Gap analysis, the comparison of the current state of a business process with the desired future state, is one of the key elements of business process improvement (BPI). Conducting a gap analysis helps an organization focus on the true problem areas of a process and make informed decisions about how best to correct those problems to achieve desired objectives.
In simple terms, the steps of conducting a gap analysis are: (1) map the current state of the process, (2) define the ideal future state, (3) identify the gaps between the current and ideal states, and (4) develop a plan to eliminate the gaps, moving the process toward its ideal state.
On the surface, those steps seem fairly intuitive and perhaps even easy to accomplish; in reality, gap analysis is not for the faint of heart. Here’s why:
- You’re In the Danger Zone. When you are conducting a gap analysis, you’re immersed in a broken process, looking for areas of risk and danger to the organization. A gap is a weak place in a process where the failure can happen. In an accounting process, for example, it may be where duplicate invoices are processed, where you get multiple payments sent to a bank, or where you miss a cash collection. To an organization that aims to run efficiently and profitably, these are serious deficiencies that need to be overcome. When mapping the current process, color coding is an easy way to highlight gaps and risks through visual presentation.
- It’s a Front-line Battle. When you’re doing the analysis of what’s broken, one of the biggest risks is to design a new process without speaking to the people who are doing the process every single day. In my experience, senior management usually thinks they know best how a process flows and what the issues are, but nearly 100% of the time senior managers are surprised to learn all the actual steps and true problems with a process that are revealed by talking with those who are “on the front line.” Involving the true owners of the process is also critical to establishing buy-in and support for the change process.
- You’ve Got to Get Down to the Nitty-Gritty, and No Shortcuts Are Allowed. To do the mapping process well, you’ve got to roll up your shirt sleeves and get to work, carefully recording each step and digging to uncover all the contingencies. Our process at ZCom comprises interviewing each end user and standing with them, watching them carefully as they perform their roles to determine exactly what they do. We take screenshots, draw flow charts, and ask probing questions about all the different types of steps and processes they use in performing their job. It is actually quite a cumbersome, tedious process that takes a lot of interaction between our team and each end user, but it’s the only way to truly understand the process, its gaps, and what changes need to be made to improve it.
So, in summary, gap analysis is a serious business, ivory tower assumptions are worthless, and it’s tedious, time-consuming work. Sound like fun? Actually, gap analysis can be extremely rewarding and even, dare I say, exciting, especially when it leads to significant improvements that benefit the company and its employees alike.
Authored by Lynne Drea