The Issues Involved in Collecting and Analyzing the Data for Strategic Planning
 
 

The Issues Involved in Collecting and Analyzing the Data for Strategic Planning

It is important that all the investigators collecting the data can work together. Everyone is needed to sort, organize and sift through all the data received. Each piece should be scrutinized, analyzed, digitized for future reference, and formalized into workable information for the strategic plan. To accomplish this, the team must be free to speak frankly and voice ideas, objections, observations, and any reservations they may have about data uncovered. Being able to talk frankly and freely allows all the data to be thoroughly analyzed, verified, and qualified, as pertinent data for the strategic plan.

The collection needs to cover the five "Ws" and one "H" – who, what, when, where, why, and how. Before the investigative teams start collecting the data, the list of questions needs to be formalized. If this is not done, the teams will go in unfocused and critical data could be missed or not fully collected resulting in revisits to the various units or departments. A formal game plan is needed before entering the field. At the same time, the team cannot pinpoint all their data collection on one area such as the external factors, i.e., comparing the organization against the major competitor. This distorts data and overlooks internal data. A complete overall view is needed for a "big picture" of the organization.

Look at the strengths. Pinpoint a minimum of five but no more than 10 pointed questions for who, what, when, where, why, and how for the section being investigated. Say you are investigating the accounting area of an organization. Some samples of strength questions are:

  • Who is the leader of accounting?

  • Who is responsible for verifying the data?

  • Who performs analysis of the organization's expenditures?

  • Who is the top performer in the office?

  • Who is responsible for their training?

  • Who is the office manager?

  • Who are their customers?

  • What are the responsibilities of accounting?

  • What type of equipment and technology is being used?

  • What are the deadlines in accounting?

  • What type of leadership is in accounting?

  • What type of training is used to keep the people accredited?

  • What types of meetings do they have?

  • When are their busiest times?

  • When does training take place?

  • When are their planning and information meetings?

  • When do they send out reports?

  • Where are their reports stored?

  • Where are their reports sent?

  • Where does external data for their reports come from?

  • Where are any security codes for their systems kept?

  • Where do all their supplies come from?

  • Why are the accountants here?

  • Why do they have "X" number of hours in overtime?

  • Why don't they have formal scheduled training?

  • Why are reports sent to "X"?

  • Why do they generate daily, weekly, monthly or however many reports each quarter?

  • How are they organized to get their work accomplished?

  • How do they receive all required information?

  • How can they better serve their customers?

  • How could they be more efficient?

  • How could their functions be streamlined?

Make sure questions cover all the bases. This is where an investigator familiar with the area being analyzed is needed. Be thorough because this makes writing a strategic plan easier. Don't just focus on the obvious issues, such as "the whole organization knows accounting works five hours of overtime every Friday to balance the books." Cover every aspect of the office. Don't just run in and write down all the obvious problems or the latest mistakes and say the office has been investigated. Look at the whole picture – the complete inner workings of the office. Talk to more than one person. Ask the same questions to two or three different people at various responsibility levels. If this is done the underlying reason for the glaring weaknesses will become obvious and a complete fix can take place. Along with that, new strengths and weaknesses will become apparent. So look at each office from every angle.

At the same time do not be afraid to bring in outsiders to look over the operations. Don't be fooled by your own experience or familiarity with the organization. There are times when a fresh set of eyes can look at data or a process and point out discrepancies or an organization's traditions that have clouded your judgment. But be forewarned, there will be times you will not like what you hear from outside sources.

When it comes to threats or outside competitors, there is an area in this data that is pure speculation. Some strategists call this the "Worst Case Scenario." War planners use this extensively when preparing a contingency plan. For an organization the worst case scenario would be all their major suppliers went out of business or a far superior organization moved next door – what will you do? What is your plan? Realistic data can be retrieved on outside competitors but speculative data is the best that can be found in the "Worst Case Scenario."

Analyzing the Data

The purpose of the analysis is to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas where improvement can take place. Not all weaknesses can be improved upon. For example, the organization is responsible for disaster response. One of the identified weaknesses is the organization does not own a fleet of 18-wheelers and aircraft to reach disaster areas. Because of its lack of assets, the organization must rely on volunteers and hired contractors to move needed materials to a disaster area. This is a weakness that is not economically feasible for the organization to rectify. Leaders determined all its funds are better utilized on its customers in need than on major equipment and its upkeep.

A major roadblock with analyzing the data is a skewed viewpoint. Be fair in assessments and do not let territorial ownership play a part in the analysis. Do not let personal conflicts enter the picture. And do not let your own pride play a part in your reporting or analysis – be frank and be honest. Any of these can jeopardize the report's usefulness and its value in the strategic plan.

Scrutinize

All the data should be looked at as if under a microscope. There are many ways to look at the information and to organize it. Say you are looking at an organization's competitors. Competitors could be listed by their market share or they could be listed by their dominant outreach strategies. The method depends on your organization's data needs. Depending on the strategic plan and the organization's strengths and weaknesses, this data may need to be listed both ways for different parts of the overall plan. So organizing the information depends on how it will be utilized.

Scrutinizing the data needs to be done formally and informally. Formally in laymen's terms means to crunch the numbers and view it analytically for specific patterns of strengths and weaknesses for each area surveyed. Patterns could be noticing the term "computer software" was repeated in more than half the answers to questions. This could show a weakness in that department and could identify a bottleneck in the area's production.

The next step in the scrutiny should be why this problem had not been addressed sooner, especially since it's an issue that most employees in the area realized is a deficiency. Sometimes these answers can be hard for leaders to accept since the issue can be with a policy they may have implemented or a misunderstanding in their statements about funds available for upgrades. But as with all data, the issue needs to be discussed frankly and with honesty.

Informal scrutiny has many names and at times is not popular with some business leaders as a practice for analysis. Some people call informal scrutiny brainstorming or even wild and crazy ideas. The best way to utilize informal scrutiny is after formal analysis has taken place with all the data for that area. An informal setting relaxes everyone and all the rules are thrown out the window. Now it's time to open up and look at the wild, crazy and off the wall explanations for situations, new problems that could arise, and solutions to issues that were uncovered. The gloves are off and everything is fair game at this stage of analysis. Look at the software issue that was uncovered in the previous answer. Now that everything is fair game, could it possibly be the software is not the only problem but maybe the operating system is too old? Or maybe the leadership in the area did not think the people were qualified for the latest software. Or there is the possibility a talented person in the office is working on custom software and they are waiting on him to complete the project and they are keeping it a secret out of fear. In this forum all information should be proverbially placed in a bucket and dumped out on the floor so everything is looked at from a completely different angle. The proper fine-tooth analytical scrutiny has taken place so look for the not so obvious and brain storm the "what ifs" that have been voiced. Keep the momentum up in this format and do not let people get bogged down on semantics, but do ensure the data is thoroughly covered.

Analyzed

This step is done in conjunction with scrutinizing the data. Analyze simply means, "to deconstruct the data to its basic elements so each part can be easily looked at for its strong points, weaknesses, and areas that need to be improved upon." As mentioned earlier one of the ways to analyze data is to look for specific patterns.

Another way is to look at what is not said in answers. Sometimes investigators know common comments should be made to certain questions, but those statements are missing. There is a void in expected and understood information. Once again we will look at the software issue that bottlenecked the processes for one office. When asked the question about how leadership leads the office, the answers given talked about the freedom the office had in doing its job. When the question was asked about meetings and communication the answers given talked about how the bulletin board in the break-room was a great asset. When the questions mentioned the office manager praises were given for this individual. Notice, nothing has ever been said about the leader or supervisor over the office. This individual is missing from all answers. This individual is worth a second look and further scrutiny.

There is an old saying in investigative journalism that states, "to get to the bottom of anything, ‘follow the money.'" Money leaves a trail and in formal analysis, numbers crunching is critical. Not only should the numbers be looked at, but also where it is spent and the value for that expenditure. One thing that really needs to be compared in a large organization is if the expenses are being duplicated in other areas and for the same reasons. Duplication drains an organization's bottom line and typically is an easy fix. But they must be revealed before they can be eliminated. When following the money look at the procedures used – are they efficient or is the paperwork tedious and not really justifiable? Are the people spending the money held accountable for their expenditures? These areas must be looked at carefully when following the money trail. Look at all the procedures to ensure the organization is getting the best bang for its buck.

One other area that needs to be covered in the analysis of the data is the decision making processes and communication factors. These go hand-in-hand most of the time since anytime a decision is made it must be communicated to the various departments and people within the organization. Look at where decisions are made and the impact they have on an organization, especially if the organization is large. Yes, employees make decision numerous times within a day at all levels of management. But some of the decisions are critical and affect more than their department.

  • What procedures are in place for these types of decisions?

  • How does the organization determine which decisions need higher approval and which can be made on the spot?

  • Are any of the decisions being duplicated within the organization with different rules that can frustrate processes and employee output?

  • What procedures are in place for communicating major decisions to the organization as a whole?

This is the type of answers that needs to be found when looking at the data uncovered in departments concerning their operational processes.

Digitized

This task is simple but is needed for future reference by the organization's leaders. All the data uncovered and used in the reports created for the strategic plan should be placed in the organization's computer system and a back-up created. The data should be accessible for comparison at a later date to ensure discrepancies were fixed and all opportunities were taken.

Formalized

This step depends on the organizational leadership's preference. The data could be written into a formal report or it could be organized into a computer document that is easy to search. For smaller groups this information could be placed on a white board for easy viewing. What is important is the group's findings are labeled, organized, easily understood, and documented for easy access. Once this is done, the group finally is ready to begin writing the mission statement vision statement and values that will be used in the strategic plan.

 
 
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