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3 June 2011

What a Business Analyst thinks about TV

I have a recurring conversation with many of my friends and coworkers. It goes something like this:

"Hey, Ted! Did  you see what happened on show XXXXXXXX last night???"

"We've worked together for over 4 years now, and in that time, how many times have I ever answered 'yes' to that question?"

"Uhm... yeah, that's right. I forgot; you don't watch TV."

Yes, I am a weird-o. I don't watch TV. More accurately, I download a very limited set of TV shows, only one of which has gained any real mainstream popularity, and most importantly, my wife and I only watch the downloaded versions when we have nothing else to do. Its not that we have some kind of religious or spiritual aversion to the TV; its just that we receive very little enjoyment out of mainstream entertainment. To each their own.

How a BA looks at TV

Given my outsider status, I feel as if I have an interesting perspective on the television. Its not that I think its a tool of satan or something that rots your brain; just that it isn't for me. There are certain things that I want out of my entertainment medium and TV fails that on most every account. To put it in business terms, TV fails to meet nearly every one of my requirements. Are my requirements so esoteric that they're nearly impossible, at least economically, to meet? I don't think so, but my perspective is a bit biased.

Some of my objections to the current state of TV, at least as we have it in the US, is nothing more than my rejection of the values of the society in which I live. Minus my mortgage, I have no debt. I don't buy things I can't afford. I don't try to 'keep up with the Joneses'. Things like this just don't matter to me. TV, and its advertising sponsored channels, just don't have the same goal as I. That's not to say that one of the two goals is better or worse, just not what I value.

I see the same type of conflict happen between stakeholders on projects as well. Be honest with yourself and you've seen it happen, too. How often have the strict controls desired by finance and audit meshed perfectly with the flexibility desired by operations? When has the need for short call times within support matched up with the detailed analysis needed by engineering?

When our stakeholders do not agree, we either get them to some kind of acceptable compromise or one side's needs so far outweigh the other's that a decision is obvious. For me, I'm not going to ever let the needs of the other side (advertiser's and networks) outweigh my needs and any compromise that requires me to watch needlessly consumeristic commercial content in order to get a few chuckles is also abhorrent to my sensibilities. When faced with either of these two possibilities, I do what most project stakeholders are unable to do; I take my 'ball' and go elsewhere.

Making a better TV

So what would I do to make TV more appealing? I'm not the first to ask this question, which is why this idea of rethinking TV came to mind. Frankly, no solution that would meet my needs would allow TV as we know it today to continue.

The first thing that is important to me is the ability to make TV adhere to my schedule. Being able to watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it is primary. When I'm not at work, I don't plan my life around set slots of when I must be at some specific location to do a specific activity. If I miss a time window, or if I simply don't want to do an activity at a certain time, I shouldn't be punished for this. TV that requires me to watch on someone else's schedule is simply unacceptable.

DVRs, and tv-on-demand, have gone a long way to meeting this requirement. Tivo and other similar services help users time-shift programming to meet their schedules, yet they still have issues with my second requirement, location shifting.

Its not that I just want to watch TV when I want, but also where I want. Of all the screens in my house, laptops, iPad, netbooks, iPhones, desktops and TV, the TV is the one that is on the least. Even then, the number of movies played far outweighs the number of TV shows. Why is this? Simple; the mobile devices can go wherever I go, but the TV (generally) must be stationary.

If I go to the doctor's office and sit in the waiting room for 30 minutes, I don't want to be forced to listen to the soap operas or the afternoon talk shows when I can whip out my iPad and watch whatever I want. The problem with this model is that streaming TV over the iPad, especially when on a public wifi connection, makes for a poor experience. The only viable option, as of now, is to download the show in advance if you want to be able to watch later; a solution which really doesn't meet my need.

How many times, especially with the advent of cheap laptops and (more recently) tablets, have our users begged and demanded to have their data and processes available to them in a mobile fashion that doesn't equate to email? More and more, our users want their data available where they are, not just in the office. Just like I want my TV available where I am, our project stakeholders want to work where it makes sense for them to work, not where it is convenient for the project teams for them to work.

The last requirement I have is in regards to cost. Yes, it is absurd that I am unwilling to pay $1 for an episode of a show when I am willing to pay $3.50 for a hot chocolate from Starbucks, yet for some reason, I just can't bring myself to pay that for a show. The meager laughs provided by modern TV via download just don't seem worth it when the same content is available over the air for 'free' (advertising notwithstanding). Even just rereading this paragraph makes me realize how absurd my value system is in this area, yet I have a mental block that just refuses to budge.

This is the one that makes me cringe because I see it in myself. I know that my users are tired of hearing me say, "If only I had the time, people and budget, I'd love to do that for you, but as it is, I am completely constrained on all three of those fronts. Get me more of any of those three and I can help you out." Its the same thing with TV; I want it for (mostly) free. Yet my expectations of what it should cost to produce 30 minutes of quality programming and what it actually costs to produce 30 minutes of quality programming are far apart and unlikely to ever meet. When my stakeholders complain about me never doing anything for them, I cringe, because I know that I do the same thing when it comes to media companies.

Summing it Up

So what are my requirements? Simply put, I need to be able to view TV when I want, where I want and at a cost that doesn't feel usurious to my wallet. Those are not requirements that are unique to me. They are the same requirements that are asked of me on a regular basis (albeit with less militancy than I've expressed here about my own wants and needs).

Exercises like this, which outline our own requirements that are not being met, are useful not only to help us sharpen our skills, but to help remind us of the struggles our business stakeholders go through regularly. These are reminders that those of us who regularly work on projects need to have regularly.