The Art of War for Business Analysts, as published in the IIBA Newsletter July 2008.
Sun Tzu was one of the greatest army generals who ever lived. In the fifth century BC he wrote what is considered to be one of the greatest treatise of military strategy, “The Art of War”. Timeless and supple, The Art of War remains resoundingly relevant and can be applied to other battles, both personal and in business. Perhaps, we can apply some of Sun Tzu’s wisdom to help us navigate the battleground that is Business Change.
- Laying Plans – ‘the attributes of the antagonistic sides should be analysed’: Resist the pressure to “start coding now!”; a careful strategic assessment is the foundation of successful business change. Put the plan in writing, or you do not bave a plan at all.
- Waging War – ‘an army of one-hundred-thousand men can be raised only when money is in hand’: Propose a course of action, analyse the tangible and intangible costs and benefits, and secure the business case to attain sufficient resources.
- Attack by Stratagem – ‘know the enemy and know yourself, and you can fight a hundred battles with no danger of defeat’: Elicit the good, the bad & the ugly. Identify gaps between the ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’. Don’t confuse issues with symptoms and dig into root causes.
- Tactical dispositions – ‘a triumphant army will not fight the enemy until the victory is assured’: Short list business system options that support the business strategy, determine their feasibility and accept based upon their business benefit.
- Energy – ‘Management of a large force is the same in principle as the management of a few men, it’s a matter of organisation’: Are divisions set-up to participate with one another? Or are divisions divisions?! Create process integration that supports collaboration.
- Weak points and strong – ‘probe him and learn where his strength is abundant and where deficient’: Explore the operations. Pick-up insufficient activities, fortify satisfactory activities, introduce lacking activities and trim superfluous activities.
- Manoeuvering – ‘he who knows the artifice of variation will be victorious’: There will be preconceived ideas and agendas. Realise perceptions, gain support, inspire, assert and persuade. No two encounters are the same; tailor your approach meaningfully.
- Variation in Tactics – ‘a wise general in his deliberations must consider both favourable and unfavourable factors’: Consider the project mandate: time, cost and quality, and choose both Project and Software Development Life-cycles accordingly.
- The Army on the March – ‘your sole concern should be to get over marshes quickly, without any delay’: Engage in simultaneous planning and implementation (consider RUP, SCRUM). Avoid ‘analysis paralysis’ and keep it simple.
- Terrain – ‘know the weather and know the ground, and your victory will be complete’: Spend time in the battlefield. Learn the organisational context: the market, the environment, the structures, operational processes, the people, the skills and culture.
- The Nine Situations – ‘pursue ones own strategic designs to overawe the enemy’: Beware ‘scope-creep’, additional needs and requirements will surface. Manage the project business benefit, and validate requests through formal change control approval.
- The Attack by Fire – ‘those who use fire to assist their attacks can achieve tangible results’: Challenge the status quo. Provoke thought and encourage realisation. Reality is the only foundation on which one can base improvement.
- The Use of Spies – ‘there is no place where espionage is not possible’: Browse reports, survey stakeholders, observe users, workshop scenarios and interview users. Remember, people are the source of knowledge.
The crux of Sun Tzu’s Art of War explains that it is only through strategy that conflicts can be overcome and real victory achieved. The core principles conveyed throughout the text are:
- The flow of data for continuous preparation
- The focus of power to conserve energy
- The ability to immediately act expediently
- The psychology of influencing friend and foe
- The obligation to think beyond the ordinary
Business change can often be a challenging and emotionally charged environment. Perhaps we could think more strategically when planning our battles, and tactically as we march and manoeuvre onwards.