Typically, we go from understanding the current state to the future state in Business Analysis. Then perform a gap analysis between the two states to start the process for defining scope. The weakness of this approach is that we can remain operationally focused in our thinking about a product. We never dream or innovate beyond our current state problems for the product. The stakeholders and sponsors are not “unleashed” from their current state operational thinking so that innovation can occur.
In a recent product meeting to set the budget for the next fiscal year for that product’s development, stakeholders by the hundreds and sponsors met to decide the amount of money that would be set aside for updating the product to meet future customer needs. The entire meeting was about the current problems or issues. With great effort, the Business Analyst wrestled the group into changing their thinking away from current issues to new capabilities for the product, but operational people kept pushing back on getting current issues and problems resolved. The meeting ended with a long list of things to fix and not a single new capability.
The Project Manager and Business Analyst had a post-meeting review with the C-level responsible for the product. They both pointed out that the product was not getting any new features or capabilities to make it more competitive in the marketplace. The entire list for the future of the product is bug fixes to address. It was agreed that trying to get the focus of the stakeholders into a mindset that was more innovation focused was difficult. Even though the Business Analyst presented market studies which showed new capabilities were needed to increase sales and keep the product competitive, their mindset did not change. After discussing it a while the Project Manager, Business Analyst and C-level executive agreed that a new state was needed. The desired state was born.
The desired state was to focus on new capabilities and out of box thinking. It was to be inventive and innovative. Maybe even a little provocative. The purpose of this state was to put the current issues aside and move on to thinking about how to move the product forward in the marketplace with new capabilities.
Another meeting was scheduled with a smaller audience of product owners, sales, marketing, and executives. They were tasked to develop new capabilities for the product. The purpose of the meeting was to ensure the product was positioned aggressively in the marketplace and would meet customer expectations for an innovative product that would better respond to the customer's needs. In this meeting, it was difficult for the Project Manager and Business Analyst to keep the team focused on possibilities, not solutions. The meeting ended without consensus and few innovative ideas. The attendees were still in problem-solving mode.
It is human nature to try to solve problems. We like to think we can solve problems before we fully understand them. We use our experience with the product to drive our problem-solving. Solving current state problems is important to ensure smooth operation of the product, but it does not give new capabilities or features our customers are expecting.
The Project Manager and Business Analyst gave it one more shot. This time they set the expectations for the meeting in advance by having personal conversations with each of the individuals involved. They discussed the importance of creative and innovative thinking to move the product forward. They set the expectation with individuals that the meeting was about the future of the product and not its current state. The Project Manager and Business Analyst also asked those individuals to think outside the box completely when coming up with ideas for the product and to not limit themselves to what they think can be accomplished. Meeting Attendees were asked not to problem solve or to create a particular solution, rather a list of capabilities that would set the product apart.
Setting the expectations that the Desired State is the perfect world where there are no restraints of any kind is tough. It is not easy to change your mindset from current state problem to potential capabilities. Going from the real-world to the anything-is-possible world can be daunting. Think about the world in which everything was perfect all these amazing things would happen without failure in our product is a giant leap in thinking when you are dealing with operational issues on a day to day basis.
The desired state is where imagination and innovation bloom. Thinking is out of the box and without limits moves a product forward in leaps and bounds. Crazy thinking is good. Fixing current state bugs is something that will be addressed in other meetings.
The Business Analyst and Project Manager set the stage for the meeting. The conference room table was removed. Chairs pushed to the walls. Easels with whiteboards and pads of paper were everywhere in the room. Giant posters of our competitor’s product capabilities were displayed. Post-It notes and markers scattered all over the room. The intention was to have attendees walk around the room and highly interact with each other.
In 20 minutes after the meeting started, the walls were covered with Post-It notes full of ideas. It was like this burst of energy was released into the room and exploded all over the walls. Some crazy stuff went up on those walls. The next 10 minutes got a little quiet. Brain drain might be the cause for the pause in energy. The Business Analyst and Project Manager then set about the task of grouping the ideas together. Grouping tasks created even more ideas. All the ideas were grouped together. Each group formed a desired capability.
Finally, the groups were prioritized from 1 being the most critical to 10 being nice to have. Only one group could sit in the number one spot, and we could not have two groups ranked as number 1. There was a lot of conversation, negotiation and flat out bargaining. Everyone agreed to the groups and exited the meeting. The Business Analyst and Project Manager gathered up the entire room full of ideas. They snapped pictures of the walls and sent the picture out to the meeting attendees.
The result? The result was a new way of interacting with the customer in a streamlined workflow. Using a mobile application, the customer could scan bar codes on their equipment. The application would provide them with recommended maintenance and the ability to order the parts needed for that maintenance. The whole process eliminated some big headaches for customers like sitting on the phone waiting for an agent to order supplies, waiting on hold to talk to a technical person, scheduling a technical person for the maintenance, and finally arranging for a shipping company to ship the parts needed (they were heavy parts). The customers were jumping for joy. The process was simple. Open the application on the mobile device, scan the equipment, pick the maintenance needed and the parts and technician would arrive to install it. The customer could even choose the install date.
Now you might be saying to yourself, “Well this all sounds fun and exciting but would we not just wind up letting down the product owner because we cannot possibly deliver the entire desired state they thought up?” Prioritization is essential to helping set expectations with product owners and stakeholders that we cannot do it all. Without the change in thinking, the innovation would be difficult. Additionally, you would need to balance innovation with fixing current state problems with new capabilities. Melding the desired state capabilities enhancements and current state bug fixes into a future state is the topic of our next blog.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments. We would love to hear your thoughts on creating a desired state or strategy for a product. Let’s chat soon!