Disguising Analysis: Making the Medicine Go Down

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Ask process improvement experts (which I have done over the years in teaching and consulting with such people) what is the hardest part of doing a process improvement project and they tend to say analysis. And in fact, it’s not just among process practitioners that you will hear people say that analysis is their most challenging activity: training program developers, organizational effectiveness types, change management coaches, etc., also tend to cite analysis as the toughest aspect of their work.

The reason is not necessarily that analysis is technically difficult—although that could be the case, the technical challenges tend to be motivating to most practitioners of the art of analysis. The real obstacle is the fear that analysis engenders in the targets of analysis. You want to analyze me? What are you trying to find out? What if it’s bad? The resistance comes out in various ways, even from (maybe especially from) senior leaders, who attempt to derail analysis by announcing that it’s unnecessary because “We all know it’s broken; let’s just fix it” or “I don’t want analysis paralysis.”

So what are some things you can do to deal with this quite understandable fear?

  1. One option is to not do analysis—just skip it and move on to solutions. Okay, not usually a good choice, unless the solution is obvious, but sometimes it can be, especially if you have a lot of experience in your area of expertise, so then why belabor the obvious just because your improvement methodology calls for an analysis phase? Well, because you could be wrong, and your expertise might blind you to things you need to examine in order to understand the situation thoroughly. So skipping analysis is a mistake. You will find yourself backtracking at some point during the project to find out things you should already know, and there is a cost to that—in time and in your own credibility.

  2. Another option is to call the analysis something else—it’s a Review, or an Assessment (although that term smells like analysis), or a Check (as in Plan, Do, Check, Act), or a Determination, or Questioning, or Concept Development. This last one may seem a little sneaky, however, if you come back during Concept Development with a whopping report that looks like an as-is analysis.

  3. A different option is to describe the analysis as being part of another phase (it becomes the first part of the Redesign phase, for example) or to layer analysis throughout all the other phases, as it tends to already be there anyway. For example, the front end of an improvement project usually has something like Scoping, or Project Definition, or Modeling, and despite the label, this front end contains analysis of various kinds—what the problem is, where it’s happening, who will be the client, etc. Then in the Design or Redesign phase, the same opportunity exists to integrate the analysis work into creating the solution.

  4. Yet another alternative comes from Geary Rummler. In his book Serious Performance Consulting*  he suggests that instead of analysis being a long protracted period of time it can be done in successive “sweeps”, each of which starts with a hypothesis, followed by data collection and then analysis proper. The hypothesis is an “informed” (as in, the client told you) guess about the current state (“The client says this process is too costly because we’re paying too much for inventory”). Information is then gathered from interviews, documents and other sources to see if the hypothesis holds up. Then each following sweep either focuses in more and more narrowly on the problem (“The data suggest that process costs are caused by both inventory costs and a high amount of rework”) or the hypothesis is invalidated and you start over. But at each stage you return to the client with your findings, review what you have found and together decide whether to continue or take a different course. This helps engage the client in the “hunt for truth” as well as bring transparency to the analysis phase. And because the analysis is done in bite-sized steps it doesn’t seem like the giant analysis phase of so many organizational studies.


Whatever course you take, do analysis, however it best works in the environment you’re in. But while doing it, never forget that the fear factor is there and needs to be attended to or it can seriously inhibit your ability to execute an essential part of improvement work.


 * Rummler, Geary A., Serious Performance Consulting:  According to Rummler, Intern


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