Category Archives: Academic

A meme on modelling

Craig Brown of Better Projects has launched a modelling meme for BAs and PMs.

He asks us to 

Recall the first and last analysis model you used at work. 

An interesting question for a BA.  

My first diagrams were probably Wide Area Networking diagrams from back in the day. Admittedly my job title wasn’t “Business Analyst” but it was still all about balancing requirements, technology and budget.  

For a while after that they’d have been web page designs, and then the branch and workarea diagrams for Interwoven TeamSite installations.  Since then I’ve done every sort of process diagram, dataflow diagrams and influence diagrams, soft systems diagrams and of course a shed-load of UML.  

It’s been a while since I’ve done any modelling at work though I was messing around with Visio and a process flow today.

My two most recent models haven’t been done on my employer’s time.  One is a model of investigative questions, and directly relates to The Business Analyst’s Guide to Questions, which is a series of posts I am publishing over the next few months.  

 

Question grid based on Kipling's honest serving men

Question grid based on Kipling's honest serving men

The other hasn’t been drawn yet, but will plot quantative research vs qualitative research in a 2×2.  This is something I’m thinking about as a result of my MSc.  These two research methodologies are normally  considered to be opposing poles of the same scale, but I wonder if there’s something useful to uncover if we model them as two different dimensions which sit at right angles to each other.   Surely collecting statistics about how pople feel is BOTH quantative and qualitative and sits out there in the middle of a 2×2.  I’ve not done the analysis yet, so we shall see.

Buddy, can you spare some time?

The husband of an on-line friend of mine is doing a PhD, part of which involves the relationship between software and the law.   What goes around comes around, so I’m asking any software-type people to drop by his blog to read all about it and to give the 10 minutes it takes to fill in the survey.

Here is an extract from Tom’s blog about his research:

Legal systems have evolved over centuries to codify rights and obligations in societies. Throughout history law and technology have interacted, modifying each other along the way.  It is often an uneasy relationship…

I want to ask as many software people as possible about what they understand of the law that can impact software, and what their attitudes are towards a couple of legal concepts in a software context.

It is designed to gather information about the knowledge, education and attitude of software developers towards the law related to software, and how law is or isn’t built into software. My goal is not to just have a small survey of a couple of hundred developers, but to really survey lots of them.

To do this, I want to tap as many of my readers  as I can to spread the news of the survey, and for as many of you to take the survey as possible. The more answers I can get from around the world, the richer the results will be. I will also be following up with telephone interviews with a much smaller sample group.

In this survey I have used the term software developer rather broadly. I define this to be anyone working professionally to design, build or maintain software (information technology). So if you are a product manager, solution manager, implementation consultant, systems architect, business analyst, or a systems tester, for instance, then we would be just as interested in your responses. The survey isn’t just aimed at those who code, but those who make a living from its construction and maintenance. Much of this group would fall under that definition. The Germans have a rather nice term,informatiker, but it doesn’t really translate very well.

Those links again:   Blog and survey.  Go on… you know you want to.

The Question Is…

Tony Robbins has a slick one-liner in one of his self-help books.  He says:

Questions are the answer.

For a Business Analyst that is certainly true.

It’s true for academics too, in a different way.  I’m currently taking a Research Methods course as part of my MSc at Bristol, and am having to think about questions and answers in a whole new way.  I’m having to think of them as the set-up for a piece of research, and the research has to be doable.

Now I thought I was reasonably clear on what I want to do for my dissertation.  Something along the lines of “What mitigates for success or failure of a corporate Knowledge Base, and is it worth the time and effort?”  – Get that use “mitigates” eh?

But of course, when you start picking that over you start finding that it’s as full of holes as a crunchie:  what do you mean by “success” and “failure” in this context?  What is a corporate Knowledge Base anyway, and what things aren’t corporate knowledge bases?  How do you measure what’s “worth it?”

My usual standbys don’t work in this context.  If I put this question to a team in a workshop I’d ask them “what does good look like?” and

And the question is…

Tony Robbins has a slick one-liner in one of his self-help books.  He says:

Questions are the answer.

For a Business Analyst that is certainly true.  We are members of a profession like law and journalism, where success is built on asking the right questions, in the right way, at the right time.  I’ve spent most of my professional life consciously trying to improve my ability to ask questions.

I’m discovering just how important this is in academia too.  I’m doing a Research Methods course as part of my MSc at Bristol and I have to think about questions and answers in a whole new way: I must think of them as the set-up for a piece of research, and the research has to be doable.  

Now I thought I was reasonably clear on what I want to do for my dissertation.  Something along the lines of “What mitigates for success or failure of a corporate Knowledge Base, and is it worth the time and effort?”  -Sounds nice and crisp and – hey – how cool is that use of “mitigates” eh?  

But when you pick it over, you find it’s as full of holes as a crunchie.  Let’s define a few paramaters here: what do I mean by “success” and “failure”?  And scope: what is a corporate Knowledge Base anyway, and what things aren’t corporate knowledge bases?  And metrics, let’s define some metrics: how do you measure what’s “worth it” and what isn’t?   

My usual stand-bys don’t work in this context.  If I was running a workshop and put this question to the team, I’d supplement it with “what does good look like?” and “what do you mean by… success / failure / corporate knowledge base” etc, etc, and put the answers up on the whiteboard.

Maybe what I’m learning is that it’s much harder to answer questions than to ask them.

Queuing theory and the Traffic-Jam Oratorio

I have in my time got very annoyed with Post-Modernists the main reason being that I’ve found them to be slippery, self-indulgent, intellectually-dishonest solipsists.  Oh, and lazy.  Add “intellectually lazy” to that list.  And while I’m tacking ideas on to the end of this paragraph, I should admit I had to ask and be told that solipsism means narcisitic or self-centred.  So narcisstic and self-centered while we’re at it.

What has brought this on is the two day course on Research Methods I’ve just come back from which is preparation for writing my dissertation.  And of course Management Studies is particularly prone to wars between the quants on one end of the scale and the slippery, self-indulgent, yadda-de-yah post-modernists on the other end of the scale.  Which is a human construct anyway.  

And enormous fun the whole weekend was too.  

Since there’s almost nothing quotable from Wikipedia’s article on post-modernism let me give you my own definition by summarising it as the idea that there is no reality, everything is a human construct, we are independent actors with free-will and, since all research is subject to researcher-bias, writing a tone poem about the credit crunch has as much meaning and more honesty than tracking the FTSE 100.  I had the following limerick rattling about my head the whole weekend:

There was a faith-healer from Deal
Who said: “Although pain isn’t real
If I sit on a pin
And if punctures my skin
I dislike what I fancy I feel”. 

I’ve come back with my head fizzing with ideas but I’ll leave you with this one for the time being.

It comes down to intent.

 Why are you doing the research you are doing?  What do you want it to achieve?  (A post-modernist would say “but why do you want it to achieve anything?” at which point their cleverness runs up against my premises and the whole thing falls apart in hyperventilation and swearing).

If you want to examine the phonomenon of rush hour traffic jams you can do it in a variety of ways.  

If you take the view that the only reality is subjective experience and we are all free agents whose opinions have equal validity you can interview people to find out how they feel about traffic jams.  Or get them to draw pictures or sing songs about it.  You can create a traffic-jam oratorio of “found sounds”, or a traffic-jam sculpture out of traffic and – er – jam.  (It seems to me that the line between post-modernist “research” and conceptual art is non-existant).  You can make a film of what people do in their cars in a traffic jam or get them to film and record their own experiences.  Whatever.  It’s all valid and all research.   Etc, etc, etc.  And it is.  It IS all valid research.  It’s interesting and thought provoking and rich and informative.  But it doesn’t solve the problem.

The thing is, it’s not a particularly difficult problem to solve: you model the traffic-jam mathematically using queueing theory and then adjust the cycle on the traffic lights or alter the speed limit and get rid of the traffic jam.

Vodpod videos no longer available. 

The thing is, while I’d love to be sitting in a car listening to a traffic-jam oratorio of “found sounds” on Radio 3, I also want my town planners to be doing the maths so I don’t have to.

Corporate Culture – more than just yoghurt

The Character of a Corporation

I’m sifting through books I’ve bought for my MSc, sorting the ones I’ll keep from the ones I’ll resell on Amazon.  One of the keepers was part of my Change Management module, and is a book by Goffee and Jones and called The Character of a Corporation.

It’s about the glue that holds teams together – is it friendship, or is it vision?  Goffee and Jones consider it’s a combination of both.  For some teams, departments and even companies what holds them together is sociability: friendship, chit-chat, and helping out because you know and like the person who asked and they’ve helped you out in the past.  Other teams, departments, companies are glued together by a shared focus on goals and objectives, on hitting deadlines and targets, on getting the job done.  Goffee and Jones call this solidarity.

I’ve worked on every kind of team they mention, on “Networked” teams, “Mercenary” ones, a couple of “Communal” ones and the odd “Fragmented” team that isn’t really a team at all, so the book was full of “ahah” moments from start to finish.   It explained how some of my previous bosses thought, not to mention the odd colleague.  The very odd colleague, in some cases.

It’s got a good academic pedigree, but it’s an easy read.  What more could a girlie-swot want from a book?  Definitely a keeper.