The Business Analysis Pursuit of Service, Quality, and Umami

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Let’s be clear, I am an eater, a food enthusiast, foodie, and gourmand; all of which make for a great hobby and fantastic dining experiences. I am always on the lookout for an amazing gastronomic experience, whether it is the new food truck on the corner serving Vietnamese French influenced food, the new cupcakery serving a bacon jalapeno cornbread cupcake with maple syrup frosting, or a fine dining engagement. My passion, though, is the field of business analysis; and I see business analysis happening everywhere. I recently saw it in all its glory when I dined at Graham Elliot in Chicago. Graham Elliot (at the time) was the youngest four-star chef in America and earned a Michelin star for his namesake restaurant (he is a rock star in the chef world – a.k.a. a celebrity chef).  You can currently see him on the television show Master Chef as one of the judges. Graham Elliot has unleashed and empowered his staff to create a foodie experience that could last a lifetime, but for me will only last until I get back to Chicago to create some more! What made Graham Elliot such a special experience and how does it apply to business analysis? Service, quality, and umami.

Service, first and foremost, is key to a successful restaurant. Let me be clear that I walk OUT of restaurants all the time for lack of service, so although your food may be “money,” if it is not accompanied by great service, you will never see my money. In fact, I have returned to restaurants with mediocre food just for the great service. I have rarely returned to a restaurant with good food and poor service. This also applies to your business analysis efforts. This is where trust is built. Imagine that you get to the restaurant and you are not seated according to your reservation time, the server is missing in action, the restaurant is dirty, and your food is delayed. All of these will decay the trust you have with your customer. You would never do these things to your stakeholders in your requirements meeting right? Starting late, no agenda, no introductions, and lack of meeting content. Why would people trust you?

What else did you bring to the service “table?” Did you clean up the room during and after your meeting to help you focus on what is important during the meeting? Good restaurant service will ensure that the plates are cleared. Our table attendant was always on top of keeping our table clean, uncluttered, addressing any needs we had. His timing was perfect – never interrupting conversation, but adding to it when it made sense. And you know what? He REALLY loves his job! His face radiated joy all night long and that goes a long way in my book when it comes to service.  Do you love what you do?  Do your stakeholders see it?

Was your server really listening to you? Did they make recommendations that met your needs? Did they anticipate those needs and bring options that were not even on the menu? A good server does this and more… A good business analyst does, too. Great elicitation certainly helps – the ability to question, answer, and draw it out. There are a lot of great servers in the food industry that would make great BAs. Hats off to our server, Brett, who did all that and more. He created a safe environment, made us feel comfortable, and all without pretention, which some fine dining experiences ooze in (and I will not frequent those establishments). The ultimate kudos to Brett, who asked us if we would like a tour of the kitchen. Why? Because he was listening, really listening to what we were about and what the experience meant to us. Have you really listened to your stakeholders lately? Have you invited them into your requirements “kitchen?” Some of them will greatly appreciate the opportunity to see how you work.

Isn’t quality subjective? Not really, it is all in the measurements and what you deem as your standard. Do you know what your standard for quality is? If you have prepared well enough, you will likely achieve your quality standard. I could talk about quality for hours but if you join me at the BBC (Building Business Capability) conference in Ft. Lauderdale this year you will hear me speak further about quality.  At Graham Elliot the standard is very high and they are very well prepared. Head of house, Jamie, knows her environment, the process, the people, how to interact with the customer (beginning, middle, and end – she was a great closer). Stakeholder analysis is key to the success of your projects’ Business Analysts and that takes a lot of preparation.

The quality of atmosphere, by the way, is one I have not really encountered before; light, not dark and brooding, large terrariums on the walls; free-standing, small terrariums on the tables. Space. In a normal restaurant where they would seat 10, Graham Elliot seats 6. I could have laid down on the bench and stretched out, there was so much room, but decorum got the better of me. How have you created the right atmosphere for your stakeholder meetings? What worked the best? How did it enhance the quality?

Executive Chef Andrew Brochu had a different level of quality to deal with. Choosing the right ingredients; seasonal, artisanal, and each plate was gorgeously presented, that could easily have been framed art. I am still unsure as to why I did not take pictures (other than feeling like a tourist at a theme park). From truffle to micro tomatoes (yes, micro – they are smaller than a pea and pack a huge flavor punch to the palate) to the perfectly seasoned Wagu beef and the sous vide halibut (that my dining partner is still raving about and he hates fish); the eye on quality ingredients and cooking techniques was clear. When we entered the kitchen, we had the fortune to see Chef Brochu in action with a large pair of tweezers placing each ingredient on the plate in an intricate dance of design and intent for the food and love of his profession. High standards for quality indeed as every plate had the same look and feel reaching a broad and diverse audience with the same message for each course. Do your requirements speak to your audience in that way? They should. One requirements “dish” that speaks volumes to your stakeholders. Have you prepared enough to do that?

What is umami you ask? If I had a glossary for this article, that is where I would define it. Requirements document humor aside, umami is a savory taste, one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. It is an accomplishment in cooking where in a specific dish you can discern all five tastes. It is the ultimate mouthful where all of your senses come alive. Oh, and it is really hard to do. Chefs around the world try to accomplish this feat and it takes some courage to attempt it. An unbalanced attempt can quickly be a dining disaster, but when it happens, it is the closest you get to food heaven. Chef Brochu has a lot of courage. Combining ingredients that both make sense and at the same time make you say “hmm… really?” Yes, really! Simple in approach, elegant in execution, and complex in flavor profile. The best way I can think to describe it is a micro-earthquake happening in your mouth with each bite that you take. Have you achieved requirements umami? Do you have each “taste” represented in your requirements? Process, data, interface, interaction, and scope? It is hard to do, but when you achieve it, your audience will have the best understanding of what your requirements are trying to convey.

Have you built trust with your interactions and follow-through with your customers? Have you prepared thoroughly so that you are ready for anything? Did you have the courage to try umami requirements? If you have done these things, you are well on your way to being a celebrity Business Analyst. One who is passionate about the service/trust, quality/preparation and the umami/courage that you bring to your profession. Your stakeholders will simply want more, because you will create requirements memories like no other. They will ask for you by name to work with you on future projects. Some will even demand it much like the desire to go back to that special restaurant.

Thanks to everyone at Graham Elliot for their service, quality, and the pursuit of umami. I do not say this lightly that you rank as one of my top all time dining experiences. I have been fortunate enough to have eaten at many quality, award winning restaurants, with chefs like Smith, Trotter, Batali, Flay, Bayless, English, Ramsay, Keller, Boulud, Samuelsson, and many more (and thanks Marcus for using me as your guinea pig at Aquavit for a couple of years – it was good for both of us), but the difference here (speaking to everyone at Graham Elliot) is that you got it right in every category. It is a great achievement for you and a great lesson for my fellow Business Analysts.  So fellow Business Analysts, I challenge you to high-levels of service, quality and the pursuit of umami. Please share your experiences where service prevailed or quality soared.  Did you achieve requirements umami?  We want to know!

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