My favorite subject
Long ago I met a woman in a bar. True story. So far. She told me that she worked on a stud farm and that her job was to help horses mate. Still a true story.
I was excited to be talking to a woman in a bar about my favorite subject – horses – so I asked her to elaborate. She explained that among her duties was guiding the stallion into the mare. Still a true story.
You can imagine the double entendres that crossed my mind. I even came up with a few triple entendres. But I was good.
Instead I exclaimed, “Oh, you’re a business analyst!”*
Let me explain
“…project managers are responsible for delivering the solution to a problem. Business analysts are responsible for discovering the problem and determining the solution.”
By this definition, the business analyst is responsible for the conception of the product or service, and the project manager is responsible for giving birth to the product or service.
Analogies can be misleading
“You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”
I love a good analogy (and some bad ones, as I’ve illustrated on this site) but acknowledge that they have their weaknesses. They are great at illustrating the similarities between something unfamiliar and something familiar, but sometimes they can cause the observer to gloss over important differences.
As much as analogies can be drawn between product creation and procreation, the analogy is far from perfect.
I only have one child, but my recollection is that conception, gestation and birth are an emphatically linear set of processes. In truth, very few product creations need to be.
Design Thinking is a rethink of the relationship between the business analyst and project manager. Whereas the typical process has the business analyst throw their work “over the wall” to the project manager, Design Thinking calls for an iterative approach.
With this approach, the business analyst would be responsible for developing a meaningful, but incomplete definition of the problem and solution, and the project manager would be responsible for producing a meaningful, but incomplete demonstration of that product or service. This prototype product or service allows the business analyst to work with the users to develop a more detailed definition, and the cycle repeats.
I’ve been involved in projects that went straight to project management without business analysis. A decision was made, sometimes without a great deal of consultation with the users, to set up or adopt a new service.
This can work well if the project is well understood, but if there is uncertainty in terms of what is needed and what can be achieved, the end result can feel foisted on the users at the expense of goodwill and authority.
Project managers are in the certainty business. They plan the work to be done, determine who is responsible for what and determine the costs and duration. They provide a vital function. A project unplanned with inevitably take more time and money than necessary.
What Design Thinking reminds the project manager to embrace the uncertainty of what can be done and what is desired. Instead of planning a project to produce the final result, they are encouraged to plan intermediary projects that themselves are straightforward and easy to plan.
Design Thinking doesn’t eliminate the need for project managers. Project planning still matters, but instead of planning A-Z we now plan A-B, then B-C, etc.
We wouldn’t build one floor of a building, see how it goes, then plan the next floor. But we can produce prototypes – drawings, models, virtual reality walk-throughs etc to ensure that the building produced meets the users’ needs. The value of these intermediary projects is to stamp out the uncertainty that causes projects to fail.
Photo by Thibault Carron on Unsplash
*I made this part up to illustrate the point.