Thursday, September 19, 2013

GTC East - GovGirl Lunch Keynote

Note: Edited to correct the Twitter information for GovGirl - she doesn't have that account, and can be found @KristyFifelski.

GTC East is a 25 year old conference for senior state government workers. I'm here to talk about Managing Business Requirements, later this afternoon.

Right now we're listening to GovGirl - known as Kristy Fifelski when offline - our lunchtime keynote speaker. She is exploring whether 'Government Can Be Cool'. She's an interesting and funny speaker, with interesting and entertaining ideas.

Her first topic is to explore what 'cool' means. It turns out that 'rebel' cool is not really what people like. People who are helpful and share their expertise - they're rated as 'cool' by their peers. We don't know how to define 'cool', but we know it when we see it.

Cory Booker is her next example. His online audience thought he was cool for the things he's done - saving a woman from a burning building, for example - to the extent that they promote him with hilarious CoryBookerisms.

GovGirl believes that government workers have the opportunity to make work cooler - even meetings and emails. For example, try using FaceTime to have a remote meeting with your boss.

She also believes that the cool stuff that government workers do gets killed by Government Speak. The passion that people have as individuals - "Look how we're improving hundreds of thousands of lives!" - gets lost in dry, technical, bland copy. This is a problem for BAs too. It's not a jargon problem; it's logorrhea. Why use four words when you can use a flurry of words? Is it 

"Recipients of this notification are informed
that the interactive working session will be held
on the last business day of this week."


"The meeting is on Friday."

A big lesson is that effective use of social media is, well, social. It's people following and interacting with people, not legal entities trading information via internet interfaces. Social Media is a way to create relationships, not just a way to broadcast information. It is a particularly powerful in a crisis - as long as you have the relationships already exist. The day of the earthquake not the day to open the Facebook account to reach the people affected.

So how do you make government cooler?

Consider the White House petition site. Someone petitioned the government to build a deathstar by 2016. Instead of responding with "That's a silly idea," the response was titled "This is not the Petition Response You're Looking For" and it went viral. It was funny, fun, simple to understand, and connected with the people who cared about the petition.

There are many opportunities for Business Analysts to help our stakeholders connect to the information we need to relay. Sure, we have to be clear, precise, and boring with some information. An interface specification is unlikely to be an opportunity for dramatic prose. On the other hand, the people who need to build and use that interface will need to understand the purpose and context for that interface - and there you may find a story to be told.

GovGirl also recommends connecting a project to something that is hot - to ride the same wave of popularity. NASA did this last year with a parody of Gangnam Style. The video features students, astronauts, engineers, hilarious moves, and a clear simple message. She's playing it for the GTCEast audience right now, and there is a lot of laughter.

You don't need to use videos to take advantage of a trending topic. The CDC crashed their site with a simple blog post, in their Zombie Preparedness Campaign.

My own advice, atop this, is to be certain that the people putting together the message have a real interest in the trending topic. If GrumpyCat doesn't make you laugh, you're not the right person use GrumpyCat to share information about Social Security. If your message is supposed to connect with people it has to be personal. That authenticity is powerful - and when it's not there the internet can turn on you. 

Reinventing yourself is another way to engage with the people you serve. In the case of Libraries, they don't have a choice: it's adapt or die. Some are becoming coffee-shops. There is even a bookless library in Texas. Some librarians are using tools like Pinterest to post images of their archives.

This is a question close to my heart: what is it about Business Analysis that makes our relationships so hard? (See What's Wrong With Us? on the IIBA LinkedIn Group.) Willingness to take a leadership role is a big part of this, I think, but I don't have an answer to the question.

Kristy is wrapping up now, and giving advice. On one point I heartily agree: do it on a small scale first (perhaps as a volunteer effort) and demonstrate the ROI - in terms of value (time, effort, engagement, reputation, etc.) and in terms of money.

Bottom Line: A clear, authentic approach to relationships is the way to be cool. Good advice, online and real life. 

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