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Why hearing impaired people aren't invited to the Chinese Whispers team?

chinese whispers

Chinese Whispers is a game popular in primary schools, where people pass a message from one to another along a line by whispering into their neighbour's ear, and see how it has changed at the end. Regardless of how enthusiastic they are, a hearing impaired person is unlikely to be invited to the Chinese Whispers team.  This may not be fair, but it is reality.

  A well known, although probably apocryphal, example of this comes from the First World War, when soldiers at the front line sent a message to the control area. The original message was "send reinforcements, we are going to advance". The message received was "send three and four pence, we are going to a dance".  threeandfourpence 

Put like this, it is obvious.  So why then do we run some of our mission critical business projects with the equivalent of a deaf mute in the key position in the Chinese Whispers team? 

Let me explain. Most, if not all, business software projects require design to make the standard solution fit the business requirements.  And many business projects nowadays are delivered using a platform that already offers a lot of deep functionality.  So, it makes sense to leverage as much as possible from the functionality that you already have. This is very different from a project where the solution is being built from scratch.

Typically, a Business Analyst acts as the bridge between the business (for which the project is being done, and usually which is paying for it) and the technical people who are developing the solution. Because we have a chain of communication, it is very easy for this to become Chinese Whispers – the message sent by the business users is very different from the understanding received by the implementers.duh

In my opinion, there are four key skills necessary to be an effective Business Analyst on this sort of technology project:

  • Understanding of the business area where the solution is destined
  • Understanding of the technology on which the solution is being developed
  • Analytical skills
  • Communication skills

The role of the Business Analyst is to make the best use of the selected technology to meet the business requirement. This is high the business will get the best 'bang for their buck' in the delivered result.  To achieve this you need the skills listed above.

  • Without an understanding of the business area, it is likely that a solution will be created that engages the technology team. This sort of result is rarely adopted by the business users.
  • Without an understanding of the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses (which does not mean a detailed knowledge of everything that it does) of the technology selected, the solution often becomes overcomplicated and fails to leverage functionality that is already there.
  • Without analytical skills that can map between the business requirements and the strengths of the chosen technology, the business analyst becomes a mouthpiece for the business and adds no value
  • Without communication skills, the bridge does not exist, so the other skills become null and void.

Had I written this two months ago, I would have only included the first two of these key skills. The final two skills were added as the result of a project that I've been part of recently.

The business analyst, who lacks all four of the key skills, has massively derailed this project. The project has overrun, has blown the budget and is failing to deliver as much as it could for the business. It also has a number of very curly bugs because the requirements did not take advantage of what the system could deliver. This project's Business Analyst was the equivalent of a soundproof wall between two people who need to have a 'deep and meaningful'. Instead of being a bridge, he was just a huge block between the two sides – business and technical.  The bridge below is equivalent to our business analyst on this project. All the components are all almost right, but the end result......


Without doubt, the role of the Business Analyst is essential. I have seen many projects go off the rails when this piece was missing and the technologists implemented what they believed would be good, or worse still, what offered the best opportunity for them to extend their skills.

However, it is the role that is essential, not the person. This problem arose because the organisation where this project was happening was going by the book. Rather than look at the people, roles and skills that they had in their technology team and their business team, they followed the traditional pattern of using a Business Analyst – or at least, someone with Business Analyst in their job title.

There are a couple of morals in this story – firstly, focus on the roles and skills required rather than the people and job titles. It is common to find that people have unexpected skills. Another big advantage of using existing people rather than extending the team is that keeping the team tight also reduces the risk of Chinese Whispers.

However, the main moral of this story is, in this ever changing world, understand the environment that you are working in, keep your eyes and ears open to what is happening in the projects in which you are involved, be open to new ideas, and do not continue with models that do not work. Techniques for getting the requirements of project are changing rapidly.

Going back to our advancing army, although the outcome is unknown, it is fair bet that they did not get either their dance or their reinforcements. The same applies in in projects and elsewhere.


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Gill Walker - Dynamics 365 trainer and expert consultant

Over the years, I’ve helped hundreds of people become proficient in Microsoft Dynamics 365 (and CRM), with training or mentoring.

For other people, I've been the troubleshooter, the problem solver - Dr Fixit - who quickly gets to the nub of the problem and provides a solution.

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Opsis is an expert Microsoft Dynamics 365 consulting company. Our focus is your Microsoft Dynamics 365 success - not licence sales or billable hours. As Principal Consultant, Gill oversees all business operations and strategic planning and execution, yet she still believes in offering personal attention to each and every client, so as to understand their needs and offer tailored solutions.  We are based in Sydney, with clients in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and across Australia.  We offer Microsoft Dynamics 365 strategy, Microsoft Dynamics 365 scoping, Microsoft Dynamics 365 implementation, Microsoft Dynamics 365 technical support, Microsoft Dynamics 365 advice and guidance, Microsoft Dynamics 365 training and mentoring.