One of the more challenging tasks for a new performance improvement practitioner is to know when the analysis phase is complete. After all, there is always another person to interview, another document to review, or another process to observe. So how do you know when you have enough data to move forward to the next phase and start suggesting solutions? Here are some lessons learned from more than a decade of experience in the field.
Keep your end goal in sight. It is imperative to always keep the purpose of the project in mind. What are the goals of the project? What results does the project hope to achieve? While analysis may lead you down various paths, make sure those paths have a clear connection to the end goal. For example, one of the goals might be to reduce errors by 25 percent. Your analysis could uncover multiple reasons why errors are currently higher than desired—communication, technology, or process issues, for instance. There’s usually more than one reason for an issue, so you should expect this multipronged result. However, if you uncover an issue that does not relate to one of your goals, you need to stop going down that path. What you have uncovered is a possible opportunity for another project, and you should report your discovery to the appropriate person. Just because you discovered it during your current analysis does not mean it is critical to your current analysis. Note it and move on.
Have an endpoint. Always know the parameters of a project. What is the ultimate deadline? How many hours are being allocated to analysis? It is easy to get stuck in analysis, especially as a new professional, because there is always more to uncover. Keeping a deadline or hour cap in sight can help you stay focused. Granted, you will sometimes run into a major issue that will extend the project schedule, but if this happens to you every time, you may want to adjust your strategy or talk to a more seasoned professional about ways to improve. Your goal is to do the best analysis possible within the time allocated, so plan accordingly.
Start with a high-level overview. To do a good analysis, you need to understand the processes, key players, and other critical information that pertains to your project. Try to interview key personnel who can give you background information, confirm end goals, and reiterate why this project is important. You can use this overview to help you develop a strategy for the analysis. However, keep in mind that the overview may not tell the full story, so be willing to adjust your strategy, if needed, based on what you uncover.
Test the waters. After getting your high-level overview and before you get too far into your analysis, test the waters to make sure you are headed in the right direction. For example, you may initially think you need to do a certain number of interviews, talk to particular people, observe a particular process, or review particular documents. Choose a few of those to start with to see if you are on the right track. Sometimes the high-level overview does not align with what is happening on the floor and you need to adjust your strategy appropriately.
Cross-reference. Do not rely solely on one source of information. You will need to conduct interviews, review documents, observe processes, and perform any other type of analysis that is appropriate for the project. By gathering information from a variety of sources, you can cross-reference and validate the findings.
Do not strive to uncover everything. Nothing is static, and you will never be able to uncover everything, so don’t expect to. Your goal is to do the best analysis possible to help you achieve the end results. The best analysis involves gathering a sampling of relevant information from various sources. It is not your job to look everywhere; it is your job to know where to look.
Know when enough is enough. When you start getting the same information over and over from various sources, it is probably safe to wrap up your analysis. If, however, you are still uncovering new and critical information that affects the end goal, you need to toss up the red flag and possibly consult with a more seasoned analyst to determine what the next best steps are. It could be that there is actually more to uncover than expected, but it also could point out an issue with your analysis strategy.
Remember the process can be iterative. Because nothing is static, inevitably something will change, be uncovered later in the process, or get questioned by management. This may prompt you to go back and gather more information. Since you initially analyzed a sampling of data, you may need to go back and do a deeper dive into one part of the process to validate your findings.
Create a good strategy. Taking into consideration all the information above, create a strategy that will enable you to gather the information you need in the timeframe you have to conduct the analysis. Be flexible with the strategy as things may change, but try to do your best to stick to the timing.
Becoming a good analyst requires practice; it is not something you can just read in a book or learn in class. To conduct a good analysis and not get stuck in analysis paralysis, start with a good strategy, follow through, and navigate the pitfalls by drawing on your own experience and wisdom, as well as remembering the advice of your teachers, colleagues, and other seasoned professionals.
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