Efficiency is not enough

Here I am, leaving the Building Business Capability Conference in Las Vegas last November. I walk out of the back door of Caesar’s Palace and can’t believe my luck – there is a cab unloading. No line. I jump right in.

I ask to be taken to the airport, which seems like a simple request.

Let’s look at how the dialog unfolds:

Cab driver: “Which way do you want to go?”

Me: “The most efficient way.” (I have no idea what ways there are and, being on my way home from a business analysis conference, efficiency reigns!)

Cab driver (strangely not satisfied): “The street is the cheapest. The highway is the fastest.”

Me (brief pause as I picture gridlock on the street): “Highway.”

(Then I watch anxiously as the cab fare mounts up, and I see what he means. The highway is quite a bit more expensive, but I get to the airport quickly.)

A lot of times when we are mapping out our business objectives for our projects, we define a business need exactly like this. We want to be “more efficient.”

This seems like a laudable goal, one that everyone should understand. But I challenge you to consider whether you really know enough.

  • Are you interested in saving money, saving time, or both? Sometimes we can have it all. Sometimes we can’t.
  • Sometimes the fastest way actually takes more resources or costs more money. Sometimes it doesn’t.
  • Sometimes the slower way is less error-prone. Sometimes it’s not, because work items are more likely to get lost in the shuffle.

Until we map out our solution options (step 3 of the business analysis process) we won’t know what the trade-offs are for a project.

We need to understand our business objectives in concrete terms, so we can choose the solution option that makes the most sense for our goals.

It takes leadership to press your higher level stakeholders to lay out what they really want, because, like me getting in that cab, they may not even consider how they would choose, until you present the options to them.

That’s our work as business analysts and its work that makes our organizations better each and every day.

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