Balancing Productivity with the Art of living with Presence

“Those who work much do not work hard”, said Thoreau in his journal.  I have read his journal multiple times, each time his observation and endearing wisdom resounding so true but so often forgotten in our sisyphic behavior; and even more chronically failing to put it into practice.

1.     More is not always more

2.     Avoid just hitting back.  Aim for solving problems instead

3.     Stopping accelerates finishing

4.     Delete distractions to reclaim focus

5.     Build systems to maximize brain energy

6.     Manage your time to maximize your attention

women 2.0

“How we spend our days”, Annie Dillard wrote in her meditation, “is, of course, how we spend our lives”.  But how we expend our days, repudiating that ‘busy is a decision’, becomes the source of our un-happiness.  As we drift through our lives, many times in heedless hurry and luxury, the frailty of well-known limited resource (time), and the not so well recognized faculty (attentiveness) never occurs to us.  Do we forget our impermanence?

Seneca (the Roman philosopher), writing in the first century, saw “busyness — that dual demon of distraction and preoccupation — as an addiction that stands in the way of mastering the art of living”.  Nineteen centuries later, Bertrand Russell, lamented rhetorically, “What will be the good of the conquest of leisure and health, if no one remembers how to use them?”

Leisure is not luxury.  Our culture betrays this aspect, which David Steindl-Rast gently addressed: “Leisure… is not the privilege of those who can afford to take time; it is the virtue of those who give to everything they do the time it deserves to take.”  While we continue to flee from the contemporaneous “busyness” with planning, change, and managing relationships; it is worth remembering that it is our own decision(s) robbing us of the vibrancy of aliveness and the joys of real achievement.

The graph below shows the relationship between productivity (GDP per hour worked) and annual working hours.  It is worth noting that the Greeks are some of the most hardworking in the OECD, putting in over 2,000 hours a year on average. Germans, on the other hand, are comparative slackers, working about 1,400 hours each year. But German productivity is about 70% higher.

Productivity

During the 1960s and 1970s, Peg Bracken’s writing reassured women that they did not have to be perfect to have a happy, well-managed home: “There are good reasons for doing some things fast; because life is crowding in hard, and if the things isn’t done fast it won’t be done at all, or because doing it isn’t half so rewarding as doing something else. Therefore, iron fast so you can paint slow.  Shop fast so you can sew slow.  Cook fast so you can spend some time with a child before it disappears into an adult.”

Without discombobulating further on the pathological nature of productive busyness, I dispense it to your “choice” to recognize and explore within self the path to your own personal purposefulness“The content of your character is your choice; Day by day, what you choose; what you think and what you do; is who you become.”  – Heraclitus

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Deriving Benefits from Business Analysis

Across projects, organizations, and industries there are many varying expectations from a Business Analyst.  We will focus here on a Business Analyst straddled between business users and technologists – working to ensure that IT project requirements are correctly defined, prioritized and tested within schedule and budget.

In the past decade there has been a growing appreciation and need for Business Analysts in projects.  But the ecosystem lacks hard data to convince management why and how Business Analyst investments are justified and recovered.  Therefore, going with the premise that Business Analysts primarily influence requirements and related aspects in a project, let us turn to see what does relevant industry IT project data show.

Report

  • The Standish Chaos Report[1] shows that requirements related issues contribute significantly to project impaired factors.
  • 10 – 40% of the features in new software applications are unnecessary or go unused
  • Research by LASSIB Society[2] found that 23% of overall defects in the IT industry are due to improper / lack of exception flow definition in requirements
  • Around 75% of total project re-work costs are consumed on fixing analysis errors (According to Barry Boehm the cost of fixing errors that arise in the analysis phase of a project rises by a factor of 100 if that error is not fixed until implementation)
  • Typically, most projects expend least time and effort on analysis (Staffordshire University estimates the average to be around 10%)

This clearly demonstrates that majority projects spend least time and effort where just not most errors but the most expensive errors originate.  Let us examine in a little more detail the top three causes where a Business Analyst plays a critical role:

  • Incomplete requirements: Business Analysts ensure that requirements are fit for purpose and so mitigate risk of incomplete requirements trickling down the project phases.
  • Lack of user involvement: With good facilitation skills, Business Analysts can bring in all stakeholders on the same page; and this is not just more important but also an almost continuous process across phases in an AGILE environment.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Multiple stakeholders, varying objectives along with cost and time pressures lead to many unrealistic expectations in the project. Business Analysts play a critical role in ensuring that project / program objectives are met.  I have also worked with senior Business Analysts who kept themselves abreast of market / industry developments and brought in valuable inputs to maintain application portfolio integrity, competitiveness and a good sense of business requirement prioritization.

I have struggled, without much success, to obtain reliable data to quantify benefits of Business Analysts in IT projects.  Apart from the Standish Chaos Report discussed earlier, there are some good lead indicators available that point towards problems in projects which need a strong Business Analysis activity for correction:

  • There is a lot of work churning– with little results
  • Arguments between client and partners as to who is going to pay for all the rework
  • Rework is becoming frequent
  • Requirement meetings produce solution ideas instead of requirements
  • Requirements are accepted primarily on technical merit by the IT team
  • Disagreement on scope during testing
  • Inability to report on whether a feature or function was implemented

Conclusion

Lack of readily available data should not be a reason to not invest in building Business Analysis skills.  Quality (especially defects related to requirements) and Productivity improvements (Engineering and Financial) are easily concluded from the above discussion.  Scale of improvement will vary and depend on current maturity and robustness of implementation.  I have not touched on softer benefits such as morale, satisfaction, and career opportunities that this program will further create.

Can you do the Maths now?

[1] https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/white-papers/chaos-report.pdf

[2] https://lassibsociety.org/

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My Reading List for 2015

  1. The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew by Alan Lightman
  2. The Journal, 1837 – 1861 by Henry David Thoreau
  3. A Guide for the Perplexed by Werner Herzog
  4. Extraordinary Popular Delusions by Charles Mackay
  5. Young Archimedes and Other Stories by Aldous Huxley
  6. Timaeus by Plato
  7. But We Were Born Free by Elmer Holmes Davis
  8. Prometheus Unbound by Percy Bysshe Shelley
  9. Incidents in the life of a slave girl written by herself by Harriet Ann Jacobs
  10. You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life by Eleanor Roosevelt
  11. A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf
  12. On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
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My 10 points on successful process design and implementation

A. Identify Issues & Set the Context

  1. Start by learning from key stakeholders where the biggest challenges or pain points are
  2. Do not work with management that makes only a half – hearted attempt to implement processes… this could be worse than not having a defined process at all

B. Enable People & Teams

  1. Take fear away.  People involved in implementing real improvements should have organization guarantee that they will not be laid off if they make themselves redundant in the team.  If employees have fear of being moved to “bench” / “beach” and then shown the way out if a new project does not come by, then they will never be able to give their 100%
  2. Trainings.  Technical skills are complementary and important for overall excellence. Invest in upgrading skills so that people can add value in small teams. Take training out of initial classroom sessions and into the real world.  Better still take them out to work for a short stint at any NGO.  There are infinite possibilities to provide better food, better homes, and better living out in the world.  A short and successful stint here has a much higher feel good factor and positive media coverage both for the employee and the employer

C. Design & Implement

  1. Eliminate Waste and Simplify.  Train your senses to spot Muda or waste – excess inventory, excess bench, rework, etc.
  2. Remove all buffers that allows management and teams to make errors or be inefficient in the early stages of any activity
  3. Look ahead to plan on how to use additional data / information that will be available
  4. Automate
  5. Ensure cultural change needed for successful implementation is facilitated

D. Monitor & Improve

  1. Do not confuse motion for accomplishment
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Crossing the Healthcare Chasm (1)

Healthcare in India sits atop tectonic shifts, and some of the changing paradigms will re-shape this sector faster and in more ways than envisioned by any common person or consumer of healthcare.  Depending on one’s viewpoint, Indian Healthcare statistics show a large “potential” or “gap” that has not been met through government funding and policies.  Its strength and challenges lie in its defragmented nature and large parts of it flourish in an unorganized framework.

For all emerging economies – “today’s technology”, “Grass-root enablement” and “NGO participation” represent an inflection point – not just for technology adoption in healthcare, but Healthcare itself.  There is precious opportunity now to re-shape the outcomes and define the roadmap we would want Healthcare industry in to take.

Mobilitas is working through “Mobile First” principles to create an inclusive framework that will enable three strategic outcomes – (1) Accessible, (2) Affordable, and (3) Quality Healthcare for rural, rural pockets in urban, and urban population.  The work is currently being carried out two levels – (a) A combination of frameworks that will allow alignment to various national programs and stakeholders and (b) technology platform that will successfully integrate the frameworks and enable achievement of strategic outcome goals.

One such framework strives to integrate grass-root services achieved through NGO’s, Common Service Center’s, and Public Health Center’s.   It stands on a triad of: (1) Attitude and Awareness toward outline the task and general environment of the services; (2) Methods that describe the activities needed to deliver the services; and (3) the Skills and Capabilities of the system in broad terms.  This, as Peter Senge defined it, should enable a framework of enduring change.

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