Recently, I “re-discovered” that analytical skills are not common. In fact, a recent assignment demonstrated that many people tend to skim the surface and propose recommendations without doing the necessary analytical work.
Now, this may sound like a really good thing – why go through all the trouble of analyzing when you know what needs doing? The way I see it, there are several problems with this approach.
The first problem is that providing recommendations without investigation and evidence will result in “band aid” solutions. What organization wants to mop up the spill without finding and fixing the leak?
The second problem is that without an examination and explanation of the situation, there is a lack of clarity about what constitutes a problem. Even more important, the root cause of the problem may be missing.
The third problem is that recommendations built on instinct are not valid. While your judgment may be accurate, not everyone thinks like you do. That is why careful examination and explanation of the situation is required to draw meaningful recommendations.
Applying analytical thought requires one to look at a situation objectively. Analysis goes beyond describing what is occurring (many people are good at this part). It provides both an examination and explanation of the situation. And examinations and explanations require asking and answering several questions about the situation. The most common question is “why.”
There are several ways to conduct an analysis, but here are a few simple steps that can help you “collect” your thoughts for easier review. The steps also provide a basis for solid analysis.
- Collect data about the situation and place it in an “issues template.” A spreadsheet is useful for this purpose.
- Give your template four headings: Issue, Possible Causes, Other Relationships and Impacts, Possible Resolutions.
- Based on your data, list all the issues you uncover under the “issue” column. When completed, start “analyzing” one issue at a time and complete the related columns for that issue – i.e., possible causes, other relationships and impacts, and possible resolutions.
- Group your issues into major categories, as appropriate. (You may have main issues and sub-issues).
- Using your “issues template,” examine and explain the following (this will comprise your report).
- Situation. Discuss the situation where the issue exists. Use evidence from your data to support your discussion about the situation(s).
- Relationships and Impacts. Based on the situation discussion, include possible relationships and impacts that are influencing the situation. As well, discuss how the situation is impacting (or potentially impacting) other areas of the organization.
- Needs/Recommendations. Based on your discussion of the above and taking into consideration possible causes and possible resolutions for the issue, discuss what needs to happen in the organization to correct the issue.
If you are able to support your recommendations with evidence from your analysis, then it is easier to convince readers that your recommendations are valid. In the words of Edward Deming, “In God we trust, but for everything else, bring data.”