Close Your Gap: A Drama in Five Acts

Steven StantonAt one of our recent courses, an attendee asked: “I have current performance data, but I don’t know if it’s good or bad performance. How can I tell?”

This is a superficially simple question. But it has significant implications, many of which we address in our courses:

The question actually revolves around “The Gap” (not the clothing retailer) … the difference between current and desired performance. This is the central issue in process improvement and process management. Closing the gap is itself a process, and it plays out in five acts, as the following storyline demonstrates:

Step One: Where are we? Current performance is an important but lagging indicator. It tells us where we’ve been rather than where we’re going. But hard data illuminates actual performance, so it serves as our starting point.

Step Two: Where do we need to be? This is a much more complex issue as the answer depends on synthesizing a number of distinct perspectives to create a meaningful performance target:

  • Voice of the Customer as the primary determinant of process value. Without customers there’s no business, period. This voice also provides a view into competitors’ capabilities and how their offerings shape customer expectations.
  • Voice of the Performer provides insight on what’s possible on the front line, what’s in the way, and how to improve performance by removing constraints.
  • Voice of Strategy is the top team’s view of what’s important. The strategy defines the right measures of profit or growth, highlights processes that are critical for organizational success, and indicates what’s needed from each process. In addition, strategy is often a surrogate for the voice of the shareholder.
  • Voice of Opportunity comes from exploration, including best practice and benchmarking. It’s a window into what’s possible and can be used to shape future targeting.

Step Three: Compared to what? At the heart of this process is the comparison of where we are and where we need to be. The difference is the Gap. The primary role of a process leader is to close this gap. The driver of all process improvement projects should be connected to closing the gap. The work of process documentation is only valuable if it leads to closing the gap. The gap is the single most important number process professionals will ever deal with.

Step Four: Understanding the difference. Quantifying the gap, understanding it, and knowing how to close it are all required. Disciplined process diagnosis should be based on an investigation of process flaws, constraints, metrics, leverage points, and improvement opportunities. Its outcome is a coherent set of observations and options including, but not limited to, process redesign.

Step Five: Closing the gap. Insight plus action equal results. After all the voices are heard and understood in the context of process operations, all that’s needed is an action plan – a management intervention or redesign project to close the gap. Whether it’s a change in execution or a change in design, it’s the final step in the cycle.

The Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do”. We say that if you do know where you’re going, these five steps will take you there.

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