Welcome to Issue #037 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
✍️ Insights: Lessons about thinking about the long-term from two contrasting female-led organisations.
🤔 Made me think: If your future self was looking out for your present self.
👨💻 Worth checking out: Chinese Restaurants Are Closing. That’s a Good Thing, the Owners Say.
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Each Thursday, I write about business analysis, demystify it, and explain how it can help you in your projects. You can find out more about this newsletter and about my 20+ years in business analysis here.
Lessons about thinking about the long-term from two contrasting female-led organisations.
Her succinct answer blew my mind and left me speechless. It was an answer that I hadn’t expected at all. An attitude to what she needed to achieve that highlighted how little I knew.
Different time horizons, different outcomes
A few years ago, I explored if I could and should use my business analyst skills in the charitable sector. With my love of cooking and eating out, one area of particular interest was my local food bank who did its best to serve those in the community who couldn’t even afford the basics. Whilst I was more than happy to help in the warehouse or in distributing the food packages to their clients, the founder of the charity wanted to put my consulting and Salesforce skills to better use.
So, in a 1:1 workshop to help refresh their strategy I asked the innocuous question of what Denise, the co-founder, saw as her vision for her charity. Those of you who use Salesforce will recognise this as the first part of writing a V2MOM for organisational alignment. It’s their acronym for: Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, and Measures.
Her response: “My vision is for this food bank to longer exist.”
At first, I thought that I had misheard or perhaps she had misunderstood my question. If the food bank didn’t exist, then all the people that she and her team were helping would be left hungry - adrift to fend for themselves. I had imagined her answer would range from expanding to more sites, raising more funds more quickly, to helping more people.
Denise saw the confusion on my face. Gently explaining, she wanted society to have changed so that no-one would go hungry and, therefore, her food bank would no longer need to exist.
Now contrast that with Shiraume, a ryokan in Kyoto that dates back to the 1600, that I stayed in whilst on my honeymoon.
Originally built as an ochaya (where geiko and maiko lived whilst they studied and worked), it has been in the same family for generations. Handed down from mother to daughter, the current owner (Tomoko-san) is the 7th generation of women to own and run this piece of history.
She was full of stories which included her time as a Japan Airlines flight attendant working the 1st Class cabin. Though, I found it fascinating how she eventually fulfilled her filial duty and took over the ryokan from her mother. As well as her deep sense of responsibility not just to “caretake” it during her generation but to ensure that it was set up to continue for generations of daughters to come.
In particular, I was impressed by how well she had trained and drilled her all-female staff in how hospitality should be done and how service should be run. It’s at such a high level that for a 3-star rated property, it out-shone some of the ostensibly 5-star hotels I’ve stayed at.
The criticality of documenting and diagramming
For both Denise and Tomoko-san, even though they were working to different end-states across different time horizons, they were both passionate yet precise about how they went about achieving their outcomes.
Both provide useful lessons, as business analysts (BA), on how to succeed in our own outcomes.
I do get it. As a BA, it’s more fun delivering change then documenting & diagramming it. You get the dopamine hit when you nail a requirement during a playback session with the client or when they appreciate you for fixing a gnarly long-standing issue they’ve been living with. Not to mention, there’s a sense of achievement of delivering what’s needed at pace and being praised for keeping up with their demands.
But that’s short-term thinking.
From Tomoko-san, I learnt about the importance of thinking of the long-term. Whether that’s a future me revisiting what I’m doing today, someone in IT support who will be looking after what I’ve implemented, or a someone like me who will be replacing/upgrading what I’ve delivered X years from now.
And whilst my delivery of a software project is unlikely to have an inter-generational lifespan, all those people above involved in it will be better if they aren’t guessing what I’ve done and why I’ve done what I’ve done in its implementation.
I’m not ashamed to say that I’m almost militant about documentation and diagramming what I do. Even if it might incur short-term pain, if I’m advised not to do it, or if it’s simply ignored by the client. For me, it’s an intrinsic part of being a professional in what I do.
That includes from writing up my approach, which helps refine my thinking and reveals logic gaps, to ensuring that when I create a new field, that there is always a clear description and help text. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve landed on a client project and been utterly frustrated that there’s no information about what similar fields do or what will break if I change it or delete it. Don’t be that person that just adds stuff with explaining it.
From Denise, I learnt that whilst a workaround (like her food bank) is meant to be temporary, they tend to stick around for a lot longer than you want to or believe that they can.
We’ve all encountered that one mysterious and mystical Excel workbook that is critical to a key business process. The same workbook that was only meant to be around for a few months but, years later, is still there. And using it is like doing the rain dance. If you enter everything just so, hope that the stars have aligned, then it’ll output what you need to continue.
If it doesn’t, then you pray that there’s someone who may know what to do - even if that knowledge has been twisted as it’s been passed down through word of mouth as people come and go.
So, I would argue that there’s a stronger need for documenting and diagramming workarounds than less. You might think that because it’s throwaway that you could get away with doing this as a light-touch or not at all. However, workarounds unfortunately have this habit of becoming a permanent fixture as they get deprioritised from future delivery (or conveniently forgotten about).
Look at what you’re working on. Think about who will be using, managing, supporting the change that you’re doing. Act accordingly and be the better BA for them, not just for yourself.
🤔 Made me think
If your future self was looking out for your present self.
If I had a TARDIS (see this explanation if you’re not familiar with the long-running British sci-fi TV series - Doctor Who), I think that there would be far more interesting places to visit that my past self.
That said, this cartoon did make me chuckle as, over the years, I’ve had to learn to block out time in my diary at the end of each day to go through my notes and type up all my outstanding tasks.
Especially on a Friday so that on Monday I’m not staring at my cryptic scribbles and wondering what the frak it means.
🧑💻Worth checking out
🔗 Chinese Restaurants Are Closing. That’s a Good Thing, the Owners Say. | New York Times
“It’s a success that these restaurants are closing,” said Jennifer Lee, a former New York Times journalist who wrote of the rise of Chinese restaurants in her book “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” and produced a documentary, “The Search for General Tso.” “These people came to cook so their children wouldn’t have to, and now their children don’t have to.”
As the son of a restauranteur, neither my brother nor I were expected to take over the family business. I went into IT consulting whilst my brother is now a paediatrics consultant (a senior hospital-based physician).
Leaving aside my poor command of Cantonese, I do wonder how different my life would be if I had succeeded my father and continued with the three restaurants he built up. Like how the institution that is Nom Wah Tea Parlour in New York has been running for 100+ years now. Opened in the 1920s by the Choy family, it’s now owned and run by one of their nephews in the Tang family.
Now that my father has retired, it does make me think that, perhaps, I should somehow document my father’s cooking knowledge that he’s built up over decades.
You can read the full article on the NY Times or on The Wayback Machine.
🖖Until next Thursday ...
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For now, thank you so much for reading this week's issue of The Forcing Function and I hope that you have a great day.
PS: Thanks to P for reading drafts for me.
> Now that my father has retired, it does make me think that, perhaps, I should somehow document my father’s cooking knowledge that he’s built up over decades.
With your "militant" documentation skills and timeless cooking knowledge? That's a powerful combination. Absolutely, go for it! I'm sure it'd be amazing.