By Shane Chagpar, Kepner-Tregoe 
Creating a problem portfolio dashboard

By creating an effectively prioritized problem dashboard, you can align resources, understand the needs of others, and provide an executive When faced with a long list of problems, it is essential to prioritize your dashboard effectivelysummary to your peers. The toughest part about this is achieving separation - what to do when everything seems important? In times like these, I refer to a tool called Situation Appraisal (SA). In it is a simple, yet powerful framework for separating the challenges being faced, using the concepts of current impact, future impact, and timeframe.

When faced with a raft of problems it is easy to rush headlong into working on the one that seems, at first glance to be the most urgent. But without a measured analysis of the issues that are demanding attention, it is very easy to end up working on the wrong problem.

Gaining insight

The key to creating a dashboard that gives an immediate view of the problems your team is working on, with clearly defined and agreed priorities, is to do a situation appraisal. This technique gives you the insight needed to determine which problems require immediate attention and which ones can safely be parked to be looked at another day.

The outcome of using the evaluative techniques that make up the situation appraisal also help you make the best use of your other critical thinking tools, including Six Sigma, project management, problem analysis, decision analysis, or potential problem analysis.

Situation appraisal will show you:

·         Where to begin

·         How to recognize the situations that require action

·         How to break apart issues that are overlapping and causing confusion

·         How to set priorities

·         How to manage a number of simultaneous activities effectively

·         How to effectively manage involvement, and plan for execution.

Working quickly

When confronted with a large list of issues, often the best place to start is with a quick identification of the 5 or 6 issues that pose the biggest threat to the organization, group, or team. Generally, even with a diverse group of people involved, these issues will be easy to recognize and agree on – after all, they are usually causing the biggest headache. All remaining issues can then be pushed to the side and considered at another time. Focusing on the currently critical areas, as well as those that have the most significant growth or future impact will provide the best business value.

There are five specific activities that make up the Situation Appraisal

·         List threats and opportunities

·         Separate and clarify concerns

·         Consider seriousness (Current Impact), urgency (Timeframe) and growth (Future Impact)

·         Determine analysis needed

·         Determine help needed

Determining priority is a product of the first three.

Not an end in itself

It is important to remember that a situation appraisal is not an end in itself, and therefore this should not take up a lot of time. This is a way of deciding which issues need to be addressed immediately. It will also give a clear indication of which of the KT techniques should be employed in the further examination and ultimately the resolution of the issue. Situation Appraisal in essence becomes the operating system or primary driver behind choosing which tool to best use in order to solve a problem, instead of the tool that solves the problem for you. It is a guide that leads to a highly effective to-do list for the team.

Identifying the risks and opportunities that relate to an issue will ultimately produce a list of problems, decisions and future-oriented concerns, all of which will deserve consideration.

With this information available, the complete list of concerns can be arranged based on a realistic and useful order of priority.

Working on the same page

It is very common to find, once we get into the depths of an issue, that we are actually dealing with multiple concerns that have combined to appear as one. Breaking the concern down to its individual parts will make sure that everyone is on the same page and working on the same issue.

Break the issue down and prioritize its parts, then work on the part with the highest priority.

How do we now determine priority? This can be very subjective, if you ask everyone in the room to define what ‘important’ is, you will get many different answers.

Questions to answer

There is a practical way to determine importance. Consider the following questions:

·         How serious is the current impact on people, safety, cost, productivity, customers, reputation etc.

·         How urgent is it to keep the concern from becoming difficult, expensive, or impossible to resolve?

·         What evidence is there that the seriousness will grow?

·         What will happen if we do nothing?

The answers to one or more of these questions will give you the information you need to judge which of the issues you are considering is relatively more important than the others.

It is the lack of this relativity that often causes issues in managing the workload. Issues come in and are considered in isolation, prioritizing issues without having anything to measure against leads to the situation where we are simply working on the wrong things.

Providing clarity

It does take time to undertake this exercise, but you will waste more time by expending effort on concerns that could be dismissed or delayed. Worse, you could work based off untrue assumptions and end up with a sub-optimized result.  

With this part of the situation appraisal completed, you will have the necessary clarity to be able to produce a simple, accurate and effectively prioritized dashboard that can be used to plan work and resource utilization with clarity and a clear understanding of what needs to be done, and when.

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