How to really succeed with anything
Start with one normal guy
The title of this article is taken from the title of a book by Ben Hunt-Davis and Harriet Beverige which describes “Olympic winning strategies for everyday success”. At the start of the book we read, “Ben Hunt Davis is a normal guy. He is also a Olympic gold medallist. How did he succeed?”
Build a team
The philosophy, approach and practices described have a lot of relevance to the work of the business analyst; they have considerable relevance to the analyst trying to work in a more agile fashion.
The book is about :
- a team and the individuals that comprise that team
- the concern and sense of responsibility for their own outstanding performance and for the overall outstanding performance of the team
- It is about a winning team
- It is also dedicated to the team’s coach
The book is fairly short and well worth reading. In fact, why not get a copy for every member of your team ?
Learn to pivot
A consistent theme of the book concerns asking, for everything that the team do, “Will it make the boat go faster ?”
In other words, will it help us to achieve what we want to achieve ?
If not, change that thing – or jettison it.
And this really must be applied to everything :
- Your goals
- The process you follow
- The variables of that process
- Relationships with colleagues and others
Winners make goals and goals make winners
At the start of the book, Ben points out the importance to his rowing team of being really clear on what they wanted to achieve. He likens goals to magnets – magnets that pull you forward. Studies have shown that people who set goals are more likely to achieve what they want.
In the team setting, identifying goals makes it clear where the team is heading. It also makes clear if there are conflicts between the goals of individual team members. The team needs to know that everyone shares the same vision at the outset, even if that team vision changes in the light of experience.
Ben stresses the importance of making everything open and transparent. This is achieved to a large extent with continual team discussions and reviews. Every goal must be individually important to each team member, perhaps for different reasons in each case. It’s about asking, “What’s in it for me?” and liking the answer. And every team member should understand how the goal will make the boat go faster ; “What’s in it for the team ?”
Extreme goal setting
Ben recommends setting a hierarchy of goals, starting with the “crazy goals”.
Crazy goals are those great ambitions that you might never achieve but which nevertheless provide you with a stimulating vision and a basis for creating a road map to get to where you want to be. Crazy goals are the big things. They are exciting and perhaps a bit daunting. Achieving them probably forces us out of our comfort zones. They are what leads certain teams to excel.
On the negative side, they might also be those things that make us doubt our competence when the road seems long and the going gets tough.
For high performing teams, crazy goals are more than a dream. They are not the equivalent of Harry Potter gazing into the Mirror of Erised and dreaming about things without taking action – those sort of dreams will never be achieved.
Realism and focus
How do you measure up ?
Below the crazy goals we have concrete “measurable goals”.
If you can’t measure them, how will you know if and when you have achieved them ? Ben says that this is like running in a race with no finishing line.
I once worked on a project where I headed up the IT group. The overall project was led by a senior marketing manager. When I asked about the goals for the project, I was treated to a withering look and the response “We will know when we get there”. In other words, “I’ve got no idea what the goals are – I’ve got no idea why we are doing this project or why the bank is funding it”; not a great start for benefits management and realisation.
Know your limits
Ben also distinguishes between those goals that are within your control to achieve and those goals that are outside your control ; this is a critically important distinction if you are to avoid frustration.
For those goals that are outside your control, it may be worth determining whose control they fall under ; perhaps a business analyst can use their influencing skills to achieve change.
Start at the bottom
Finally, Ben suggests that we should have “every day goals”; these provide the detailed, measurable, steps for getting to where we want to be. They are at the bottom of the hierarchy but without them you’re going nowhere.
Know why and know how
As well as understanding the value of setting goals, the effective business analyst will know how to identify and formulate goals ; this may involve using one of the many techniques that exist for modelling goals.
It is always worth while challenging your own goals. Consider them and ask yourself, “Is this really and truly what I and the team want or need to achieve ?”
Having set their goals, the Olympic rowing team determined strategies for achieving them.
In the rowing team’s case, the strategies included belief in oneself and the team and developing a can-do attitude.
The set of strategies also included, ‘making the journey enjoyable’ ; this is typically a valuable feature of agile approaches.
Ben also points out that you need to know the difference between when it’s time to relax and when it’s time to really focus and get the job done.
Other strategies concerned :
- Creating milestones and rewarding yourself when you achieve them
- Making yourself hungry for success
- Doing things in short bursts or ‘sprints’.
In total, Ben identified eight strategies to fold into the working life of the team.
It was important that all team behaviours were developed by the team. The behaviours were supported by rules that exist to support achievement of goals by maximising performance.
For the Olympic rowing team, the rules were created, changed and dropped by the team depending on whether or not they were seen to make the boat go faster. Business analysts might do something similar with development methods and approaches, techniques and standards.
The rules were :
- Constantly discussed
- Bought into by everybody
The parallels to agile team work are obvious.
It’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it
Focus on the process
One interesting recommendation is to concentrate not on the result, but on the process that delivers that result.
Within a process there are variables that can be changed and experimented with to see what really does make the boat go faster.
Teams must discover what works for them, for their type of project in their industry, their organisation, culture, management policy.
Throw away the rule book
In the world of the business analyst, this could well mean throwing away the standard rule (recipe) book and devising your own approach. Remember to measure everything to ensure that your approach is bringing you closer to the finishing line and the achievement of your goals.
Give it some wellie
Ben recommends discussing the variables and agreeing as a team which variable or subset of the variables should be focused on for the next few weeks. Work smarter, not harder or longer. Get really focused for brief periods, then meet and reflect.
When the going gets tough, the tough get …. gone ?
Of course working in a team, as with any relationship, has its challenges. Everyone who has worked in a high performing team which demonstrates great motivation, moral and results knows how great it can be to be a member.
- But what happens when the membership of that team changes ?
- What happens if there is one person not pulling their weight or one person that you really wish would find somewhere else to work ?
Such things can and will slow down the boat. Strategies are needed to deal with them and to turn negatives into positives. The book contains advice for handling these situations.
Start as you mean to go on
Success starts by setting goals, big crazy goals and smaller, measurable and achievable goals.
Measure all the time and change your process according to what works for you and your team ; do not change just to fit in with the prevailing wisdom.
- Only you and your team know what works for you
- Only you and your team know the constraints that your environment forces on you
- Only you and your team know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, personalities, attitudes and biases
As is advised in many Kanban circles, start from where you are and then go for continuous improvement, one bit at a time. Focus on what really does make your boat go faster.