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BAs at the Epicenter of Innovation

By Angela Wick, CBAP, PMP—CEO of BA-Squared, LLC
  
imageInnovation can originate from all levels of an organization and from a variety of roles, but the BA role in particular offers amazing innovation potential. 
 
BAs stand in a perfect position to be the epicenter of creativity and innovation. As agents of change, BAs directly influence the culture of innovation in their organizations. They set the structure, mindset, and tone for stakeholders. So, how do BAs deliver value in a way that maximizes creativity and innovation? 
 
BAs need to BE THE INNOVATION EPICENTER! 
 
Creativity is about bringing or facilitating lots of ideas, but to be innovative the idea needs to be feasible and accepted by users and those who find value in the idea.  Isn’t that what we do as BAs?  Bring solutions that are feasible to stakeholders and ensure that the solution is accepted by stakeholders and provides value?
 
As BAs, We Need To:
  • find new ways to engage and energize stakeholders and foster a creative environment;
  • bring out creativity in others;
  • find practical ways to apply new, useful, and feasible ideas to common BA tasks; and;
  • model creativity and innovation every day through behaviors that encourage creativity and innovation.
There are hundreds of tips, tools and techniques BAs can use to inspire creativity and innovation. Here are a few of my favorites:
 

1. Facilitate Differently

Some of the biggest innovation roadblocks can be pushed aside by boosting your facilitation skills: 
  • Get Visual! Words are not enough. You need visuals to define and assess problems—visuals that remove complexity, add clarity, and align with discussion topics. Prepare your visuals in advance or draw spontaneously! Use a whiteboard, a flip chart, a napkin, or a virtual equivalent, to diagram, model, and frame up the discussion. Sketch matrices and metaphors.
  • Broaden your perspective. Challenge assumptions about boundaries and constraints. Do not limit alternative solutions. Allow stakeholders to define the problem in multiple ways.  Agreement of silence around the table and moving on kills creativity.
  • Think! “If we are all thinking alike, then no one is thinking.” The original source of this quote is unknown, but the sentiment is so true. If consensus is constant and dialog is non-existent, then no one is thinking! Ask and encourage questions. Pose scenarios. Play devil’s advocate. Do the mental work needed to truly solve the problem.
  • Get moving! Use multiple senses, action, and fun! Use fun engaging meetings supplies and props. Ask participants to use sticky notes (there are many virtual versions) to write down ideas, questions, risks, next steps, etc. Get them out of their chairs to sort, group, and prioritize sticky notes on white boards or flip charts. Use dot stickers for voting.
  • Use small groups. Do not discuss new ideas, options, or solve problems with more than eight people at a time. More than eight, break the group up to get everyone involved, you may even do this for groups of four or more. Ask participants to break into teams or small groups to discuss ideas and bring them back to large group.

2. Transform Brainstorming

A typical brainstorming session involves 15 people sitting around a conference room table listening to the same three people talk. In these cases, brainstorming yields marginal success. 
 
Is it possible to transform brainstorming into a powerful, effective and efficient technique? Yes!
 
Creative brainstorming techniques yield creative and innovative results. Instead of asking the group to shout out ideas, ask participants to brainstorm ideas individually. Then, present the ideas to the group and ask participants to accept the idea or transform the idea into something else. This is where innovative ideas happen!

3. Try Empathy Mapping

Your mother used to say something about walking a mile in other people’s shoes, seeing through someone else’s eyes, putting yourself in their position…When it comes to our professional life, applying empathy mantras to our stakeholders can lead to amazing creativity and innovation in our projects.
 
Take a look at this drawing. It’s a simple representation of an empathy map.
 
empathy map

If you understand what your stakeholders are thinking, seeing, saying, hearing and feeling you can:
  • Proactively and effectively manage issues and risks;
  • Evaluate politics, priorities, and motivations;
  • Uncover hidden requirements and bridge requirement gaps; 
  • Locate constraints and dependencies.
Approaching requirements and project tasks with empathy will yield meaningful collaboration which in turn yields innovation. BAs will learn the right questions to ask to engage stakeholders and draw out key information. 
 
Gathering information for the empathy map can be a bit tricky. Please don’t schedule an “Empathy Map Meeting!” Be a bit more subtle. I offer several approaches in my recent blog: Empathy at Work: The Secret of Business Success

Be the Epicenter of Innovation

BAs who use creative problem solving techniques experience less criticism, more verbal support, and more laughter and smiles. They engage and inspire stakeholders, and when stakeholders collaborate in a meaningful way, BAs become the epicenter of innovation! 

©iStockPhoto/mbortolino
 
End Note
BA-Squared offers onsite training to help BAs develop the skills they need to inspire collaboration, creativity and innovation. To get free BA tips and resources, follow Angela on Twitter @WickAng or subscribe to BA-Squared’s monthly newsletter at www.BA-Squared.com. For more information contact: info@ba-squared.com