CHI Product Management

The Benevolent “Lord Business”: How Tom Fattes Uses Business Alignment for Good in the LEGO World

Tom Fattes

Instead of a man cave, Tom Fattes has a part of his basement that his family calls the LEGO room.

In the room are multiple shelves and a handmade display table consisting of an 8’x4’ piece of plywood. Displayed within the room are a Disney Castle, the Ghostbusters firehouse, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Ninjago and dinosaurs. There’s even a train that runs through it.

Tom is a senior principal consultant with Daugherty, and the Line of Service lead for business alignment out of our Chicago business unit. He is an expert in business analysis, business architecture, product ownership, User Experience/User Interface (UX/UI) and change leadership. And his passion for LEGOs incorporates just about all of these skills.

Tom’s passion for LEGOs began when he was child. He received a model LEGO set of the Spirit of St. Louis and thought it was pretty cool. As a father of four, he’d hoped this hobby would pass down to his children. When it didn’t, he decided to make it his hobby — purchasing sets or tubs of LEGOs, constructing the specified models, keeping the ones he wanted and selling others.

“I wanted to do it in a way where this hobby would fund itself, because it could easily break the budget,” Tom said.

His most recent project has been a tunnel over the train track. To do this, Tom has employed many skills from work.

UX/UI considers the “front end” of a product: What does the customer experience when they interact with the design? How does the design look?

In the case of LEGOs — How big does the design need to be for a train to pass through? What colors are most pleasing to the eye?

On the Agile side, Tom determines a minimal viable product, then completes it in small chunks, adapting as he goes.

Both of these components help him acquire efficiencies. For the tunnel, for example, it doesn’t matter what color the bricks are on the inside, but they have to be consistent on the outside, so he just worries about brick size if he’s placing them inside the tunnel.

Agile principles and LEGO construction is nothing new; Daugherty even has a LEGO component to our ICAgile-accredited Agile Fundamentals class.

As Tom builds the tunnel, he considers new features, and re-evaluates approaches he thought would work that didn’t. He follows this process of designing and redesigning until he’s reached a “finished” state — the word finished being in quotation marks because you can always take the bricks apart later. Currently the tunnel is only half complete.

In fact, the finished state brings up a big no-no in the LEGO community: gluing pieces together. If you’ve seen The LEGO movie, you know the plot is that the LEGO people must ban together to stop Lord Business from gluing their LEGO world together.

In the real world, when people buy a LEGO set, they often want the ability to add their own features.

But this isn’t the only way LEGOs are like Tom’s line of service.

As a business analyst, Tom has worked with data for most of his career and encounters business problems that are relatively universal across clients, with unique variations depending on the industry. To achieve a working solution, Tom has to gather requirements from subject matter experts, interviewing them to find out specs for a working solution. Then the team proposes possible design solutions, everybody agrees on one, and they begin to implement it incrementally.

Likewise, with LEGOs, each model contains many of the same parts (data elements) that are put together in tailored ways, using different shapes, sizes and colors to produce a stable finished product. Often, Tom can find bricks on the cheap at garage sales. And instructions are a Google-search away. It’s a matter of factoring time and cost to produce a quality product.

Tom also uses his hobby to learn new tools and technologies. He recently created a Tableau viz, Lego History, that shows different charts categorizing sets with the year they were built.

In the end, whether it’s solving a complex problem using IT and data, or completing a set that brings someone joy, it’s the sense of accomplishment that keeps Tom going.

And with LEGOs, they’re a fun hobby that Tom “shelves” when other priorities come along.

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