Starbucks Coffee – Two lessons on Business Analysis post Proof of Concept

I was reading Howard Schultz /  Dori Jones Yang book – Pour Your Heart Into It (1997 Hyperion)- when I saw two examples on how missing items during the analysis phase can impact you later.

1 – United Airlines – Coffee. In January 1996, United Airlines started serving Starbucks coffee. United and Starbucks knew that the brewing equipment needed upgraded but not all of the equipment was in place by day one as the equipment supplier could not produce the parts needed by the deadline. It took four months to fix. As Business Analysts we have to consider the impact and risk of a proposed solution to the timeline of the project and raise alarm bells should there be a concern of the solution not being in place on time.

2 – Eggnog flavored syrup. In 1994 a decision was made to save money and speed up handling of Eggnog flavored coffee by using a syrup instead of a carton of eggnog. Proof of concept and quality control was not properly done leading to an implementation that backfired. The end result was a return back to the process of using the eggnog cartons the following year. When working on a solution that is fundamentally changing the product that is sold, great care must be taken by the Business Analyst to:

  • A – Ensure that the proof of concept guarantees that the new product is equal or better than the old in a measurable way.
  • B – Final implementation plan does not cause the quality of the new product to deteriorate below what was shown at the proof of concept.

Business Analysts need to be able to think beyond the obvious to identify the risks and problems that can crop up. There is a tendency to get caught up in the moment by short term success and lose sight of the greater picture.

In both cases above, the team failed to see beyond the initial proof of concept the pits in the road that would cause them trouble.

Lead Business Analyst – what do they do?

For your next role as a Business Analyst, you may be approached to be the Lead BA . This post is about some of the skills you may have to use in the role.

1 – Project estimates of BA involvement – Identifying how much time and resources it would take to complete a project. I have had to estimate the hours, the duration and how many BA’s I would require to complete a project.

2 – Interviewing of BA candidates – presumably you will have lots of experience in this from the interviews you have been at yourself.

3 – Peer review of work – You should be familiar with this from your time of service as a Senior BA.

4 – Mentoring of junior BA’s – I have sat in on junior BA’s requirement gathering sessions, reviewed their work and provided constructive criticism where needed.

5 – Delegation of work – As the lead you will be expected to monitor the work load of your team and adjust the assignments accordingly to best meet the need of the overall group. This could mean taking work away from one BA to free them up for a project they are more suited too.

6 – Client relationships – Part of the role will be to check that the client is happy with the work of the BA’s assigned to them. If problems are encountered, then the Lead BA will be expected to propose a solution.

7 – Handling of problems – In general if something is going wrong, the Lead BA is expected to help resolve it. This is where your negotiation skills come to play.


4 interview points to help get you hired as a BA

In the past few years, employers have got more suspicious of the qualities of Business Analyst candidates. When I have talked with employers in regards to this, 9 times out of 10 it is because a previous employee or contractor did not live up to the expectations of the employer. 1 out of 10 reason is that they have a stellar resource currently and they want to replicate that resource.

Certainly I have seen contractors and employees in the BA role get let go and usually because of an inability to live up to client expectation.

Some actions that have surprised me in recent interviews is that when a candidate presents good examples of their work, the employer becomes suspicious that the candidate is this good. The feeling is why would such a good candidate be available.

So for Business Analysts looking for a job now, you can expect that the interview will be tougher than ever before.

Suggestions on things to ease the interview:

1 – Referral – You need to find someone who knows you that also knows the people doing the hiring. That simple referral from a known source alleviates a lot of the suspicion of your quality as a candidate. Note that this referral has to be from a neutral source i.e. your representative from the agency is not always considered neutral as they make money if you are hired.

2 – Focus on the skills needed for the role – You may have worked on a variety of different types of projects with some dealing with business process, others dealing with data warehousing. The people interviewing you are only interested in the skills that are relevant for the job on offer. You can dilute your case for being hired significantly if you can’t stay focused on the role specific skills during the interview.

3 – Understand the knowledge of the people interviewing you and what they are expecting. Some interviewers have their own preconceived idea of what they think a Business Analyst does. If you start to go outside of their knowledge comfort zone they start to think you don’t know what you are doing. Best way to handle this is to focus on using examples of projects you have worked on that tie in with the questions they ask. Usually this problem occurs when they ask you to take an example they provide of a made up project and describe what you would do. Very often if you are a senior BA you will take the example way beyond what they expected and in response the interviewer will inform you that you are making it too complicated.

4 – Keep examples of your work limited to what is relevant. Better to show a few page that highlight your BA skills than a 100 pages that either duplicate what is shown before or are not relevant for the role under discussion.

As to the people I have seen let go from the BA role over the years, they failed to meet the expectation of the business units they worked with. This led the business units to no longer wish to work openly with those individuals which made it no longer possible for them to do their job.

Good luck with your interviews.

How long will the Tablet / Smartphone craze last

January 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, General News 

For the oldies that have been around the block a few times, this craziness in demand for skills that involve Mobile development will strike a familiar chord. Before you jump on the train to get these skills understand that they will only last you for a few years – my guess is 7 more – before the next trend really hits and makes the skills of the last trend out of date.

Lets look at some trends since the 80’s and I am sure I have missed some obvious ones but just wanted to communicate that nothing is hot for long when it comes to skills.

1 – Color Dumb Terminal – In those days designers took delight in using the color to highlight different fields on the screen and error messages.


2 – Up loadable applications that run on a stand alone PC with graphics chip GUI – the joy of developing software that had to be individually installed on each machine (hmm – sound familiar)


3 – Networked GUI client server applications – does anyone remember OS2? And what about all the discussions on Thin versus Fat clients.


4 – The Internet- Dawn of a future age and the ability to easily offshore work. The rush for people skilled in Web page design.


5 – Web 2.0 the growth of applications that are GUI that run on a network using a thin client on a PC. Back to point number 3.


6 – Downloadable thin or fat applications that run on a stand alone Tablet or Smartphone (Small PC – see #2)

Next (future)

7 – Mobile 2.0 – growth of MUI (Multi User Interface) applications that run on a network using a thin client on a Tablet or Smartphone.

As you can see from the above list, trends change and repeat themselves every few years. Unfortunately employers don’t see how skills from the past translate into the future. This means that to stay employable you need to catch the new trend close the beginning and stay away from yesterday’s trend.

Don’t become the Wang engineer in a PC world.