Why Playfulness Will Make You a Better BA

When we are small, we are surrounded by colourful things. We learn to tie our shoelaces to rhymes, we build our ideas with Play Doh and Lego, we learn the alphabet with foam letters that stick to the side of the bath and we develop all sorts of skills that turn us into who we are today. We develop dextrously, linguistically, logically, creatively and emotionally using play and games, music, colour and light. We build relationships with other children by inventing games. We have a connection to our family with shared games, our teachers help us to understand complicated things using colourful techniques. And isn’t that wonderous? For most of us, we can look back at those yearly with fondness. And we did learn so much. All these fundamentals in such a great environment. Then… it changes. From ‘playing house’ we find we have chores! And our schools become a lot more grey as the teachers stop singing to us and instead ply us with tests and essays. As if overnight, our learning has become somethings to endure instead of something to look forward to.

Well I am here to stop that! I don’t believe we need to give up colour and light to learn and thrive. I’ve been bequeathed with the title The Playful BA and I’m here to save all of you from a career that’s simply something to put up with to pay the bills in order to be classified as an adult. Being an adult means ‘I get to create my own rules’ and my rules say ‘I’m 37 years old and my partner bought me a rainbow bouquet of balloons for my birthday because that boy knows me well!’

To get to the point, we should be adding games and play into work. We are predisposed to learn through colour, texture, sound, doing, listening. Remember this acronym VARK – Visual, Auditory, Reading (writing), Kinaesthetic. This is how we learn. And we all respond to it at different levels. Some people will have a strength in one area but we all use all of them to retain information. This is important to a BA because we deal with a variety of people at different journeys on their project lifecycle and we need them to hear us, learn from us, and pass on that learning.

Being engaging is powerful. Being the BA that can turnaround some difficult stakeholders by hosting a workshop using Lego prototyping will get you noticed. It will also get you results. Flipping BA techniques around and turning the passive into proactive takes some skill. Think about how so many process mapping sessions go? A BA at the front of the room writing activities on post its and sticking them on the wall? Sure, post its are always fun but some of your audience is lost because they’re passively engaging. They’re not on the tools and being tactile. I like to swap it. I run a roll of white paper on the floor, hand the post its and pen to one of the participants and get them to take over. The process map on the floor and they’re taking action. Even be being on their feet or kneeling on the floor they are no longer ‘coasting’ on their chair, they’re in a different physical stance which makes their minds behave differently too.

Removing chairs can be one of the most invigorating things you can do to a room. I record a podcast with 2 lovely guys and we made the decision in the beginning we would always record standing up. There’s more energy and urgency in a voice that’s standing than is sitting. If you can be playing with your working space, you can elicit more from your stakeholders. They won’t be in the same board (bored) room, they’re in a new physical environment that you’ve created which means you can get more out of them quickly.

Evidence? I process mapped with cohorts of stakeholders in a traditional manner of sitting beside them when they were doing their work and writing it down and drawing it out as I believed best. I got a lot from it and I was very proud of myself. I printed out those very processes on a huge printer and laid in on the floor and suddenly the very same stakeholders were puzzled. They knelt down with sharpie pens and wrote notes and crossed things out. They replaced sections with post its. I gave them brightly coloured stickers and asked them to colour code things that were policy, statutory etc. They were a different group of humans and what I go out from it that way was gold. I got complete benefit profiles, risks, issues, improvements, and change engagement in a way I didn’t get when they were sat in the board room.

This is the beginning of a long manifesto where I plead with you to act on that childhood instinct of being playful because it will pay off dividends in the long run!


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