Wednesday, 21 August 2019 09:32

Are You Engaging In Analysis “Wine Theater”?

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A while back I was out with a group of friends celebrating a friend’s birthday.

We met in a fantastic restaurant, and since we rarely meet as a group, we were very soon engaged in energetic and animated conversations as we caught up with the latest news from each other. The waiter came and took drinks orders, and we ordered a bottle of wine and carried on chatting.

The wine arrived a few minutes later, and perhaps because it was a far more ‘upscale’ restaurant than I would usually have chosen, the waiter engaged in what (to me) appeared to be a largely redundant set of ceremonies. The label of the bottle was proudly paraded to those on the table, a cork screw was produced and the cork was removed. An ice bucket was brought. Then comes the tasting. The waiter pours out a tiniest amount, to which I feel compelled to check the color and the ‘nose’ and pretend I know what I’m looking at. I awkwardly take a sip and say “lovely”, and then the wine is poured. Whilst some elements of this process make sense to me (it’s always good to see the label to make sure the right bottle has arrived), other parts just make me feel uncomfortable. It’s intimidating to have to taste the wine in advance; it’s part of ‘wine theater’ that I, personally, don’t enjoy. If I could have caught the waiter’s eye at the right time I would have said ‘no need to taste, just pour please, I’m sure it’s fine”.

Of course, for others this type of ‘wine theater’ is important—it is a symbol of quality and transparency—and it can add to the experience. But for a group of friends meeting up for an informal birthday celebration, it wasn’t really necessary. Frankly, I’m no wine connoisseur—I’m not sure I’d know a ‘corked’ bottle if it was served to me anyway—and providing its drinkable I’m probably not going to complain!


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Wine Theater And Business Analysis

On the way home—after a couple of glasses of wine—I was thinking about how ‘wine theater’ might apply in other circumstances—particularly in our work as business analysts. And in retrospect, I think I may have been ‘guilty’ of this type of pattern myself on occasions. Put specifically, it’s very easy to engage in a set of practices because they are the ‘done thing’ rather than assessing what our stakeholders actually want and need.

I have certainly put together lengthy reports and documents with every piece of information that the reader could possibly want on the off chance that there’s a question. Perhaps there’s a danger in my eagerness to cover every possible angle, I end up diluting my core message to an extent that it’s hard to find. I can almost imagine a busy exec thumbing through the document (“Where’s the exec summary?”) as the message is lost in the ‘theater’ of beautifully produced pages I’ve embellished the report with. I’ve also spent countless hours zooming in on Visio to fix every line so it’s straight. I dread to think how many hours (or days) in total I’ve spent aligning boxes in PowerPoint to make sure they are accurately aligned. All part of the ‘theater’ of making things as flawless as they can be for our stakeholders.

Do these things matter? In true BA style, the answer (if there is one) is probably “it depends”. Much as there are undoubtedly some diners who enjoy ‘wine theater’, there are people who need the detail. There are people who care about lines being straight on diagrams, and a jagged line (to them) might indicate a quality issue with the work. If we are dealing with those stakeholders, then presentation is everything.

However, I’m coming to learn that those stakeholders aren’t the norm. Most folks, once they trust you, are happy with low-fidelity artefacts—as long as we set the expectation from the very beginning. Many people are ‘time poor’ and are switching between multiple priorities. The best gift we can give them is time back in their diary. Brevity, as hard as it is to achieve, is beneficial. Knowing the appropriate level of brevity means knowing and empathizing with those who read our artefacts (our ‘audience’) and this can only be a good thing.

I’m challenging myself, with every artefact I create, to ask whether there is unnecessary ‘wine theater’ and I’m striving for appropriate brevity. It’s a tricky subject, and I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences!

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Adrian Reed

Adrian Reed is a true advocate of the analysis profession. In his day job, he acts as Principal Consultant and Director at Blackmetric Business Solutions where he provides business analysis consultancy and training solutions to a range of clients in varying industries. He is a Past President of the UK chapter of the IIBA® and he speaks internationally on topics relating to business analysis and business change. Adrian wrote the 2016 book ‘Be a Great Problem Solver… Now’ and the 2018 book ‘Business Analyst’

You can read Adrian’s blog at http://www.adrianreed.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/UKAdrianReed

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