Welcome to Issue #043 of The Forcing Function - your guide to delivering the right outcomes for your projects and your users.
✍️ Insights: How a technique for dealing with misinformation helps us “trust, but verify” with our stakeholders.
🤔 Made me think: The BS Asymmetry Principle.
👨💻 Worth checking out: Trust is Earned.
How a technique for dealing with misinformation helps us “trust, but verify” with our stakeholders.
Watching my tailor’s brow furrow deeper and deeper as took my body measurements for the first time was, admittedly, a little unnerving.
You know that sinking feeling when you get a builder around to do some work and they tut. Or when the plumber whistles at the amount of damage from a water leak when they come to quote for the work. And you’re left thinking how bad it might be and how much is it going to cost.
When my tailor was done, he turned to me and said: “you’ve got an oversized neck”.
As verdicts on my body shape go, I’ve heard much worse than that so I inwardly sighed in relief. He went on to explain that was why all the shirts I bought off-the-peg were either going to be like a tent on me if they fitted my neck. Or, if the shirt was a good fit on my body, it was going to suffocate me if I tried to do up the collar.
Perhaps, it was part of his sales patter to convince me that I should order a made-to-measure shirt from him. Perhaps it was true as it did sound like a logical explanation. Either way, years on, I ended up having all my shirts made by him.
That is until the pandemic killed his business.
Since then, I’ve been putting off finding a someone to replace him. But, as do need new shirts, I’ve finally had to stop procrastinating. ut where to start, who to choose, and how to minimise the risk of spending a lot of money on shirts that I don’t like and won’t want to wear?
More importantly, what does my sartorial dilemma have to do with business analysis?
What combating disinformation teaches us
In last week’s issue (#042), I wrote about my lesson learnt from a painful playback session because I took what my stakeholders told me at face value. I concluded with the adage, “trust, but verify”, as my approach to this dilemma of needing to work collaboratively with them whilst not being completely cynical about them.
This issue expands on that adage by taking inspiration from an unlikely source - how librarians combat disinformation.
In particular, the CRAAP test. This was invented by Sarah Blakeslee as a model for evaluating information and to establish the trustworthiness of a source. As you may have already guessed, CRAAP is an acronym that covers the 5 criteria for evaluating a given source:
Currency: The timeliness of the information being provided.
When was it last updated / validated?
Is there a more up to date version available elsewhere?
Relevance: The applicability of the information being provided.
Does the information move the needle on what I’m looking for?
Is the information central to what I need or is background / tangential?
Authority: The source of the information being provided.
Is the information being given first-hand or is it being passed on second-hand?
What relevant experience and expertise gives the information credibility?
Accuracy: The reliability of the information being provided.
What’s factual and what’s an opinion?
What evidence is used, and can it be verified with another source?
Purpose: The objective of why the information is being provided.
Who is the intended audience and why?
What’s the explicit and implicit agenda?
I find that this test is a helpful mnemonic to remind myself of what to ask when evaluating information.
As BAs on a project, those information sources aren’t just the stakeholders we elicit requirements from and work with to refine into user stories. Over the course of my career, they have ranged from dusty paper documents in file boxes, to photographs of server rooms, through to previous project documentation. In one notable example, it was reading draft parliamentary bills.
And just like any technique I use, I’m not dogmatic about applying it in full every time. As an initial pass, I’ll typically look at the relevance, the purpose, and the authority criteria. Then, if needed, I’ll look at the currency and accuracy afterwards.
My goal is to identify which information sources are right for the project, which aren’t, and which need to be relied on with caution. Then, I can direct my time / effort accordingly to develop those sources that matter. Ignoring or mitigating those that don’t - even they might think they do.
Finding a new shirtmaker
Returning to my sartorial dilemma: over the past few weeks I’ve been working my way through my shortlist of tailors to check out. Finding one that I want to work with is not as straightforward as it may see. The key is whether you can have a good relationship with them; otherwise, it can be an expensive, time consuming, and unpleasant mistake if you choose the wrong one.
In meeting each tailor, the CRAAP test was a useful model that helped me evaluate them. It highlighted the red flags as well as the green flags in a systematic way. And, I could then combine that with my gut check to understand why the tailor felt right or wrong for me.
For example, Tailor A failed the Relevance criterion because it turned out that they only did made-to-measure shirts, and their pre-defined pattern didn’t fit my body shape. Tailor B, on the other hand, did pass the Authority criterion as he had plied his trade with well-known tailors and was now a co-owner. But, he failed the Purpose criterion as he was more interested in what he could sell me and seem uninterested in what I wanted.
For the tailor I chose last week, it was because he answered well across all five criteria. In particular:
Relevance: Not only could he make me a bespoke shirt but he also showed me examples of styles I was interested in as well as directing me away from the ones he felt didn’t fit my style or how I wanted to wear the shirt.
Authority: He asked all the questions I expected him to ask of me, including if the watch I was wearing was typical so that he could size the cuff correctly, and then some.
Purpose: Waiting whilst he dealt with an elderly couple who were there before me, it was notable how much time and attention he gave them. Even with their repeated questions as first time customers. It was less about him making the first sale from them and more about him developing his relationship with them for the long-term.
So I’ve ordered my sample shirt and in 6 weeks or so, I’ll see just how close this first fitting is to my final pattern. Not to mention how our tailor-customer relationship develops over time. Or, if this will be an expensive lesson learnt and I’ll be back out there looking for another tailor.
Like all techniques, the CRAAP method is not a silver bullet for getting a foolproof evaluation what we’re told. It’s just one of several tools that you can use to “trust, but verify.” But, although it may be fallible, it’s still useful to bear in mind - if only to remind yourself to question what you’re told. Like any BA worth their salt.
🤔 Made me think
The BS Asymmetry Principle.
Whilst most stakeholders I’ve worked with do have good intentions, there are a notable few who have deliberately sowed disinformation and actively worked against me to get their way.
Being collaborative in a “trust, but verify” approach is a highly frustrating experience with such personalities. The amount of effort you, as a BA, must expend to get them onside with the rest of the stakeholders is exponential. Whilst, for them, it’s almost effortless to spread their unsubstantiated beliefs and claims.
It reminds me of the adage goes: “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”
🧑💻 Worth checking out
🔗 Trust is Earned | BBC
Whilst the BBC isn’t perfect and does make mistakes, I still believe that it tries to do its best. As this powerful and punchy ident shows; providing a glimpse into what their journalists do behind the scenes.
Their message, “if you know how it’s made, you can trust what it says”, applies just as much as to their work as it does to our work as business analyst.
And, if you’re interested, you can read more the ident’s main character - their editorial guidelines - here.
🗒️ And on a personal note
After a continual run of 43 weeks, I will be taking a few weeks off and you can expect my next issue in the latter half of June.
Admittedly, there’s part of me that wants me to keep pushing to do the next 9 issues so that I can say that I’ve got an unbroken full year of publishing. But, as seductive that “goal” is, I’ve realised that it’s a completely arbitrary short-term goal that doesn’t mean much in the long-term.
So, I’m going to enjoy having break before using this pause to review my newsletter writing process, to work on simplifying it and streamlining it, and to reconnect to why I started writing in the first place.
I’ll leave you with this thought-provoking issue by Alvin on "why you should consider a life without goals”.
🖖 Until a few Thursdays from now ...
If you enjoyed this newsletter, let me know with the ♥️ button or add your thoughts and questions in the comments. I read every message.
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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.
Thanks for the shout out, Sam!
I liked the reminder that the CRAAP method, like so many tools, isn't a silver bullet. I also like to combine data, evidence, and gut feel to make decisions - the latter of which is so underrated in a modern society obsessed with analytics.
Enjoy your break! That's another terrific reminder for me to step back at some point and evaluate how I want to evolve my own newsletter.