Tuesday, 19 January 2016 11:50

Facebook using Business Analysis and Improvisation

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There are two things I really love.  One is business analysis, and the other is improvisation (improv). Even more so, is applied improv. Applied improv is the concept of applying improvisation skills to other things besides acting. I focus on helping others apply improv skills and business analysis in a business environment.

So, when I read this article via Business Insider, How Facebook's design team organizes its critique meetings so nobody gets offended and everyone has clear goals, I loved how they talked about business analysis and improv in one article. I thought they wrote this for me. Or maybe their Product Designer, Tanner Christensen, is my long lost twin.

Here is the catch, though. They never mentioned business analysis or improv in the article. Not once.  Regardless, you can recognize it if you read between the lines.  This phenomenon is a big issue in the business analysis space.  I believe that business analysis is happening everywhere in organizations, and no one even knows it.  We are also always improvising. When is the last time you had a conversation with someone and you used scripts?! Articles like this prove it. 

In our book, Business Analysis for Dummies, Kate McGoey, Paul Mulvey, and I wrote a chapter about business analysis happening at all levels of an organization. We mention there is analysis at the enterprise level, organizational level, operational level, and project level. With books like ours, other experts in the field writing and speaking about this, and even some companies realizing it, the majority of people and organizations either don’t understand the value of analysis or see the value only at the project level. 

To help break the trend of some not seeing business analysis happening at all levels, I will break down two key points in the article about Facebook. The article is covering Mr. Christensen’s design critique process his teams use to yield positive, useful information to create or improve products.  

1)      Business Analysis: The first step in their process is to make sure everyone understands and agrees to the problem that is trying to be addressed. At its heart, this is business analysis. If teams do not have a shared understanding of the problem or goal that is trying to be achieved, then the chance of success is limited. 

The best business analysis professionals around the world do this day in and day out. Even if a solution is handed to them, they work to understand the problem that the solution is trying to solve. They use tools like the problem statement, impact mapping, etc. to draw out the problem and communicate it in a way that it is clear and visible to the team. In creative ways, they are asking the “5 Whys.” Since asking why can put people on the defense you can ask, “What does success look like” or “What will be different after we implement this solution?”

2)      Improv: For the team members critiquing the proposed design for a product there is a general rule they should follow. In the article it is written, “To make a critique valuable to a presenter, it is advisable to begin with a positive note on something you liked about the solution and to pose your thoughts as questions. Doing so will encourage him/her to offer reasonings instead of being defensive.” I almost jumped out of my seat when I read that. It was music to my ears.

When I work with individuals and teams, I stress the need for having positive conversations.  One way to do that is by having the “Yes, and” mindset. The mother of all rules in improv is never deny. Since there are no scripts used when you are performing improv denying just kills scenes. In improv if someone walks into a scene and exclaims “Wow, I love that you colored your hair yellow,” you never say “it’s not yellow.” That denial instantly puts the burden back on the other actor to come up with something else. If you deny like that on stage too often, the other actors won’t want to work with you anymore.  The same applies to the work you do.  If someone proposes something and you consistently deny them using words like “that idea is terrible” or “yeah, but I have a better idea” your co-workers won't want to work with you much longer. And, no value is gained. 

Improv actors practice the art of never denying by playing a game called “Yes, and.” One version of the game goes something like this. A topic is given, and one actor starts off with a sentence. The next actor says “Yes, and...” then adds to the conversation. Then is goes back and forth.  The feeling is very positive and rewarding as you keep adding things and supporting your partner. And crazy ideas come out of those conversations.  Try it!

When I am teaching this to business professionals the conversation around not agreeing with someone always comes up. In real life, you can’t just keep saying “yes, and…” Absolutely, you need to critique without putting others on the defensive.

The advice I give is exactly what Mr. Christensen gives to his team. One idea is saying, “What I like about that is…” You need to have the mindset of finding something good in other people’s ideas. The other piece of advice I share is to ask a question. Sometimes the ideas people have are viewed to you as crazy, wild, unimaginable, or maybe you know things like that have failed before. So instead of saying, “yeah, but that idea is crazy, what about this.” Ask, “Help me understand how that idea gets us closer to solving our problem. I just don’t see the connection yet.” Two things can happen there. One is the person may realize that their idea is crazy and does not work for this problem or two, they convince you the idea is good and will work.  Either way, both parties have a positive conversation rather than an adversarial one. 

One way to help others understand that business analysis (and improv) is happening everywhere is for us to highlight it when you see it.  Read between the lines, keep your eyes open.  When you see good business analysis and improv happening tell the people around you what is really happening.

All the best,


Kupe Kupersmith

Making people awesome is his main objective.

He possesses over 20 years of experience in helping organizations achieve business value.
Most recently he was the president of a niche training organization.

He has also served as the lead Business Analyst and Project Manager on projects in the energy, television and sports management and marketing industries.

To round out Kupe's experience, he is a trained improvisational actor and applies those skills to help his clients be better collaborators and team players.

Kupe is the co-author of Business Analysis for Dummies and is an industry requested keynote speaker. Being an improvisational comedian, Kupe is sure to make you laugh while you’re learning. Kupe is a connector and has a goal in life to meet everyone!

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