Bernie and the customers a little more about this. You must ensure that this proposition is correct; you are basing a lot on it. Let’s say that after some discussion, you, Bernie and other interested parties agree that this is the appropriate value proposition for this segment. The actual customers from the segment agree that this is indeed valuable to them.

You also have the store clerks segment, and after a little consultation, you arrive at this value proposition:

  • As a store clerk selling books

  • I receive value when I can do my selling work so quickly that I can spend more time interacting with the customers

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The store clerks need to be able to process their tasks quickly because they want all the time they can get to talk to the customers. They feel that their greatest contribution comes from being helpful and knowledgeable and encouraging the customers. Bernie tells you that he runs a successful store because customers enjoy buying their books from him, and the clerks contribute a lot to the experience.

At the end of hour two, you have a set of agreed-upon value propositions.

Hour 3: Solving the Right Problem

The value proposition for the twentysomethings segment is about making an enjoyable experience in the bookstore and about persuading them that Bernie’s is the place where they should buy their books. You ask Bernie why he wants to do this. What problem is he trying to solve? He tells you that he wants to increase the number of twentysomethings who buy from him. You negotiate with Bernie for a little while and agree that the problem to solve is this one:

  • How do we attract 200 new twentysomethings each year, each of whom buy five books from Bernie during the year?

The numbers in the problem statement come from Bernie. He has looked at his customer lists and has calculated that if he can attract 200 new young customers a year, it will replenish and grow his customer base. We know the customer segment receives value if they enjoy the experience of buying from Bernie, so any solutions you come up with must have an element of enjoyment in them.

Now that we know the problem we are trying to solve, we must find solutions to both entice twentysomethings to the store and to make the book buying experience enjoyable.

In Chapter 1, we looked at a solution whereby the e-book version of a purchased book could be passed to a twentysomething by a parent or a friend.

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It was a good solution, but it alone won’t solve the problem. You need more.

You and your team ask the question, “How might we solve this problem?” You set about generating as many candidate solutions as you can. Don’t worry too much for the moment whether your candidates are possible, feasible, or affordable; we’ll deal with that in the next hour. Just keep on for a little while exploring the possibilities.

Suppose that after an hour, you have a list of candidates something like the following.

  • Geo-targeted smartphone information on books and things of interest in Bernie’s

  • Social media posts about selected books and events

  • In-store talks and event by authors or other people of interest to the twentysomethings

  • Aggregate social media to find topics of books of interest and send targeted offers to twentysomethings

  • Research and stock the books that are attractive to twentysomethings

  • In-store coffee shop with music favored by twentysomethings

  • Discount vouchers given with purchases in selected nearby stores

  • AI applications to make better predictions about twentysomething’s reading habits and other behavior

  • An effort to make Bernie’s a place where one is likely to meet other interesting twentysomethings

  • A BernieReader app designed around the twentysomething segment

There are probably more, but that will suffice for now.

Hour 4: Safe-to-Fail Probes

This might take a little longer. It’s now noon, so you have lunch sent in for this session. You want to keep going and not lose the momentum of the morning.

You run a series of safe-to-fail probes on your candidate solutions. Each probe determines the feasibility of the solution to ensure that, if developed, it will solve the problem and deliver the required value.

You can run these probes any way you like. We spoke about probes in Chapter 3, “Are You Solving the Right Problem?,” so please revisit if you want more detail.

Probably the easiest and most visual way to probe is to use sketches and storyboards. Do these quickly on whiteboards or flipcharts; there is no need for great art. The point is to be able to display the candidate solution in such a way that everyone sees it, understands it, and can evaluate it.

The sketch should show enough of the solution’s functionality to enable the team to evaluate it. You are probing to see if it works, if it is feasible, and if it is the best way to solve the customer’s problem:

  • Does it solve the problem and deliver the required value?

  • Does it produce the desired outcome?

  • Does it solve the problem in a compelling manner?

  • Is it a good solution? Can it be better?

  • Will its users be able to use it?

  • Will its users want to use it?

  • Can it be upgraded to deliver extra value?

  • Can the solution be developed?

  • What will it cost (approximately) in time and/or money?

  • What cost does Bernie allow to attract a customer, and can this solution be built within that cost?

  • Does it require resources that you do not have?

  • Would it work within the existing operational infrastructure?

  • Do you need extra permissions from elsewhere, either inside or outside the organization?

  • Is the development cost reasonable given the delivered value?

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And so on. You might find that the unique circumstances of your project raise other probing questions.

Two hours have elapsed since you started probing. The pizzas are now a fading memory (except for the people standing around the guy who had the sardine pizza with extra peppers, garlic, and onions).

Some of your candidates are by now crumpled flipchart pages lying discarded in the recycling bins. More join them. Some candidate solutions are by themselves unsuitable, but when combined with others, or parts of others, make excellent solutions.

Each time you find a workable, feasible solution, you confirm with Bernie and the customers: is this solution solving the right problem, and is this in fact the right problem to solve?

  • Is this solving the problem, and is this the right problem to solve?

You also confer with Bernie about business policy. Being a small business, Bernie can answer policy questions quickly. In your own work, the time needed to get policy decisions might slow you down a little. These decisions are typically made several organizational levels above the project team. For our purposes here, let us say that with Bernie on board, there is no delay in getting an answer to policy questions.

At some point, the winning candidate emerges. This is the solution that sparkles. Everyone agrees that it is the best of all possibilities and loves it. Bernie has a surprised but pleased look on his face.

This solution solves the problem, delivers the value, and has a beneficial outcome. This is the solution you want to build.

The Rest of the Day and Some of Tomorrow: Design the Solution

Whatever you build will be used by somebody. Think about that somebody. Think of them as a person with intelligence and responses and instincts pretty much like your own. Think of them as a human. Your purpose in designing their solution is not to awe them with beautiful interfaces and clever animations, but to give them a solution that they will use, find pleasant to use, and want to use.

Let’s turn to forming your solution so that it interacts in the most favorable way with its audience and wider environment. Think about your customer segment and how the people in that segment think. What are they doing when they use your solution? What information do they need, and at what stage of a process do they need it? What functionality is convenient for them? What is inconvenient? You should see the solution through their eyes and form the required functionality into something that makes them better at whatever they are doing.

  • Design isn’t crafting a beautiful textured button with breath-taking animation. It’s figuring out if there’s a way to get rid of the button altogether.”

    —Edward Tufte

This might take a little time. It requires thinking and experimenting and trying ideas.

You spend a few hours sketching and trying out ideas. This is not an endless activity, but you have to give it adequate time. Other stakeholders are part of the action; there is lots of sketching and graphics, lots of whiteboard and flipchart sketches, lots of discussion about wireframes and prototypes, lots of ideas that lead to lots of better ideas.

(Credit: MediaGroup_BestForYou/Shutterstock)

As you work with your team, your solution emerges. It’s like watching the butterfly emerge from the chrysalis. It starts as an unattractive colorless blob hanging from a branch, and through struggle and convolutions, transforms itself to the glorious insect that brings delight to everyone who sees it.

Emerging from this design activity is a description of the product to be built. This description can be in any form—use whatever you find convenient and communicable. You might consider using a story map to record your design—this was described in the previous chapter. You might also consider writing stories. However, at this stage stories might be too fragmented a description, and it is better to stick with broader, higher-level formats, such as sketches and process diagrams, until your design is formed enough to start thinking about construction details.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Was Jack quick? We think so.

First, Jack prioritized. Once the customer segments were identified, Jack and Bernie selected the one that would yield the greatest value. Jack worked on this segment and, for the moment, ignored the others. Although Jack, Jacqueline, and the team generated lots of potential solutions, they quickly narrowed it down to the one that would give them the best results. This prioritization means that they will iterate and go back to pick up the pieces they have left behind. However, by proceeding to develop the piece they have just designed, they deliver a quick, tangible result—the most valuable piece of the complete solution.

This is not necessarily the minimum viable product, but it is a minimal product that will deliver value to Bernie as quickly as possible.

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We have talked about the activities separately for the sake of discussion, but when you do them, they overlap. They are iterative, they are repeating, they are discovery and learning activities. They are not a procession, but activities that flow together. You are jumping from one activity to another so that they produce together, and their results emerge together.

Let’s look at some other aspect of business analysis agility.

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