Options Engineering

People working on IT and business change projects spend a lot of time deciding what to build or change. Many, many ideas are generated and many, many decisions are made during the course of an average project. But one thing I’ve noticed is that we don’t generally dedicate enough time to identifying alternative options.

I’ve done a bit of research, and it turns out that there are specific reasons for this – it’s to do with the way the human mind works – how we generate ideas and how we make decisions.

In the first half of this article, I explain what I’ve learned about the way we think and act, and what that means for our approach to decision making. This includes quite a bit of theory, but please bear with me – it’s really useful background.

In the second half, I introduce the concept of options engineering – the process of consciously considering options – and how it can improve outcomes on IT and business change projects. Options engineering is easy to understand but hard to do well. So I’ve included 14 top tips on how to become a master options engineer, plus a handy infographic to print out and / or show your friends and colleagues.
Continue reading

Upcoming Webinar – Agile and Business Analysis: An Expert Panel

Just to let you all know I am participating in a webinar on 19th April 2018 at 19:30 GMT (UK Time). The session is hosted by ex-IIBA UK President Adrian Reed, and the panel includes myself, Lynda Girvan and Chris Matts.

Adrian, Lynda and Chris are all highly respected on the UK business analysis scene, so it promises to be a good session.

If you’re interested in joining, click here for details:


Hope to see you there!

How to Split User Stories – NHS Digital Agile Meetup

Last week I talked at the NHS Digital Agile Meetup in Leeds – the topic was How to Split User Stories, as originally published as an article, and also previously presented at Agile Yorkshire.

Based on the feedback from the Agile Yorkshire talk I made some improvements to the talk. Here’s the updated slide deck:

Also note I’ll be giving the same talk (maybe improved again) at BA2017 in October.

Agile Yorkshire – How to Split User Stories – 9th May 2017

Last night I talked at Agile Yorkshire. Some people asked me if I would share the slides so here they are. Or you can always read the original article.

Update: see this article for an improved version of these slides.

Also, keep an eye out on the Agile Yorkshire News page – at some point a video of the session should appear.

And if you want to get really good at splitting stories, take a look at the Distance Learning course.

How to Split User Stories

User story splitting is an established practice on agile delivery teams. But in my experience, it’s really difficult to do well.

In this article I’ve pulled together everything I’ve learned about story splitting. It’s a long article, so you might want to make yourself a nice, hot cup of tea before you get started.

Continue reading

Distance Learning Course Launched

Happy New Year!

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I’ve made an exception. My resolution is to get more involved in training in 2017. I do run some training courses already, and I sometimes speak at meets and conferences, but I want to do more.

There’s a problem though – formal group training relies on being able to get enough interested trainees together in the same place and at the same time to make it work, and this turns out to be somewhat tricky. It’s also relatively expensive for trainees, both in terms of financial outlay and also time spent away from work and/or home.

So I thought I’d put together something a little more flexible – a distance learning course. This allows trainees to learn at their own pace and in their own time – and it doesn’t need a critical mass of trainees to be viable – it can be done on an individual basis. It’s also significantly cheaper.

The course teaches you how to be an agile Business Analyst. It’s based around the materials on this site and also on my own experiences as an agile BA.

Here’s how it works. The course consists of 10 “lessons”. I send you the lessons one at a time. Each lesson includes a learning / research element and a hands-on exercise. You do the learning / research part, then you complete the exercise, send it to me and I provide feedback. I will generally give feedback by email but we can arrange a video chat if you prefer.

I’ve just launched the course and I’m offering it at an introductory price of £400 (GBP) for the first intake of trainees, with an option to pay £40 initially for a single lesson, plus a full money back guarantee if the course doesn’t work for you.

For more details, or to sign up, see the Distance Learning page.

PS Sorry for the unavoidably “spammy” nature of this article – it was the only way to announce the new course. Normal service will be resumed henceforth, so if you’re a subscriber please don’t unsubscribe!

Agile Yorkshire Talk 8th March 2016

If anyone is interested I’ll be talking at Agile Yorkshire on 8th March – tickets are free and available now.

The talk is loosely based on the article Agile By Stealth. I’ll post the slides up here after the event.

POST EVENT UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who came and listened patiently to my ramblings. If anyone is interested the slides are available here:

Agile Yorkshire – 08-03-2016 – Tony Heap – Agile By Stealth A Step By Step Guide v2

Agile By Stealth – Converting a Waterfall Project to Agile

Agile By StealthOne thing I’ve noticed about agile is that it’s difficult to really understand it unless you’ve actually done it. This makes it tricky to sell agile – especially to people who are used to a plan-driven (waterfall) approach. In other words pretty much everyone who hasn’t already gone agile.

In my experience, agile delivery is just too different from waterfall for some folk to jump in head first. It is, however, possible to take people on a journey from waterfall towards agile delivery that doesn’t involve too much of a leap of faith. In this article I’m going to describe a strategy that I’ve used a few times with some success.

Continue reading

Agile BA Training

[Warning – this article includes a sales pitch. You have been warned :)]

It’s been an exciting few months here at Its All Design Towers. I met up with a couple of training companies at BA2014 last September and I’ve been working with one of them – Business Analyst Solutions – to develop a training course that focuses specifically on how to be a business analyst on an agile project.

Continue reading

Agile Yorkshire Talk 12th May 2015

I gave a talk at Agile Yorkshire this evening – on the general theme of “how to maximise the amount of work not done”. Here’s what I covered:

  • There’s no such thing as a requirement (so always challenge)
  • The importance of prioritization (especially trimming the tail of the 80:20 curve)
  • Feature splitting (including de-prioritizing the low value bits)
  • Options Engineering (including the cheap option and the “do nothing” option)

For anyone that’s interested, here’s a copy of the slides:

Thanks to everyone who attended and especially to Matt for the pint!