This year's Building Business Capability (BBC) conference was held in Las Vegas, after years in Florida. If you've never been to Las Vegas, it's quite an experience. Personally, I think that three or four days in Vegas are more than enough to visit all the hotels, see the sights, and take in a show or two. Next year, the BBC will return to Fort Lauderdale again – a much more peaceful and relaxing location.
The conference this year was five days long, with half-day tutorials on the Monday and Tuesday, followed by a full slate of conference sessions from Wednesday to Friday. The tutorials are meant to be highly interactive, with time to drill deep into subject matter.
I attended two tutorials. Unfortunately, one was not much more than a three-hour lecture. The other tutorial, however, was very interactive, informative, and enjoyable: "Fostering Innovation in Business Analysis," with Angela Wick, Maureen McVey, and Julian Sammy, who each work with the IIBA in various capacities. In the session, they introduced a number of interactive techniques for brainstorming, eliciting requirements, understanding stakeholders, and more. We learned about the techniques and spent time trying them out. The session provided me with a few new techniques for my BA toolkit.
For the core conference, Wednesday to Friday, there were up to eight concurrent hour-long sessions categorized into the following tracks:
- Business Strategy and Transformation
- Business Architecture
- Business Portfolio Management
- Analysis and Design
- Agile Analysis and Design
- Professional Journey
- Team Excellence
- The Way Forward
With up to eight sessions taking place at the same time, it can be a challenge to select the best session. I was happy with most of my choices, but regretted a few – particularly those given by academics who were focused on arguing between the use of process models and capability models. Some of the presenters have quite a bit invested in their own methodologies, and have decided to use their conference time to protect those investments. I intend to avoid some of these speakers when I attend next time.
The keynote speech by Marty Clark –"Leadership Landmines" – was extremely entertaining. He identified a number of practices and habits to avoid as you work on becoming a leader in your company. One of the landmines that really resonated with me was "managing to the exception." A great solution doesn't necessarily address all of the exceptions. It's easy to spend significant time looking for the ultimate solution, which addresses every possible scenario. Doing so, however, may result in a solution where the most important scenarios are handled poorly or inefficiently. In many cases, the best solution doesn't address every scenario, but it handles the most important scenarios very well.
I attended a presentation from Steve Erlank at last year's BBC and was so impressed that I made sure to look for him again this year. He is an interesting speaker and his presentations are insightful and entertaining. His presentation this year was titled "The Value-Minded Business Analyst." He talked about the importance of making sure that you always align your goals and objectives with measurable and specific business value. Although non-functional requirements often take a back seat to functional requirements, non-functional requirements often provide the most business value. Steve referred to an expression which I hadn't heard before: "When you are up to your ass in crocodiles, remember that your original duty was to drain the swamp." It's a memorable expression, and it reminds us not to lose focus on the long-term goals when we are surrounded by all of the immediate and urgent issues around us.
The session called "Next Generation Business Analysis," by Ashish Mehta from NTT Data Americas, was packed. After adding additional seating, the conference organizers had to eventually turn people away from the session. The session focused on five areas of growth in IT – mobile, social, big data, cloud, and gamification. Ashish identified the skills and techniques that are most important for each of these areas. At the end of the session, he summarized his opinion on the most critical skills for analysts in the ever-evolving IT community: process modeling, interface analysis, prototyping, business rules analysis, data modeling, data flow diagrams, and non-functional requirements.
John Mansfield, from Fidelity Investments, gave a very interesting presentation called "Destroying Innovation with Process." The session was almost counter-cultural, but really provided a different perspective about standardization and innovation. He started with an interesting demonstration. He placed two drink cans on a table, placed a wooden board across them, then placed four metronomes on the board. Each metronome was set to the same frequency, but none of them were in sync. After a couple of minutes, they all synchronized on their own. He used the demonstration to illustrate how organizations similarly all evolve into uniformity. We are naturally drawn to similarities and we naturally drive differences away. However, those differences are often the source of potential innovation.
The most important lesson from the session, at least to me, was that it is good to standardize at the high level, but allow independence at the low level. Inefficiency and duplication are usually perceived as "bad," but you can use them to help foster innovation. As BAs, we need to recognize the importance and value of innovation and make sure that we aren't eliminating innovation in a blind effort to drive process.
One of the best speakers at the conference, year after year, is Bob Prentiss from Watermark Learning. When you plan to attend one of his sessions, it is a good idea to arrive early or you might not get a seat. His presentation this year was called "The da Vinci Principles: What it Really Takes to be a Leader in Business Analysis." Today's society is focused on placing people into pigeonholes – labeling them as good at one thing and one thing only. We are taught to specialize.
Bob reminded us that the giants of the Renaissance were "polymaths" – people who excelled at many things, all at once. We should do the same. When you find something that piques your curiosity, you should dive in deep. Keep asking questions until you completely exhaust yourself. Don't focus on failure – keep trying and keep failing. Don't become content with your failure, but learn to fail faster. You always learn more though failure than through success.
By far, my favorite moment in Bob’s presentation was hearing him sing Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror," followed up by the moonwalk. He's an interesting, interactive, and dynamic speaker and I highly recommend him.
Looking back at my experiences at the 2013 conference, I'm excited by new insights into my career. The conference gave me several new perspectives about business analysis. I learned a great deal, and identified topics where I'd like to learn more. I enjoyed meeting other analysts from around the world, and spending some additional time with fellow Onliners who joined me at the conference. All in all, it was a great experience and I highly recommend the conference to other business/systems analysts. Who knows, maybe I'll see you at the 2014 conference in Fort Lauderdale.