Anna’s adventures in making a bigger impact (chapter 2 = planning)
As they returned from the coffee bar, Bob and Anna Liszt were still laughing. Their exchanging of Zoom war stories had given them both more than a laugh. Hearing about the best outtakes and what nearly got seen by others restored that feeling of camaraderie and relaxed them both. Bob especially realised how much he’d missed these times.
“So, Anna, are you going to get started on the work for Marcus?” he wondered out-loud, “get a head start before he comes back with another crazy deadline?”
“Not yet” mused Anna, with a far away look on her face. As she stared out the floor to ceiling windows her eyes were drinking in the panoramic views across the city.
“Earth to Anna!” Bob brought her back to the moment and they laughed again. “Anyway, I’ve got to get on with redoing that analysis for Dull Derek!” groaned Bob.
“On no, why?” Anna asked, trying to sound sympathetic.
“Well, you know I first got delayed by the database being down?” Anna nodded waiting for Bob to continue one of his favourite rants. “Well after that delay, I caught up most of the time, only to right at the end discover that derek didn’t agree with the numbers! Can you believe that? After so many weeks working on that, he decides that research from the insight team & his sales reports were more reliable.” Bob sighed, beginning for the first time to look more beaten than angry.
Anna just listen silently. But as she saw Bob’s dejected face, she couldn’t hold back any longer.
“Yes. I’m really sorry, Bob.” She waited until Bob smiled at the sympathy he’d been seeking. “By the way, Bob, are you on the circulation list from the data team?”
“Sure…” said Bob but raised a cautionary eyebrow.
“Well…” Anna continued, determined to help Bob to help himself. “You might not have noticed but they do send out advance notice of when the data systems have scheduled downtime. It might help you next time?”
“Hmm…” Bob looked unsure and not a little annoyed. He could feel his shackles rising and shoulders tensing. He told himself to relax, Anna was his friend she wouldn’t side with his Boss surely?
Anna noticed the defensive reaction. “Sorry Bob, I’m not having a go honest. I’ve made mistakes like that enough times myself, it’s just that course I went on got me thinking about planning ahead.” Anna suddenly laughed out loud.
Now Bob could really feel his blood pressure rising, “Glad I’m giving you someone to laugh at!” he snapped.
“No, no, it’s not you Bob. It was a cartoon the trainer out up. I just remembered and that was what made me laugh. Laugh at myself really”. Anna smiled and was pleased to see her friend soften his stance. “It was a picture of a group of leaders gathered round a table listening to a sheepish looking guy saying ‘As is the norm, an unexpected problem occurred today’. It’s too true isn’t it?”
“I guess” said a non-committal Bob. He really would prefer to plan to create a voodoo doll of Derek.
“Yeah, anyway, the next step we learnt on the course was all about planning. Not just the techniques we’ve all heard about, you know the ‘agile’ with everything jargon we keep hearing?”
That worked on Bob and he laughed. “Oh yes, I love how suddenly making us stand for the same catch-up meeting we always had is meant to make us agile! But I think more standing is improving my butt, ha ha.”
Anna took a while to control her hysterics after that one. “Yeah yeah, you keep telling yourself that, Bob.” she teased. “Anyway, this part of softer skills training was basically just a reminder to think ahead. It’s so basic, but I was embarrassed how much I don’t do it.”
Bob always was a sucker for self depreciation (by others). He relaxed more and nodded, feeling more like it was worth hearing Anna out on this one.
“Honestly, Bob, the challenges he gave us were so obvious. But listen & see if you do any better than me. He talked about checking with the data and IT teams so you know any scheduled downtime.” Bob began to blush, so Anna hurried to refocus on being in this together. “Or checking before you start the work what else has already been done on that question & which metrics any results will be checked against. He called it ‘secondary analysis’ (like the market research guys do secondary research) and ‘know your numbers'”.
Now Bob did feel foolish. But didn’t want to go down without a fight. “But if you just listen to that Anna, you’ll only tell people like Derek what they want to hear. Aren’t we meant to be becoming data-led and all that?” As he finished he felt pleased with himself and sat up straighter. Oh yes, he was right on this one. Surely.
“Yes, Bob, absolutely. I agree this place needs to change.” Anna nodded as she could see Bob needed reassuring during this challenge. “But we aren’t trusted enough yet and that’s partly because we too often miss deadlines or can’t answer their predictable challenges.”
“What do you mean?” Bob asked with genuine curiosity for the first time.
“Well, take Derek, we know he’s on the spike for sales numbers and they have taken a hammering this year. Agreed?”
“Sure. The word is he didn’t get any bonus. Ha ha, I bet that dented his huge ego!” Immediately after saying that Bob regretted sounding so catty. “Go on…”
“Well, when your analysis…” Anna realised her mistake “or mine…” she added quickly “doesn’t reconcile with his sales reports, why should he trust us? Plus, we can also see the past analysis and research that is going to Derek. We know what he has approved and what his plans are based on. Yes?”
“Sure, I think I see where you’re going” Bob nodded.
“Well during the kind of changes we need to recommend, we need to give leaders like Derek reasons to trust us. If you can first reconcile your Sales numbers to those he already knows. If you can connect your latest analysis with trends he has already seen. Plus, if you can reliably deliver on time. He’s much more likely to trust us.” Anna hope the final ‘us’ softened her previous phrases.
Bob put his hands up in mock surrender. “Ok, ok, you got me” he laughed. So, how did I get started with Anna’s new organised regime.
“Well, I was going to ask you for help actually” Anna offered.
“Oh really?” Bob sat up straighter & grinned. “And what does madame require?”
“Another tip I picked up was earlier peer review” Anna explained. “After getting clear on the real business need, at this planning stage, talking through with you how I plan to approach the work. Often someone else can help you spot your blindspots, like data availability, predicting where I’ll need help with something new, spotting other sources I’ll need to know, etc. What do you think?”
“Yes, good idea!” Bob jumped in a bit too enthusiastically he realised and even more Anna had finished speaking.
Anna smiled, she did love Bob’s transparency. “Great, well lets’ start helping each other with that. But first, I’m also going to do something incredibly basic that I’ve missed before.”
“Block out times in my calendar to do this work for Marcus. So I don’t get booked up for meetings all the time & I can better estimate how long it will actually take me given what I can’t avoid in my diary.”
“Careful, Anna, now you’re becoming one of those self help books!” laughed Bob. “Pretty soon you’ll be publishing ’20 habits to revolutionise your life’ or maybe Insta shares of your morning smoothies & exercise routine?”
“Shut up Bob!” Anna laughed and felt both relieved and pleased with herself. She really was going to change things round here & Bob was going to help even if he didn’t want to. She periodically chuckled to herself through the rest of the day. Even more when she thought about sounding like a female Bond villain.
I hope you enjoyed that use of fiction as a media for addressing a serious challenge for analysts everywhere. Please let me know if you’d like to hear more from Anna et al. If I get enough requests, her story will unfold…