There are many methodologies for identifying problems and executing on solutions. This article will not review these approaches, such as Lean, Six Sigma, PMP (Agile/ Waterfall), PRINCE2, ITIL, Socratic Questioning, Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX) – to name a few.
From a high level, effective problem solving is completed only when we have a firm understanding of the root cause of the problem we are solving. This is the reason the requirements gathering phase is so integral to meaningful solutions. Understanding the problem, in fact, is often the most challenging aspect of any project.
Preparing Data for Analysis
For the sake of this discussion, we are assuming that proper requirements gathering has already begun and we have an accurate account of the current state of the subject of our study. We are now looking for a favorable place to begin using the collected raw data for further analysis. There are a couple documents that might be helpful at this moment. Each will use data points to understand the complete story of our current process. The formula intrinsic to these documents are the Six Ws:
- Who was involved?
- What happened?
- Where did it take place?
- When did it take place?
- Why did that happen?
- How did it happen?
We’ll start by building a mind-map to understand the relationships and dependencies that affect the process we are studying. Why do we need this process, how does it relate to what we are trying to achieve as an organization? See Figure 1 below for a high-level example. How do our competition, customer needs and/ or regulation(s) impact corporate strategy? The Corporate strategy does directly impact the process we are analyzing as this should be the governing drivers behind all processes and programs. The Departments, personnel and policies of an organization also share a relationship with the process we are reviewing. Finally, whatever impacts any direct relationship for the process, e.g. Corporate strategy, also indirectly affects it. More on how we can use this and other tools to improve processes later.
Figure 1 | Mind-Map
Using the data from the requirements gathering we prepare our next document the ‘As-Is’ flowchart, which – as the name implies, documents the current state of the process you are working to change. See figure 2 below for an example. We’ll drill down into the Departments and personnel further to understand what Functional areas the process can be broken down into. This will vary by organization, but an example could be Sales, Customer Experience, Business & Technology, Field/ Fleet Services, Finance et al. The next step will be to understand the flow of the current process, whom starts it, who carries out tasks along the way, who makes decisions, who documents, provides QA, who closes out the process? This information will then be diagramed into swim lanes by functional area responsibilities and by phase (Initiation, Planning, Execution and Closure), with the effort and time also being documented. Preparing the data in such a diagram will provide the visual aide to not only study problem areas, but to effectively communicate them to Senior Leadership.
Figure 2 | As-Is Diagram
Improve Process Flow through Phase/ Functional Area Analysis
Reviewing the vertical columns in Figure 2 from the prior section, we can determine if there is too much time dedicated to Initiation/ Planning and not enough in Execution – known as over analysis paralysis. Lack of Execution is a major problem facing many organizations. A plan will never be perfect the first time an organization executes it, however, never starting a very needed change or project is a much worse fate. Additionally, are we spending too much time executing and not enough time for appropriate planning? Flying from the seat of our pants is a good way to ensure that we are going to miss big time on the triple constraints: how costs, scope and schedule affect quality. Are there no or poorly developed processes, or is the team not following established protocols? Is there appropriate time spent in closure? Is there a well-defined QA process?
Reviewing the Horizontal rows in Figure 2 from the prior section, we can identify opportunities for better alignment with the Corporate strategy. Are the responsibilities for tasks outside of the personnel’s expertise – assigned to the wrong functional area? There could be gaps in organizational skills that could lead to missing tasks, or poorly executed tasks, which would make the workflow operate smoother. Is there redundancy in effort – where more than one functional area is completing the same or similar tasks. Are all key stakeholders being engaged for decisions that the organization would benefit from their perspective – this should include both workers and departmental leaders.
Identify Waste in As-Is state
Waste exists in all processes, and at all levels. Even if it were theoretically possible to perfect processes where there is no waste, all organizations are dynamic and changing and thus waste is consistently re-introduced. Some examples of the changes in landscape for organizations you might be familiar with include: M&A, Divestitures, Start-up post Maturity phase, High Growth for sales focused organizations, Middle market acquisition or sales, changes to corporate leadership or organizational strategies, et cetera. Eliminating waste is a compelling way to increase the profitability of a company and implementing effective strategies on an ongoing basis is the most effective way to maximize returns.
In Lean there are several well know forms of waste, known as: Muda, Mura and Muri. Unproductive tasks, frequently administrative tasks that are not billable to the client, or Muda, are the lowest hanging fruit and good to start our attack with. There are two types of activity or work here, the first is non-value-added, which is energy that generates a zero or negative return on our effort and can be immediately eliminated as it does not impair our process. The second type is integral to the process, but should be reviewed on a timely basis to identify if business situation changes allow its removal.
Another form of waste in Lean is an imbalance in the process, known as Mura. A good example of this is in the form of waste from an inconsistent work. In this example many contracts are signed by the sales team for Infrastructure deployments in the final week(s) of the month and all need to be installed by the end of the month. This drives installation costs up through more expensive supply chain costs, higher shipping fees, and additional contract labor costs (re-trips & revisions). It also leaves an imbalanced work force that requires higher workloads in the last two weeks of the month and little work to do in the first weeks of the month.
Competently leveling resources is an indispensable component of good Project Management. Over-allocating a resource with tasks on a project will not only put unreasonable stress or effort on them, it is well documented that this induces errors and reduces overall personnel performance. Too heavy a mental burden can also lead to the same effects. This is also applicable to equipment, expecting a machine to do more that it is capable or designed to do will put a physical burden that is certain to lead to component failure and down-time. Not to be understated, good project leadership will find the perfect balance.