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Organizational Health Check

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How healthy is your organization? Is it fit and bouncing with energy? Is it chronically sick with a debilitating malaise? Is its immune system weak so it catches whatever cold or other bug is doing the rounds? Does it seem ok yet harbours a creeping cancer that will one day kill it?

Health implies a fully functioning body, with no sickness, damage or, critically, an appearance of health while there are internal issues that will cause later problems. A health check focuses not just on visible symptoms but also on hidden issues that may surface later. If these issues can be addressed at an early stage, much later pain can be avoided through timely treatment.

So here is a seven-stage health assurance process.

1. Areas

Identify and agree the areas of the organization that are to be checked. There are two basic ways this can be done: by department/team, such as R&D and sales, or by subject, such as process and staffing. In practice a combination may be used.

A way of helping this if you are not sure is to consider existing model such as the EFQM Excellence model or the OGC Gateway, which may provide helpful checklists.

2. Measures

The next step is to identify the health measures you will use. In doing this the question of 'What do we mean by health?' may be revisited, which is always a good conversation. While existing measures may be useful, the 'health' question can provoke a new, healthier viewpoint, including the question of how to identify hidden cancers and other deep issues.

Typical measures include:

  • Development health -- patents, projects on schedule
  • Process health -- documentation, waste, failures
  • Health of orders -- sales vs targets, pipeline delay
  • Health of staff sick days, injuries, attrition
  • Resource health roles unfilled days, performance distribution
  • Financial health cash reserves, debtor days, gearing

3. Process

The next question is 'How exactly will we measure these?' This can be a tricky question as it is easy to say 'Let's measure customer satisfaction' and quite another to do it. This questioning will likely raise further questions such as 'Which customers? When? Who will do it?' and so on.

The cost will also probably crop up here and you may need to decide what is affordable. As with all expenditure there is a return on investment decision which needs to be carefully understood. A danger at this point is that things can get watered down so much they cast a paltry shadow of the real benefits that could be gained. Health checks, by definition, need a certain depth.

4. Measurement

Eventually the planned measurement takes place. It may involve computers, interviews, consultants, research companies and so on. important here is that measurement is done consistently and accurately.

A common approach is to have independent consultants do a series of interviews and review of available data rather than implement an expensive set of new measures. With such approaches the skill of the consultant (who is, in effect, the 'doctor') is critical. Such reviews are often best done by a small team who can use abilities such as investigative interviewing and data analysis.

5. Understanding

When the data and interview information is collected, it must be turned into useful information that can be understood and used to make decisions. This typically involves two sub-phases: investigation and presentation.

During investigation, numeric data is examined, looking for trends, performance against plans and other significant points. Qualitative data may be coded and cross-compared, again looking for insights and significant patterns.

This understanding then has to be converted into a form which can be presented to others, with charts, elanations, summaries and key points. The conclusion of this stage should hence be a common understanding of the findings by key players. If the findings are critical this may involve significant debate!

6. Action

Understanding is good but is useless unless followed by action. This starts with plans and reaches into managed implementation.

Planning is typically at programme and project level. Programme planning includes the decision of what will and will not be done, based on a return in investment decision. This leads to a set of projects and possible 'just do it' simple action. Implementation, as ever, should be to plan, and should result in permanent change.

7. Re-check

The purpose of this whole effort is to improve the health of the organization, so it makes sense to verify that changes worked as intended. For valid comparison, this likely means repeating the measure affected.

A good approach to organizational health is like physical health, with regular check-ups. If you do this, the re-check can be integrated into the next health check.


Next time: Planguage for Requirements


This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Chartered Quality Institute


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