At Herd we explore a lot about what makes an effective BA, and this stuck a chord when we found that each of us has our own deep passion for something outside of work. For me I have a few, from more recently gardening, coffee and cooking. The latter I then started to think about and made me consider the similarities between my hobby and the profession I care so deeply about. In this blog I will explore the similarities between cooking and business analysis and how you can apply them to your own work.
To begin with I must be open and honest and overcome my own “imposter syndrome”. There will no doubt be some people who read this who have their own custom-made Japanese knives, the most state of the art cooking equipment and will religiously dedicate a portion of their wages each month to investing in equipment as well as buying the very best ingredients they can. To be honest, just writing that makes me a little jealous. I work on a good, but still modest budget. I do have some very decent equipment (pasta maker, Thermopen and a stand mixer to name a few) and ingredient wise I will use my local town’s butcher and greengrocer, (both of which I use more from a local independent shop belief over gaining a better taste, but they will go hand in hand) and in some ways here is our first similarity:
The best ingredients (or tools) will enhance what you can do, but it doesn’t make the person any better than they were originally. Understanding the basics is still vital.
From a cooking perspective there are five categories that I will break it down into, which cynics might read “is he creating these links purely because of this article?” and in some ways you are right, but in others it’s just a way to think logically how I and many will approach cooking.
- Planning and Research
- Creativity and Innovation
- Precision and Accuracy
- Testing and Evaluation
- Communication and Collaboration
Planning and Research
Do I always plan out what I intend to cook for the family each week? Yes. Do I always then follow that plan? Never. Life throws up challenges which means that sometimes what I intend to cook needs to be adapted, either I need to do something a little quicker, but sometimes I am granted with the gift of more time, and instead of a simple meal, I can crack my knuckles and make something a little more involved.
But the planning always caters for my number one stakeholder, my 4 year old daughter. Food can therefore not be ‘spicy’ and always cater for her often-changing tastebuds (anybody with kids I’m sure can empathise with this). If I asked her what she would like, I would be extremely surprised if one of the three answers was not “sausage pasta”, so in some ways what I make is limited a bit in this way, but working with constraints is something we all have to do, at home or at work. Taking this as a challenge / opportunity, how can I get what I need (chance to try out some of my amateur chef skills) over my stakeholders needs, of having a meal not too spicy and ready to be eaten for when she gets home from school? I will keep this theme throughout the rest of this article.
Creativity and Innovation
Often people get invention and innovation confused, with the former thinking of something that is brand new, while the other is building on what is already available. Innovation can be the greatest opportunity for an amateur chef and a BA alike. We begin to know our business, stakeholders and customers, learning and evolving what works well and what to avoid, and we explore and exploit the opportunities. In cooking, it’s how to modify a recipe, based on what I have learnt or previously went well or not so well, while as a BA, it’s the constant engagement on needs and requirements to ensure that where adaptation is required, we are the best people to manage and effectively coordinate what they are.
There is a parallel between understanding the audience and constantly pushing ourselves to achieve maximum impact, which is often how BAs can show their value within a business.
A good example of this can be the humble omelette. Some of you may be familiar with the brilliant US Show The Bear, and a famous scene in Season 2 where Sydney makes an omelette for Natalie. On the face of it an omelette is quite a simple thing to make, but the show, and the subsequent Tik Tok videos that followed, showed how much it captures the antipathy of cooking, taking the basics and making it brilliant. My wife might not thank Sydney because the amount of washing has now grown exponentially, but still, we all enjoy a much more enhanced Omelette when I make it.
This segways neatly into…
Precision and Accuracy
I must admit, I am that person, that when I have to add a certain quantity, if I go even one gram over, I will have to remove it. Deep down I know it won’t make a difference but to be accurate and avoid variations that can cause undesirable outcomes is probably ingrained in me as a BA and a person.
My colleague and good friend, Rich Harrison will often say to me, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” and is absolutely more applicable to the workplace than the kitchen. The variables in the kitchen can be a lot, but in the workplace there will be far more. From the audience, how many people, their background, beliefs, how invested they are in the change, and their own motives both shared and kept private will influence the success or how an introduced change actually occurs when put into practice, but this is where the advent of control, and constant checking, in both cooking and business analysis is important.
Testing and Evaluation
Recently I learnt that the taste test that you see so many chefs perform is not to taste the final product, but to understand that the constituent ingredients are behaving as intended, or having the opposite effect, so to allow intervention and still deliver what is expected.
It seems obvious when you think about it. You hear a chef say “it needs more salt” or “that doesn’t have the right acidity” which will then instruct whoever is looking after the dish to intervene.
If we imagine this at the workplace, we wouldn’t wait to see the change implemented in the live environment, without simulating first, or at least running a “pilot”. We will also typically, and instinctively understand the parts of the change that will introduce the highest risk, and focus on how to mitigate as much as possible. This is what a head chef will be doing.
I must admit, my evaluation of success currently, is if I’ve avoided having to make a second meal for my daughter, where she has steadfastly refused to eat or even try the food, while I will then confer with my wife afterwards if she felt the latest version was better or worse than the one before. As a Yorkshire lass, frankness has never been in short supply, so I will receive the most direct feedback anybody could ask for!
Communication and Collaboration
I have never worked in a professional kitchen, and as much as I enjoy cooking, I have zero aspirations to do so, but you can imagine how important communication and collaboration must be. So many chefs looking after their own parts, and then the orchestration to bring it all together, must be stressful and hugely rewarding when it all comes together.
Luckily in my household I tend to look after all the cooking duties, but my daughter does like to help, so at weekend’s she will get involved in the shopping for the ingredients, and in making the pasta. From my own risk assessment, these are aspects I enjoy her getting involved in, and I feel it is good to get her involved and understand the process of making food, so she appreciates the effort, and as she is invested in the process, she typically then enjoys the food more.
Delivering change along with the recipients is so vital to achieve buy-in, while on larger scale projects the coordination to ensure that all the parts are orchestrated to deliver the right outcome collectively are two key parallels between cooking and Business Analysis. Whether the BA is a chef, or the “conductor” will change depending on the type of change, but to achieve buy-in, working with those impacted the most, is almost non-negotiable.
When I started writing this blog, I must admit, even I didn’t think there would be so many parallels, and there are probably a lot more that could be called out. But fundamentally if we think of ourselves as the “chef” within our organisations. How do we know what our customers’ favourite tastes are? How do we stay on top of how they change over time? Where do we look to improve our techniques, and how to elevate even the most basic dish into something incredible? How do we deliver precision without constricting ourselves with perfectionism? What do we do to “taste test” as we go along, and how do we remediate to ensure we still get the right outcome when something doesn’t work as initially intended? Finally, how do we work with our change colleagues and the customer to collaborate and achieve full buy-in respectively?
In your next Community of Practice, maybe look at your change function as a “kitchen” and see what other parallels you can pull out? I hope you have enjoyed reading it and can take something away from it and I’d love to hear from you if you do.
🖊️ Authored by: Carl Wrigley Principal Consultant at Herd Consulting
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