improvement shouldn’t mean analysis paralysis!

As a business process improvement specialist, I have had the good fortune to participate in dozens of events where I was part of a team who would work together to address some notorious area of pain in the business.  It might be a problem with the quality of the product or service, as a result of a customer complaint, or worse yet, a return.


It might be the failure to fulfill an order, to deliver on time, setting the customer back from meeting their obligation of their customer, downstream of our relationship.




It is often a cost issue that is out of control, eating up our profit margin, which was small in the first place in order to offer our service or product at a competitive price.


With any of these challenges, it comes down to the one simple truth:  there is really one, correct way to run the process in order to get the desired result:  some thing, delivered on-time, for a fair price, which works like it’s supposed to, satisfying the customer.


After sitting down and properly defining the problem, it’s typical to go out and gather some data about how we do the work we do.  This is often seen as “unnecessary” or a “waste of time” by the experts in the crowd, since they’re sure of what’s wrong and why. 


That path, following the experts may very well be why we’re in this fix in the first place.


It’s what we’re absolutely sure of that is the real problem.  Without data, you’re just a person with an opinion.


So, you gather your data, taking a shot at characterizing the current, baseline performance level of a key process and now what?  Let’s analyze it!


Two tools I use to cut to the quick and find the precious few of the many factors causing our troubles are the Pareto Chart and the Fishbone chart.


The Pareto is just a fancy name for taking all the instances where a particular method, machine, role (not person), measure or even environmental factor caused a problem or an unanticipated outcome and sorting these potential causes in decreasing order from most-frequent to least-frequent.


By the way, it is seldom a person who is at the root cause of an issue, contrary to popular belief.  Don’t look for causes like “Frank”, “Mrs. Smith” or “Accounting”.   People want to do a good job, for the most part, but they seldom get all the tools, information, materials and encouragement they need to do the job right.  If you take the time to select the right people for the job and give them the tools they need, it’s usually another area at the root of your process quality issues.  Seek to understand what tools they need.



For example, let’s assume we work for a real estate agent and we gather data on why a potential client left our firm and went to the competition.  Suppose we sample 100 cases of actual reasons why customers left.


reason / cause occurrence
lack of quick response          42
insufficient choices          33
poor location           7
lack of listening           2
other 16


Note a few things about this data.


Our biggest issue was lack of quick response.  That represented a whopping 42% of our problem.  If we were to find what caused that issue, we would be well on our way to retaining customers and beating the competition.


Note how just two issues are at the heart of more than half of the problem!  Lack or response and insufficient choices represent more than 70% of your problems.  That gives you an area to focus on, to prioritize your few resources that are available among all the daily fire-fighting.


A Pareto is just a graphical representation of the above data in a bar chart format.  You could easily use MS Excel to derive the chart.


The Fishbone, or cause-effect diagram represents the five typical areas which are at the root of the causes mentioned above.  Let’s say we assess whether the lack of quick response was due to man / operator, machine, method, measure or metric, environment or some other factor.


A quick brainstorm between the people who own the process, the “subject matter experts might reveal that the top two reasons why team members fail to respond quickly enough to customer requests might be traced to

1) lack of training in customer service and

2) failure to distribute blackberry devices to all employees.  


If action is taken to remedy these two issues, it could improve responsiveness to the customer by more than 50%, resulting in the elimination of half the biggest root causes of our lack of revenue and thus profit.


An example of a fishbone or cause-effect diagram:




The analysis was pretty simple.  In a matter of days, not weeks or months, an organization can sit down, gather some simple data, look at potential causes and reveal to themselves some simple, straight-forward action thy can take to regain their competitive edge.


So, what is the kind of data you and your team need to collect to see your current situation?


What are the big issues – the critical few, stealing your revenue and competitive edge?


What’s causing those issues?


What action can you take to remedy the issues, making the process run more effectively, delighting, not merely satisfying your customer?


Share your questions, concerns and insight with


We’ll tailor our web log content around your pain points, so we effectively deliver the solutions you need to stay competitive, especially in these challenging times.


You don’t have to get caught in analysis paralysis in order to see how you do the work you do, as well as those few causes of your biggest issues!


You do however have to stop what you’re doing long enough to take the first step!

Read the latest book from Mike Weekes and Whataboutquality,



Available at http://www.whataboutqualitycom



About Michael R Weekes

With more than 25 years experience in business process improvement, Mike Weekes is known as the couch-potato-turned-marathoner. Mike helps organizations in the NFP, manufacturing, healthcare, government / education domains to save more than $200,000 a year in operational expenses using a simple philosophy: EVERYTHING IS A PROCESS.

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