Our Guest This Episode: Kupe Kupersmith
If the Business Analyst and Project Manager are both superheroes, can they coexist? Kupe says “Yes”! Jonathan “Kupe” Kupersmith joins our Manage This team at Velociteach to answer questions from a BA’s perspective relating to decision making and the value a BA can deliver. Regarding the role of the business analyst on a project, Kupe says: “Your job is to help others get to a decision.”
Kupe sheds light on barriers to effective decision making and offers insight to help empower productive decision making. He talks about a common weakness he observes in BAs: becoming hyper-focused on features and losing sight of the desired outcome. Listen as he describes using the decision-responsibility matrix.
Kupe is the co-author of Business Analysis for Dummies , and he describes his eclectic career path on the podcast. From accountant, to improv comedian, to IT Consultant, to business analyst and project manager, Kupe has worn many hats. Kupe recently collaborated with Velociteach to launch a new online course called Overview of Lean Business Analysis. Being an improv comedian, Kupe is sure to make you laugh while you’re learning.
Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:
“Typically there’re not many decisions that are this or that. There’s something in between. So you have to broaden the frame for people and give them a variety of options that they can choose from.”
"The moral of the story is you’ve got to keep your eyes open for opportunities and say yes when they come about."
”You are going to get knocked down. People are going to get upset with you. People are going to yell at you maybe. But you’ve got to learn from it and be, okay, I’m going to do something different. I’m going to get back up and do it.”
Table of Contents
KUPE KUPERSMITH: The moral of the story is you’ve got to keep your eyes open for opportunities and say yes when they come about.
NICK WALKER: Welcome to Manage This!, the podcast by project managers for project managers. Twice a month we get together to talk about the world of project management, and what matters to you is part of that world. We talk with experts, veterans in the field, and those who are finding creative ways to take the profession to the next level.
I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are the guys you might say are at a level of their own, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates. And Andy, I cannot wait to see what today’s guest holds for us.
ANDY CROWE: This is going to be a good one. You know, Kupe is kind of famous around the office here, and so a lot of people know him. He’s got a good reputation. And I’m really eager to get into this new topic for us of business analysis.
NICK WALKER: Well, we should mention that we recently took a survey of our listeners, and one of the topics they requested was the subject of business analysis. So today’s podcast is a result of those requests. So let’s meet him.
Kupe Kupersmith is an accountant, an IT consultant, a writer, speaker, coach, trainer, and improv comedian. He helps individuals and businesses achieve their goals through focusing on professional skills, business analysis, project management, and leadership skills. Kupe is the author of “Business Analysis for Dummies” and is known throughout the industry as someone who can make you laugh while learning. He has stated that one of his life’s goals is to meet everyone. Kupe, we’re bringing you just a little bit closer to that goal here today. It’s great to have you here on Manage This.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: And I’m excited to be here.
NICK WALKER: Now, I think we need to talk about that unique combination first of business coach and improv comedian. How did that come about?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah, I think it all started – well, I think I’ll start with the end in mind. The moral of the story is you’ve got to keep your eyes open for opportunities and say yes when they come about. So I was 17 years old, didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and was going to college and didn’t know what major to pick. And my dad said: “Jonathan, you love math. Why don’t you become an accountant? Everybody needs an accountant. You’ll have a good job, benefits.” I was like, “Okay, Dad, I’ll become an accountant.”
So I went to school for an accounting degree. I got my degree. Was pretty bored along the way but thought, you know what, I graduated. Now I’ve got to use this degree. And sometimes, I hate to admit it, but what do all good accountants try to do in the end? They try to get their CPA exam. So I’m two years into my career, sit for the CPA exam, and I still think I’m on record as being the best failure of the CPA exam.
BILL YATES: That’s an honor.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: I knew that was kind of like the tipping point for me of, okay, well, you know, I wasn’t too excited about this career. Maybe I need to look into something else. And I had this creative itch. So I kind of looked into becoming a comedian. I was actually, you know, in the early ‘90s there was a lot of standup comedy in Atlanta. So I went to a show, and it was like, I think I can do that. Well, I failed at standup comedy as well as I did the CPA exam. But…
ANDY CROWE: A debit and a credit walk into a bar…
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah. Well, I have, actually – so that’s the one thing. So I went into improv. And I was hoping you guys, you know, I’m an improv comedian, would not say, oh, you know, “Kupe, tell us a joke.” Because that’s the worst thing. And if you did ask me that, I was going to say – it was a bar joke like that.
ANDY CROWE: Come on, come on. Let’s get started.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: 222 PMs walk into a bar, and the bartender says, “Hey, we don’t serve you PMs here.” And the 222 PMs reply, “Oh, we didn’t plan for that response.”
ANDY CROWE: Oh, wow.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: It could get better, though. I’m just thinking…
ANDY CROWE: I bet it can.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Like “I gantt believe you said that to me.”
BILL YATES: Oh, okay, okay.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Or, “Hey, man, that’s WBS, man.” It could get worse, you know. “Hey, hey, we’re not pimps; right? We’re PMPs.” That’s an acronym, right, yeah. So, or, oh, I just thought of this one. “Hey, okay, okay, I understand, but what’s the critical path to leave the bar?” You like that?
BILL YATES: Okay, all right, I like that.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Andy didn’t like that one.
ANDY CROWE: Well, I’m working on it.
NICK WALKER: I thought you said this was going to get better?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah, right. And I ended on the bam. So anyway, so I decided to audition for some improv troupes. I got brought on, trained, and then I started performing improv basically every weekend for about 10 years in Atlanta. At the same time, I transitioned to like a reporting analyst role and into a BA role and then a PM role. Because, you know, I was a subject matter expert in financial applications, so I joined projects.
NICK WALKER: So you had these two identities going.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right? Two parallel lives going, yeah.
NICK WALKER: Yeah, yeah, like Clark Kent and Superman. But somehow you managed to merge them together.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Absolutely, yeah. Well, at some point my wife and I decided to have a family. And she said, okay, you’ve got to go for the improv stuff or stick with the IT career. And improv was paying me about $50 a week, and most of that was spent on beer after the show. So I kind of decided to stick to the IT career. But later on I became the president of a training organization and realized we were trying to figure out, okay, how can we help BAs be better on the ground and do what they do? And I harken back to it was the improv skills that I had that made me a better collaborator, team player, open-minded, able to be creative and solve problems.
BILL YATES: Along those lines, Kupe, I’m curious about, from a BA’s perspective – you’re a business analyst. You’ve worked with a ton of project managers, those PiMPs that you talk about, the 222. How do they coexist? They’re both superheroes on projects, we hope. But how do they coexist?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah.
BILL YATES: What’s a good relationship?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: You know, in that, you know, I know there’s still – when I first started writing about business analysis and project management, that was like a big topic. And it still seems to be a big topic. And sometimes it surprises me. It’s like, why can’t we all get along? I think we, you know, it’s less the Batman/Superman fight; right? And I think even in that movie, “Batman vs. Super…” – or is it “Superman vs. Batman”? I don’t remember. But in that movie they come together in the end.
BILL YATES: Exactly, yes.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right? To fight the common enemy. And I think that’s how it has to be. And, you know, and then I’ll go sidebar. I don’t even know if Batman is a superhero, really. But he’s a tough guy with an intimidating voice.
BILL YATES: That’s controversial.
ANDY CROWE: We’ve got to migrate off of the DC Universe for a minute because I’m thinking Thor and Hulk. And here’s the point, is they don’t really get along; you know. They are more often fighting each other than fighting any common enemy. They’re not friends. So this is sort of the interesting part with the BA and the PM because a project manager a lot of times ends up doing some of the work of a business analyst and vice versa. Those two Venn diagrams overlap a lot sometimes. How do we distinguish those roles? What do you see? When it works and works well, what are the attributes?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: I think it comes down to one thing. It’s conversations; right? It’s not – so there is a Venn diagram. Every BA is not the same; every PM is not the same. So to say PMs, you do A through F; BAs, you do G through whatever, there is the overlap. So the teams have to sit down. I mean, the best PM I worked with, a woman named Ellie Stokes, I think, we used to call each other “Batman and Robin”; right? It was like, but we would talk and, like, hey, who’s going to handle – we knew what aspects had to get done in the initiative. Who can handle it? Who’s best to handle it? Who has the time?
I mean, early in my PM career I didn’t care what people’s roles were. I got assigned a project. And we got in a room just like we’re sitting in today and said, “Okay, guys, we’re here today. Here’s our goal at the end. How do we get there?” And to me it didn’t matter who did the work. It’s who’s the best person who has the time? Now, I think in the end 80 percent of the work someone did fell into their job title. But I think we’ve got to throw job titles out.
ANDY CROWE: Right. As a project manager I take a lot of agency and ownership over my project. And so it makes me really nervous. I mean, I am, I can be a bit of a control freak on a top-down Waterfall project.
BILL YATES: We’ve got it on tape.
ANDY CROWE: Easy, now.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah.
ANDY CROWE: You know what, but I take my job seriously, and I take my responsibility really, really seriously to successfully deliver the project. Now, I’ve worked – I did a bank migration project years and years ago, and I had a BA who really was a superhero. She was amazing. And she was deep into the understanding of the business rules. And as you can imagine, it was a big bank buying another big bank. So it was a big migration. There were a lot of rules to be done. And she was incredible in that role. I’ve also had BAs that weren’t so incredible.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah, and that’s why it’s a conversation; right. That’s the no BA or PM is alike. We’re not robots; right? So we have different skills. And that’s why it gets tough when you just walk about, okay, the PM does this, and the BA does that. It doesn’t work because that superhero BA, I guarantee you allowed her to do more than other people; right? So back to you being a slight control freak. You let some control go to her because you were comfortable.
BILL YATES: I like the way you used the word “slight.” That was good.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Well, I didn’t – you know.
ANDY CROWE: And there was trust.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right.
ANDY CROWE: I had a lot of trust in her.
BILL YATES: Yeah, yeah.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah. A lot of it comes to that.
BILL YATES: All right. So clearly, if I’m the PM, and Kupe is my BA, you’re going to be doing the kickoffs. You’ve going to be doing the icebreakers. You’ve got the jokes.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, yeah. Right, exactly.
BILL YATES: So the Venn diagram, that part of it’s real clear to me. But talk from a higher level; you know, take the personality out of it for a minute. For a BA, for a business analyst, what do you think is the greatest value that they can bring?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah, I used to say that the greatest value is a BA should be able to kill a project that shouldn’t be moving forward.
ANDY CROWE: Wow.
BILL YATES: Huh.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: You know? You know, because you guys know projects go off the rails. They lose sight and scope, et cetera.
ANDY CROWE: I’ve never heard of that.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Oh, really?
ANDY CROWE: Yeah.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Okay. Hey, I’m supposed to be the comedian here. But I kind of tweak that a little, and it’s part of how I talk about business analysis today is that it’s really to help guide decision-making; right? And a decision is to stop a project, readjust a project. So to me it all comes down, all the work that BAs do on projects is to help people make decisions. So why do they elicit requirements? They’re eliciting requirements and gathering that stuff so somebody can make a decision of what’s most important and how to prioritize. To me it’s also with understanding risks, business risks of a project. What does that help a QA analyst make decisions on? They now know, what do we have to make sure we test before we move forward on things? What are the most critical things to test? So it’s like those are some examples of just it’s all about decision-making.
ANDY CROWE: Okay. Well, I’ve heard you say before your job is to help people, others, get to decisions. How do you do that? How do you go about approaching that? Because some people, I was described early in my career as being “often wrong, but never in doubt.” I wasn’t afraid to make a decision.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right.
ANDY CROWE: I’ve gotten a little bit more circumspect as I’ve got older, and a little bit more careful about things. But how do you help somebody? Some people are paralyzed by decisions.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right.
ANDY CROWE: How do you go about this?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah, so I think there’s a lot of cognitive biases that – and there’s books written about this in length. “Decisive” is one of the ones that I point to by Chip and Dan Heath a lot.
BILL YATES: Yeah.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: But it’s a lot of the cognitive biases that people are in, and BAs, and other people on the team. I think in general projects, the focus of project is about decisions; right? If decisions don’t get made on a project, what happens?
ANDY CROWE: Well, it stalls out.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Exactly, right.
ANDY CROWE: Yeah, it’s going to fail.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: So that’s why no matter – like people talk about what the roles are about, and it’s, “Oh, I do this; I do that.” Like they’re talking about the tasks and not about the outcomes that have to come about. So back to helping people make decisions. I think one of the key biases is it’s – I forgot the name of it now. But it’s like basically coming down to choice, like narrowing the frame. So a lot of teams and people might give people one choice or the other. So you can do this or do that. That is tough for somebody to make a decision.
And typically there’s not many decisions that are this or that. There’s something in between. So you have to broaden the frame for people and give them a variety of options that they can choose from. Another big one is confirmation bias. So people, like early on in projects, even though people are like, okay, we’re going to step back, and we’re going to try to understand the requirements, they already have in their head what they think the solution’s going to be.
BILL YATES: Yup.
ANDY CROWE: You just proved my point.
BILL YATES: Absolutely.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: And what they do, confirmation bias is about when people have an idea, they just see things that confirm their thoughts; right? Even though there’s something right in their face that is anti that, they’ll say, “Well, that doesn’t really apply to our situation. Yeah, it disagrees with me, but it doesn’t apply to us.” So BAs really need to kind of push, whether you call it a devil’s advocate – I used to work for Turner Broadcasting, which owns CNN. And in the news industry they have something called the “Red Team.” So if there’s a big breaking story, you want to make sure that you have people that aren’t part of working on that story. And then, like in the final throes of that story, bring it to the Red Team, and they start poking holes in it because they are not connected to it at all. And that’s what BAs have to do. They have to start poking holes in things and making sure that people have good information to make those decisions.
ANDY CROWE: Outstanding.
NICK WALKER: We should mention that right now Velociteach has released a brand new online course with you, Kupe.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: What?
NICK WALKER: Yes, yes.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: This is news to me. Wait a minute. Were you guys taping me?
BILL YATES: We’ve been secretly following you.
NICK WALKER: Well, what is the focus of that course?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: So it’s about Lean Business Analysis. And it really does come down to helping people make decisions. So I think, you know, people ask me, well, what’s Lean Business Analysis? Are there Lean techniques that you can use? And it’s really not a technique, but it’s doing what’s needed to move the project forward. So I think it’s happening less and less today. But even on a contract that I’m working on now as a program manager I see people – I’ll give an example of like a status report. People have to fill out their status reports every two weeks. But what do they do? They just fill in the boxes; right? They’re not thinking about why am I filling it in, and what do I need to do?
So Lean Business Analysis is first understanding the decisions that have to be made on a project, and then how do I help the people that will be making those decisions get to that decision? And once you’re done making a decision, move on. Go to the next thing. And you might have to revisit the decision. So Andy’s a quick, decisive decision-maker. And he might make a decision, but most decisions are reversible. So if you get more information, you can go back to Andy with that later. But don’t sit there overanalyzing things to the nth degree. Then you’ll never move forward.
ANDY CROWE: You know, Kupe, I’ve done a good bit of work with Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma. And in that, one of the things I love about it is it’s so much about valuable processes. So you’re not just looking and saying we’re doing this because. We’re filling out a status report because that’s what we do on Fridays. None of that. But every process gets examined for its value and for how pertinent it is right now. And so that matters. I don’t know if that translates into Lean BA, as well.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah, no, that’s where it came from; right? That’s where – and in the course I talk what’s the definition of “Lean,” and then I drill it down to specifically for what I say is Lean Business Analysis. But it’s that. It’s how can we add customer value – and the customers being the people that we work with and the stakeholders that we’re working on a project for – and do it with the least amount of effort and time; right? But it’s got to add that value still.
ANDY CROWE: Yes, and it’s overwhelming when you look at organizations because processes, once they’re in place, they don’t tend to go away.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Exactly.
ANDY CROWE: People don’t put a sunset clause on them. They don’t put an expiration date with them. And it is so valuable when somebody walks in and just cleans it up. This is not adding value anymore. We don’t need to do this anymore. We can make this simpler and cleaner and more part of the value stream.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right. And so if you narrow it down to the process or approach of a BA, that’s what I’m talking about; right? It’s like how do we lean out all the other stuff? Don’t just do something because, because that’s our SDLC here. No. Constantly be thinking about why am I doing this? How is it going to add value? Years ago I wrote a blog that I think we all in projects should be paid on commission; right? And then you would really be thinking about, okay, if I’m paid on commission, I’ve got to get this project done, and it’s got to hit the objectives, yada yada. I’m only going to do things that I care about. I’m not going to do stuff, well, you know, the PMO has a process, and it says we have to do it, so I’m going to do it; right?
ANDY CROWE: Right.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: And check the box; right.
ANDY CROWE: Well, the trouble you get into with that is that now it’s somebody’s job. Somebody’s compensated for checking that box. As opposed to paid on the commission of the value of checking that box, they’re paid to sit there and check boxes. And they want that job, you know, it comes with benefits and retirement and whatever.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah, right, yeah. That’s right.
BILL YATES: This syncs up perfectly with a statement you made earlier, Kupe, which is early on in your career you felt like the most important thing the BA did was kill bad projects or kill things that needed to have a bullet put in them. So this concept of Lean and Lean BA, I get that. You’re looking for value, and you’re not afraid to say, “Hey, this doesn’t add value,” or “We could do it more effectively.” There’s too much churn here. We need to tweak this. I get that. And one of the concepts that I’ve heard you speak on is analysis paralysis. And you make the statement we can all learn from Amazon. And you talk about their 70 percent rule.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right.
BILL YATES: Talk about that a bit.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah. So they have, you know, they feel – and I don’t even know how they calculate 70 percent. But it’s like, they get to – and I used to talk about this all the time, like you have to do just enough requirements. And people would buy into that, and they would, like, “Oh, yeah, Kupe, that’s perfect.” And then they would ask, “Well, how do you get to just enough requirements?” I’m like, “Oh, sorry, the phone’s breaking up. I can’t hear you. I’ll call you back.” Because I was like, I knew, like I knew how to do it. But I didn’t know…
BILL YATES: Yeah, how do you explain it?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Like how do you explain to someone what I’m doing? And that’s how I got to the decision-making with some other people. But the 70 percent rule is more about a bias towards action; right? I mean, that’s one of the big things that you read about Amazon, what they do. It’s like, get enough information. Take action. If we’re wrong, we’ll reverse the decision. And most decisions on projects, now, I think there are strategic decisions. Like a company is going to make a strategic decision to get into a line of business. That’s not as reversible. You’ve got to commit to that and say we are going to do this. Look, I’ll take you guys. If you’re saying now we’re going to get into doing some more BA stuff, we’ve got to commit to it. So can I get a contract here that we’re committing? I’m just kidding.
BILL YATES: I see what he’s doing to us, Nick.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: You see that? No, but you’ve got to commit to something, right, that there’s – clearly we’re going to go for it. But the ins and outs of those items can be reversible and changed. Like you might make a decision to we’re going to this feature here; we’re going to do that feature there. You know what? That feature’s not working, getting us closer. So let’s reverse it.
ANDY CROWE: One of the things that Agile has brought into the project management community is this idea of barely sufficient documentation.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right.
ANDY CROWE: So that’s it.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah.
ANDY CROWE: It’s the same idea. And that’s something that – I’m not always a big fan of a hybrid approach. I think sometimes top-down or sometimes Waterfall works better, and sometimes Agile works better. Right now we’re doing a little bit more on the Agile side in terms of projects we’re doing around here. But it doesn’t work for everything. But, boy, I love that idea of barely sufficient documentation all the way across. It’s been a good thing.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah. You know, I might have a slightly different belief of Waterfall, Agile, or the hybrid. I think teams, like all these things are not one way or the other. It’s like teams have to come together based on their, I mean, like I’m working with someone right now, they’re not in an Agile mode. I mean, it’s going to be more disruptive if I push that person to be Agile. The project will fail, even though it’s Agile; right?
So you have to look at, okay, what’s going to work best for this team? What is the makeup of, like, if there’s a lot of knowns, like if you’re doing an accounting package, I mean, accounting packages have been implemented for – there’s knowns. It’s like you just have to walk through the steps. So why are you going to do that in an Agile manner? Just go do it step by step. But there’s things where there’s a lot of unknowns that we want to highlight risks. And it’s like, okay, let’s do these things in short chunks, learn from it, and adapt as we go. But it’s figuring out what works for the team and that project and deciding on what to do.
BILL YATES: Kupe, one of the key points that you’ve made, I think, is that a BA adds value by driving decisions; right? And the BA is not making the decision. Typically the BA is teeing it up; right?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right.
BILL YATES: So a tool that you mention is a decision-responsibility matrix.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right.
BILL YATES: Is that right? A map or a matrix? DRM? We love abbreviations, so a DRM.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Exactly, yeah. Yeah, so I don’t know, sometimes I get in trouble. People are like, oh, you know, there’s been a RACI around forever. But I just feel like, and I don’t know if you guys feel this way, I’d see RACIs being used, and then they just sit on the shelf somewhere. And I guess – and I think – I still can’t tell you, and maybe you guys can explain it to me, but I think there’s always a big disconnect. What’s responsibility versus accountability? I mean, it could go back and forth, and people can circulate. I know, Andy, you can…
ANDY CROWE: I’m going to help you with that. Yeah, you can’t throw that out there and then walk away from it.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Sitting across from the guy that probably defined the thing; right?
ANDY CROWE: Lots of people can be responsible for doing the work. One person is accountable. So we’re big on one head to pat, one butt to kick. That’s the A in that call, and there’s only one A. But lots of people can have R’s because, look, it’s your job to do the work, so you’re responsible for it.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yes, Andy, that, I mean, that’s where it’s similar, with the accountable, the A, the one person being accountable is where I think there’s one person accountable for making the decision, which is the D. So getting clarity on who’s accountable for making the decision is very critical because a lot of times decisions don’t get made because you have people – nobody knows who is making the decision, or you have multiple people thinking they’re the ones accountable for making the decision. But if there’s not clarity around that, there can be a lot of churn. So, yeah, go ahead.
BILL YATES: What does this thing look like? Just give me a picture of what is that decision responsibility matrix?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: So it think down the left is the decision-maker who is going to help that decision-maker make the decision. So a lot of times that’s the BA and other people on the team getting information to the decision-maker to be able to make that decision. And then there’s people that need to be aware of that decision being made. And that gets left off a lot; right? I mean, yeah, a decision gets made, but no one on the team knows about it.
BILL YATES: Right. That’s trouble.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: It’s like, well, that would have been good. And then, like, the columns across are all the different decisions being made. So to me that’s – a team needs to have that up. They need to…
BILL YATES: Right.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: New decisions, something comes up, an initiative, there’s a new decision that might have to get made. Well, get it up on the document. Make sure you have all three of those buckets filled.
ANDY CROWE: Kupe, think about the role that culture in an organization plays in making decisions because I’ve seen some organizations that are very open, experimental. They allow mistakes. Some of them in a kind of a strange way even reward that idea of experimenting. We talk all the time here about “spikes.” We use them from the Agile terminology, maybe a little bit different than your classic Agilist might. But we throw a lot of spikes here, meaning we do a lot of experiments. But then there are some organizations where you make a mistake, you make a wrong decision, and you’re out. And so how does culture influence some of this with your matrix?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: It’s completely culture driven; right? So, yeah, there are risk-adverse organizations, and more risk allowance can happen where, yeah, let’s have these spikes. Let’s experiment, but then move forward. And I think everybody’s got to figure out where they can fail or how bad they can fail with making these decisions. But it is a cultural thing that has to be worked out. But I think just having this DRM up to show, I think most people realize, yeah, we have to make decisions. I don’t think anybody can argue with that. So using it with getting away from making mistakes and not making mistakes, just at least having who can make that decision. But that’s the one big fear of people making the decision is I don’t want to make the decision because, if I’m wrong, then maybe it’s a career-limiting move.
ANDY CROWE: You know, one of the best signs that I’ve found personally in my career of people who are afraid to make decisions, or organizations that are afraid to make decisions, is meetings. They call meetings. People are terrified. They don’t feel empowered. So they call all their peers together, and they want to get everybody. And we’re big these days on consensus.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right.
ANDY CROWE: I think it might be overrated.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yes.
ANDY CROWE: It’s like, make a decision and move on, absolutely.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right.
NICK WALKER: I’ve got to ask you this. You have said that your favorite quotation is from Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky character. And that quotation is, “Life’s not about how hard of a hit you can give. It’s about how many you can take and still keep moving forward.” How does that play into all of this, this discussion?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: So I think it’s what Andy was just talking about, like getting hit for making a mistake and being, okay, let’s learn from it. Get up and move forward. You know, there’s going to be more failures than there are, like, these hyper-exciting moments. So if you keep getting hit and say, “Well, I’m out, I’m not going to do it,” then you’re never going to move forward.
And I think in organizations what happens is what Andy was explaining. Somebody does something, they make a decision, they do something, and someone hits them down. Some manager, someone else on their team kind of knocks them down. And they just give up. They’re like, well, you know what, I’m just going to now go through the motions; right? That’s what you want me to do, Andy? You tell me what to do because I’m not…
ANDY CROWE: Right.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: And to me that’s not going to help anybody. Eventually Andy’s going to be like, well, you’re really not working out. Like why am I paying you that much just to sit there and I tell you what to do?
ANDY CROWE: You get named Director of Special Projects.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Oh, yeah. Oh, I love that.
ANDY CROWE: Everybody’s favorite career move.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: I love that. It’s like, ooh, yikes. Yeah. So that’s what I’m talking about. It’s like, you’re going to get knocked down. People are going to get upset with you. People are going to yell at you maybe. But you’ve got to learn from it and be, okay, I’m going to do something different. I’m going to get back up and do it.
NICK WALKER: I love your answer. I was just hoping you’d do it in a Rocky accent.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Oh, hey, yo, Nick, you know, uh, this is what I’m talking about, hey.
BILL YATES: As I was looking at the course that you’ve created, you collaborated with us on, you’ve got several – I don’t remember a Rocky reference. I know there’s a “Finding Nemo” reference. I know there’s a “Moneyball” reference.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Oh, really.
BILL YATES: I like it.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: I have a “Finding Nemo” reference?
BILL YATES: Yes, you do.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Okay.
BILL YATES: And there are several. You talk about Daniel Pink. You talk about Pixar. You talk about the Heath Brothers. And all that resonates with me. I love that. One of the, you know, here’s the specific thing that, Kupe, that you camp out on, which is you see BAs fail when they hyper focus on features, and they lose the big picture of the desired outcome.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right.
BILL YATES: Do you have a word of advice regarding that?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah, not that – I don’t think it’s BAs completely. BAs lead to that. But the team, teams fail.
BILL YATES: So it’s the project manager’s fault.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Right, yeah, exactly, right.
BILL YATES: I see.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: No, the teams fail for that because, you know, if you’re looking at the success of a project being, you know – and at the beginning you have to come – you have ideas of, okay, what do we think? You know, we have our objective. We have that outcome. What are we trying to achieve? And we think we’re going to do it with these 10 features. And you have to do that. You have to at least get some vision of the future. But if you then focus on, okay, we’re successful if we implement those 10 features, you’re going to fail. Because once you’re going in and learning, five of those features might not be needed to get to our outcome. We might need five new ones. Or we might only need three, and we’re done. So it’s constantly readdressing, did we reach our outcome? And I know I used the story of the path that me and my neighbors built; right?
BILL YATES: Yes. Right.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Our outcome was to build a path that people can walk up in their flip-flops, up and down the path in their flip-flops. And we debated for a while. What are the features that we’re going to have for this path? If we stuck to that, we would have been spending more money than we would have had to. It would have taken us a lot longer. But we just started with the first feature we had to do, and then we learned and went on to the next one. And it ended up that half of the things we thought we were going to do, we didn’t; and we added some extra ones.
BILL YATES: So I’m so glad you’re in the room because with that story a point of confusion for me is the outcome. There are two outcomes. The path is supposed to get to the school and/or the pub. What’s up with that?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah, right. It was really – so I’ll tell you. It was really…
BILL YATES: I’m confused.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: It was really the pub. But it was like, you know what, the kids’ schools are over there, too. We probably need to add that as a…
BILL YATES: Okay, I had this…
ANDY CROWE: Kids, go retrieve Dad.
BILL YATES: I know, yeah, I had this vision.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: I don’t know if I mentioned it in the course, but it’s kind of, you know, our neighborhood there is, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, the kids are – if St. Patrick’s Day is during the week, there’s like adults drinking at this one bar while the kids are walking to the school. I do not condone that.
ANDY CROWE: You’re not the planner on that. You’re not the city planner that did that.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: No, no, no.
ANDY CROWE: Okay.
BILL YATES: Right, very good.
NICK WALKER: I know you do a lot of speaking engagements. How can people get in touch with you about those and your other activities?
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah, I think there’s actually three ways. Best is go to my site, www.kupetalks.com. And Kupe is spelled K-U-P-E for those that might have spelled it C-O-O-P. And @kupe, you can find me on Twitter at @kupe, K-U-P-E again. And check me out on LinkedIn. So, you know, one of my goals was to meet everybody in the world. So the way I stay connected with a lot of people in the business space is on LinkedIn. So you could find me there, as well.
NICK WALKER: And I think that’s a worthy goal. All right, Kupe. Thanks so much for being with us. A pleasure to have you. We’ve got a little mug for you here to take away as a souvenir. We appreciate you being here with us today.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: And I appreciate the mug because when Wendy told me that was part of the agenda, that’s when I agreed to come.
BILL YATES: That was the hook.
KUPE KUPERSMITH: Yeah.
NICK WALKER: Thanks again, Kupe. Andy and Bill, always a pleasure.
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