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MNC Consulting Group Newsletter
October 2013
The Efficient Organization


Open, Narrow, Close


When organizations know the root cause of their problems, they will go through three phases to generate and select appropriate solutions. The phases are:


  • Open phase - the goal is to generate as many solutions as possible.
  • Narrow phase - solutions are clarified, categorized, and prioritized.
  • Close phase - appropriate solutions are selected for implementation.


Many tools are available for generating ideas; one such tool being an affinity diagram that can be used in brainstorming. An affinity diagram can help you categorize a large volume of data into themes from which you can draw conclusions. However, the key to producing a good affinity diagram is in the level of participation in brainstorming session(s).


Effective brainstorming sessions hinge on having a good facilitator and following basic brainstorming rules such as ensuring that everyone on the team participates in generating ideas. In addition, there must be no criticism of ideas and all ideas must be documented.


An easy way to document ideas is to use sticky notes and post the notes on a large wall where everyone can see the ideas. Then, move the sticky notes around into specific categories to help visualize the themes.


Once the affinity diagram is completed and themes are apparent, you move into the narrow phase to clarify and categorize the themes, and vote to narrow the list of options. Multi-voting can be used to prioritize a final list of ideas (i.e., "narrow" the list). However, be aware that multi-voting is not decision making; it is only one method for prioritizing a final list.


When a final list of ideas is assembled, it is time to select the best possible solution(s). This is the close phase. During solution selection, certain criteria are followed to allow for solutions that can be implemented within 90 days ("quick hits") and those that are implementable in the short, medium, and long-term. In essence, the close phase delineates between must and want criteria.


Finally, with selected solutions in hand, projects can be started to correct root causes of problems. Of course, applying good project management principles at this point is a must for any organization interested in successful implementation.



Pursuit of Profit
Must and Want

Solution selection includes both "must" and "want" criteria with must criteria being in the domain of the project champion. That is, the project champion sets the must criteria for solutions.


Must criteria are classified as "either/or" in terms of decision making. That is, the solution either meets the must criteria or it does not. If it does not, it is no longer considered as a solution.


Typical must criteria may include, for example:


  • No additional resource allocation - i.e., company does not wish to hire more staff or consultants to implement the solution
  • No additional budget requirement - i.e., existing organizational budgets must cover the intended solution
  • Quick hit - the solution can be implemented within 90 days


Unlike must criteria, want criteria are established jointly between the team and project champion. These criteria are more open-ended in nature and are used to prioritize solutions rather than make either/or decisions.


Typical want criteria include consideration for impact on:


  • Cost - a budget limit may be part of the consideration
  • Time  - a specific timeframe to implement the solution may be part of the consideration
  • Root cause of the problem - solutions that can impact multiple root causes are higher in priority implementation than solutions that only impact one root cause
  • Stakeholders - solutions that have the least impact on the least number of stakeholders have a greater chance of being implemented sooner than other solutions
  • Resources - does the organization have available staff to implement the solution or do consultants need to be brought in?


One of the things to keep in mind as your organization sets about determining and then implementing its solutions is that solutions must be able to improve the process. They do not necessarily need to fix the process. This is because with finite resources, it may not always be possible to fix the process, but small enhancements or corrections may go a long way to improving what's broken.


Consider that even small improvements in low performing processes can generate savings of millions of dollars for the organization. There's no reason to wait for the ultimate fix when mini-improvements might get you the same result; only sooner.



In My Humble Opinion (IMHO)


I'm a fan of fixing what's broken, but realize that improving instead of fixing can certainly stretch the dollar without a huge initial investment. I have also noticed that organizations that work on implementing quick hits don't usually skip a beat in delivering service or product to their customer, and generally have happier staff. Need to fix what's broken? Improve it first. IMHO.


"A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled."

 Sir Barnett Cocks (1907-1989)

About MNC Consulting Group
Our goal is to help you to dramatically increase efficiencies that immediately boost your profit margins.


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Extreme Profits is a monthly electronic newsletter discussing how leaders can be more efficient and areas where organizations can save more money. 


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In This Issue
Open, Narrow, Close
Must and Want
In My Humble Opinion (IMHO)

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