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Smart Parking Meters and Other Enhancements we Could all do Without!

As my fellow commuters and I drove into work this morning, the mood in the car couldn’t have been better: it was Friday – and the last workday before Christmas. The traffic on the motorway into Auckland was free-flowing, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky and everybody was discussing where they would be spending their Christmas break.

The conversation turned to a new parking scheme introduced at one of the holiday destinations. New, smart parking meters on the town’s High Street would sense when a car had parked in their bay, and send a message to the nearby parking wardens. The idea was that by the time a warden had walked over they would find either a car with parking paid up, or a car which had been parked for long enough without paying to earn itself a ticket. Armed with their new real-time targeting systems those wardens became the lethally effective guided-weapons they always dreamed they could be: the poor man’s RoboCop, if you like. The poor motorists of the town never stood a chance. The strike rate of the wardens hit close to 100% and the designers and sponsors of this brilliant new system celebrated in the Town Hall.

But then came the complaints. Shopkeepers and Business owners on the high street unanimously hated the new parking meters. They already struggled to compete with the allure of the big out-of-town shopping mall, which offered two-hours worth of free parking, and now this parking-warden feeding frenzy was just about the final straw. Things were looking bad for the High Street…

It’s a great example of designing a solution without fully thinking through the problem. “A solution looking for a problem” is how one person described it, although I think it might even go a little deeper than that: I think this solution knew exactly what problem it was trying to solve, and it did so brilliantly. But nobody had looked at the ‘problem’ in the context of the overall strategy or objectives for that High Street, to see how much of a problem it really was in the first place.

Sound familiar? How often have we as BA’s found that we have spent time and effort coming up with a really neat solution, only to find that it doesn’t quite fit, for some reason that wasn’t covered in the original scoping process?

Attending the BBC conference in Sydney last September, I listened to Kevin Brennan, Chief BA for the IIBA, talking of his vision for BAs to move out of the realm of gathering requirements, and even out of the realm of designing solutions, and move up into that space where we actually look at how we can add value to the organisations we work for. As BAs we’re very good at the first two. We have all the tools and techniques and methodologies, but they only take us so far. If we want to design better High Streets, or even better towns, rather than just better parking meters, we need to look beyond the process of business analysis, and think about adding value.

That’s not to say there is no place for the tools and techniques, because there is. But the other thing I noticed was when the audience at the BBC conference was asked what Business Analysis involved they all came up with words like listening, communicating, empathising, and understanding.

I was relieved to hear this, comparing this to answers I’ve heard from junior BAs on occasion. They all gave responses that focused on the tools and techniques. They used terms like gathering or documenting requirements, modelling, eliciting, analysing. Not a soft skill in sight. But without the soft skills we never will get beyond the mechanical work of being a BA and move on to adding value. That’s why I stress to the students I’ve taught that there’s far more to being a BA than the techniques, important as they are. You can be a BA without ever employing these techniques. I know, because I’ve done it. It might not be pretty, but we got to where we needed to go. And I’m sure that’s better than designing the best parking meter in the world, for a street that doesn’t need it.

I’d love to hear what the rest of the BA community thinks of my point of view, so please don’t hold back: tell me I’m wrong, tell me I’m right, or if there’s anything else you want to tell me, just get in touch!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.