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How to Assess a Situation

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

How to Assess a Situation

Something has gone wrong. It may be an increase in employee turnover, a stalled IT project or decreased customer satisfaction. Whatever the specific situation may be, your organization has a problem and your manager has asked you to step in to resolve the issue. But where do you begin? Obviously, this situation did not happen overnight and the resolution may be complicated. Jump in too quickly and you risk missing key information or alienating the people you may need to resolve the problem. Wait too long and the train may come off the tracks completely.

What you need is a process to set expectations, quickly get up to speed on the issues and assess the organizational / political environment. Based on my years of experience consulting with large, complex organizations, the following is a simple seven step process that I developed for assessing business problems and building consensus for solution implementation.

1. Set Expectations: Every assessment should begin with setting expectations. This is best accomplished in a meeting with key stakeholders. At this meeting, the expectations for the assessment are discussed and agreed upon with all parties present. In addition, you should discuss the time line for the assessment, documents that are to be reviewed, the people that are to be interviewed and the final review process. Set the tone for the assessment by obtaining agreement on all of these points.

2. Review Documentation: After the expectations meeting has been conducted, your next step is to collect the relevant documentation related to the problem. Based on the situation, the documentation may vary. However, your purpose in reviewing the documentation is to gain an understanding of the situation before talking with key participant. By being prepared, you will gain credibility.

3. Cross-reference documentation: After the documentation has been reviewed, the next step is to cross-reference the documentation to ensure that there is consistency between the documents. Depending on the situation, there are often multiple documents some of which are developed by different team members or departments. Because there are multiple parties involved, it is always a good idea to go back and cross-reference documents to make sure that there are no gaps.

4. Interview Stakeholders and Participants: After conducting a thorough review and cross-referencing of documents, it is a good idea to interview the people involved in the situation. By interviewing key participants, you can determine if the requirements have been successfully translated execution. In addition, interviewing key participants helps identify potential roadblocks, political concerns or other constraints that would not be apparent by just reading the documentation. Information gained in these interviews is critical to understanding the complexities of the relationships among the parties involved. Interviews are also a great tool you can use to uncover people’s fears and concerns and gain an understanding of what the real issues are.

5. Determine Areas of Concern and Recommendations: After all documentation has been reviewed and cross-referenced and all key participants interviewed, you should now have the information you need to determine areas of concern. After the issues have been identified, use the information from the assessment and your experience to recommended solutions.

6. Review Findings with Key Participants: After you have developed a list of concerns or recommendations, it is time to review the findings with the key project participants. This process is actually done twice. First, the findings should be reviewed during informal discussions held individually with the key participants to ensure that nothing has been misinterpreted in the assessment and to make sure that the key stakeholders and participants are briefed on the findings prior to a meeting of all stakeholders. By having an informal discussion with the key participants prior to the formal meeting, you can gauge each person’s reaction to the findings as well as preliminarily discuss solutions. This also provides the key participants with time to research findings that they may not have been aware of or brainstorm solutions prior to the formal meeting.

The second time the findings are reviewed with key stakeholders and participants everyone should be informed and aware of all of the issues and be prepared to discuss solutions. By being prepared in the first discussion, the participants have already bought into the recommendations and solutions. If they disagree, you can be prepared to defend the concerns and recommendations.

7. Develop a Final Report: As a final step in the process, document the assessment by summarizing the process for the assessment, the findings and recommendations into a final report. This document marks the completion of the assessment.

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