BATimes_Nov23_2022

Avoid Illusory Constraints And Incentives

If you were learning to drive in the UK, chances are you’d get in touch with a driving instructor. Over here, many of the driving schools they work for have company names starting with the number 1 (often ‘1st CompanyName Driving School’).  I suppose if I were a driving instructor my default company name would be “1st Reed” or something similar.

It might seem curious as to why there are so many driving schools with “1st” in their company names. We might assume it’s a signal that people who learn with them pass their driving test first time… but I suspect there’s another legacy reason, which goes back twenty years or more.  You see, when I learned to drive, you didn’t Google a driving instructor, you used the Yellow Pages.

 

For anyone unfamiliar with the Yellow Pages, it used to be a thick local telephone directory of different companies. It probably still exists, but twenty years ago it was an essential reference for every household and could usually be found close to the (corded) landline telephone.  It was printed on thin yellow paper, and had thousands and thousands of companies listed.

You’d search for a category (‘driving instructor’) and then (with the exception of paid ads) the companies were generally listed in alphabetical order.  And company names starting with numbers were given preference, so a company named “1st Aardvark Driving School” would be listed above “Aardvark Driving School”… hence the incentive to start a company name with the phrase “1st…”.

 

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The Constraints and Incentives Of Yesterday Might Be Irrelevant Today

Today, I would guess that very few people search for a driving school using a paper telephone directory, so this necessity to preface a company name with ‘1st’ is no longer valid.  Not only this, it could actually hinder findability…. Imagine if you heard somebody say their company name was “First Reed”.  Would the URL be 1stReed.com, FirstReed.com, First-Reed.com, or something else?  What keyword would you type into Google to search for them?

I wonder if issues of ‘digital findability’ might also start to affect musicians. With more and more people using voice-activated assistants, bands might get more airplay if they have a band name and a song name that is “voice assistant friendly”.  Don’t believe me? Try to get an AI assistant to find music by 90s band Campag Velocet and you’ll likely see the problem.

The point here is that constraints and incentives of yesterday (“We must start our company name with ‘1st’” or “Unusual band names sell records!”) might actually be disadvantages today.  The incentives and constraints have changed, and those that recognize that can use it to their advantage.

 

What This Means For BAs: The Importance of Healthy Challenge

This is where good business analysis helps.  It often feels that there is a human tendency to revert-to-norm and to “do what we’ve always done”.  In our world as BAs, this might relate to the way work is undertaken, the way a process works, or the way that technology is used.

In these situations there is a huge opportunity to tactfully challenge: to ask does it still need to be that way? And also ask what are the implications if it is implemented that way? Are we ‘baking in’ a constraint that is no longer relevant?

This starts by identifying those tacit assumptions and constraints and seeing whether they are really still valid. Techniques such as ‘five whys’, the brown cow model, or just informally asking questions with curiosity and listening deeply to the response can help a great deal.

Whichever techniques we use, having the confidence to build rapport and tactfully challenge accepted practices is key. Sometimes there might be a valid reason for the status quo… but if there isn’t, we might be able to help co-create a better way with our stakeholders. And if we can create something better, cheaper, slicker, better… that has to be a good thing!


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