The Haystack Method for Business Analysis Work

In Rohit Bhargava’s excellent book Non Obvious Mega Trends, Rohit describes his haystack method for compiling interesting stories, articles, books and other resources together and identifying trends out of the compiled resources.

His haystack method consists of:

  1. Collecting interesting stories
  2. Grouping these into piles
  3. Elevating multiple piles into themes
  4. Naming these themes
  5. Validating these themes without bias

It’s a simple but powerful method that can also be applied to business analysis work — I know because as a management consultant, I’ve used the same method and I’ll describe to you exactly how to do it for work.

To give you some context, imagine you are a consultant who has been asked to develop a strategy on behalf of your client. The client has no preconceived notion of what the strategy should be so you go about developing the strategy from the bottom up.

1. Collecting interesting stories

For work, this means collecting interesting research articles (think Gartner, Forester but you can also think of any firm that specializes in knowledge articles), interviews with key stakeholders, observations you’ve seen and your experience working with similar organizations.

2. Grouping these into piles

Rohit prints everything and then groups these into physical piles. I don’t mind that approach — some people are better thinkers when they can touch and move around objects in real life. My method is slightly different in that because most of what management consultants collect is electronic (think knowledge articles, minutes from interviews, insights and trends from other deliverables for similar organizations), I collect these into Excel. At first, I put everything into Excel. Then, I’ll read through each resource and start to group similar resources together (I’ll cut and paste). From the groupings, I can start to see what is mentioned more often. Things that are only mentioned once or twice may be noted down, but otherwise not mentioned as part of the analysis work.

3. Elevating multiple piles into themes

This really depends on how many resources you have collected. What I’ve found with my work is once I’ve grouped the resources into piles, I already have the themes. But what I might do is take the themes from (2) and group these into broader themes, for example, it might be a business capability or it might be an area of the business.

4. Naming these themes

Once I’ve identified the themes, I have one sentence describing the theme. Rohit calls this step “elegantly naming the theme”. I usually don’t apply that much rigour to naming the theme, but I will try to keep it short and memorable.

5. Validating these themes without bias

This is an interesting step in my experience — because you are often validating the themes with your client or key stakeholders and they have bias from working at the organization. I will say that the bias is good because it can help you validate the themes that you’re seeing, but you certainly want to make sure that you identify new themes because if your key stakeholders know, the executive also likely know the same themes and then what is the value that you (a management consultant) bring to the organization?

For management consultants, there is a sixth and final step: turning the themes and work into presentations so they can be consumed by executives and management. But if you’ve done all the five previous steps, it’s a matter of putting words to paper.

This post was created with Typeshare

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