Rational Processes Framework

Managers and teams are immobilized in solving problems or making a decision without using any framework or any reference. They are at a loss what actions to do and how to implement their decisions. At the other end of the spectrum, over doing the process of analyzing also causes another form of restraint called an analysis-paralysis. Success in a task or project can only be achieved if there is a common goal in the team and also an effective method. Frameworks are one of the factors that makes the goal of the team achievable and can also be the basis of common understanding and agreement in solving problems and decision-making.

Kepner and Tregoe (KT) introduced the framework of Rational Processes by studying how successful professionals solve problems and arrive at decisions. Their intention was to define a set of best practices using an empirical approach that set successful and effective professionals apart. The framework consists of four processes which are Situation Appraisal, Problem Analysis, Decision Analysis, and Future Opportunity/Problem Analysis. It is not only focusing on the common goal but also on common terms, language, and procedures in problem solving and decision-making. Because without common understanding of the method within the team, it will only result to inefficiency and later on will lead to incompetence. The KT approach has been proven to be an effective tool and used in hundreds of organizations that are large, medium, and small in size; by top executives and hourly workers; in profit, non-profit organizations; government agencies and across industries; globally and across national boundaries.

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Situation Appraisal:

Situation Appraisal is the least analytical or quantitative of the four and is based primarily on evaluative techniques. The result of this stage will tell what analytical techniques (Problem Analysis, Decision Analysis, and Future Opportunity/Problem Analysis) needs to be applied in dealing with the problem. However, the natural tendency of managers when there is a big change is not to include relevant stakeholders to make a decision or not following a structured approach to assess and manage change. Managers lacking the skill of managing the daily disorderly flow of information, cannot make frequent or productive use of the analytical Rational Processes because they are uncertain how, when, or to what the end process can be used. The activities of the technique Situation Appraisal are the following:

  1. Create a list of Threats and Opportunities – these are the current or future opportunities and threats that will require action. In a team set-up, each member writes all the perceived potential opportunities and threats in an index card and place it on a wall.
  2. Distinguish and clarify concerns – this step would require the team members reviewing the cards posted on the wall, asking questions and clarifying issues transforming opinion to verifiable information.
  3. Set priorities in terms of seriousness, urgency and growth – the team is determining the impact of the seriousness on different factors in the organization such as people, cost, productivity, and reputation; the urgency of the concern to become difficult, expensive or impossible to resolve; the evidence that it will grow.
  4. Determine the next steps what Rational Processes need to be applied. The guide to determine the next steps are:
    • Use the technique of Problem Analysis when there is deviation between expected and actual performance, and its cause is unknown and needs to know the cause.
    • Use the Decision Analysis if there are choices to be made, dilemma in the best action to take, objectives to be created in order to understand some activity.
    • Use the technique of Potential Problem (Opportunity) Analysis if there are decisions created but not yet implemented and there is an urgency to act to avoid problems in the future, a necessity for a plan to be created to safeguard some decisions in the future, if there is a value if a plan or decision is made better than expected.
  5. Determine what else needs to be done and if help is needed.

Problem Analysis:

If the type of problem either belongs to these two: the current deviation from formerly acceptable performance or the performance that has never met expectations. In these situations, the use of the technique of problem analysis is needed. The activities are listed below:

  1. State the Problem – Einstein said a problem well stated is already 50% solved. Do not combine two deviations into a single problem and should describe it in terms of our five senses see, feel, hear, smell, or taste.
  2. Specify the Problem – In specifying the problems/deviations there are four dimensions:
    • WHAT – the identity of the deviation you want to find the root cause
    • WHERE – the location of the problem
    • WHEN – specifying chronologically the occurrence of the deviation
    • EXTENT – it indicates the amount or magnitude of the deviation
  3. Develop possible causes from knowledge and experience or distinctions and changes – identifying the causes
  4. Test Possible Causes Against the Specifications – the true cause will explain everything about the deviation since it is the one that causes the effect specified.
  5. Determine the Most Probable Cause – the most probable cause is selected by using judgment and it depends on the quality of the assumptions rather than the quantity
  6. Confirmation of the true cause the last part in the analysis demonstrating the cause and effect relationship.

Even if we have used the technique of Problem analysis, we might still fail to solve the problem because of the following reasons: using inaccurate or vague information, insufficiently identifying key distinctions and changes, allowing assumptions to distort judgment during the testing stage.

Decision Analysis:

After we have identified the cause of the deviation though the technique of Problem Analysis, we are presented with decisions that requires us to choose from many available options and alternatives. In a team environment, relevant information is being shared more and positions different from the others are reconciled and less biased resulting to a higher quality of the decision-making. It also reduces the incidence of errors by providing a systematic framework for evaluating alternatives. I have seen this framework being used in the supplier or vendor solution selection process. It is an effective way in identifying the best solution for the project.

The purpose of Decision Analysis is to identify what needs to be done, develop specific criteria for its accomplishment, evaluate the available alternatives relative to those criteria, and to identify the risk involved. The activities of Decision Analysis are the following:

  1. Create the decision statement – it should be stated clearly and indicate a choice such as selecting a course of action or choosing one thing over another.
  2. Identify Objectives of the decision – which is the criteria that the final decision is expected to best meet and should be as discreet as possible.
  3. Classify Objectives in Musts and Wants – the MUST objectives are mandatory and that should be met by an option before that option is qualified and be considered.
  4. Weigh Wants – one method of putting weight to the WANTs are using the relative importance assignment method where the most important objective is given a rating of 10 and relative to it the less important are rated accordingly.
  5. Generate alternatives – The team should always actively generate options as this is an important aspect of decision-making. In case there is only one option, it should be weighed against the MUST objectives and if fulfilled then it becomes a candidate for adoption.
  6. Screen alternatives for Must’s- This step determines if a decision will be considered in the alternatives when it meets all the MUST. All options that were dropped should also be recorded for future reference, visibility and traceability.
  7. Comparative Alternative Against Want’s – is similar to the relative estimation in user story in assigning points while in this case assigning weights to the given options.
  8. Identify Adverse Consequences – in this step the adverse consequences and ultimately the risks are identified and are factored in the options. From each of the consequences collected the following information is collected: Description of the potential adverse consequence, probability(low/medium/high), and seriousness or impact (low/medium/high).
  9. Make the Best-Balanced Choice – everyone in the team takes part in this step for better ownership and understanding. And it will be easier this time compared to when making the decision because of the available information gathered from the previous steps.

Potential Problem/Opportunity Analysis:

It is necessary for managers to have a common method when looking into the future to be able to have mutual understanding to avoid threats and benefit from opportunities. Potential Problem Analysis and Potential Opportunity Analysis even though both future oriented in thinking are done separately. The difference will be the focus on either desirable or undesirable deviations, the actions to take, and the cause and effects. The two basic questions this framework asks: “What might happen?” and “What can we do about it now?”. The activities of the technique Potential Problem/Opportunity Analysis are the following:

  1. State the Action – at this stage the goal is stated on what plan to be implemented.
  2. List Potential Problems (or opportunities) – the items in the list should be addressed one at a time
  3. Consider causes for the potential problem (opportunities) – these are the causes that could anticipate the deviation
  4. Take action to address likely causes – either to prevent creating the problem or encourage creating opportunities.
  5. Prepare actions to reduce (or enhance) likely effects – minimize the impact of a problem or maximize the impact of the opportunity
  6. Set triggers for contingent (or capitalizing) actions – setting an indicator whenever a problem or opportunity has occurred

Conclusion

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Rational Management’s goal is to fully utilize the thinking ability of the individuals in the organization and to gear up those ability to be useful in tackling the organization’s problem and challenges. Rational processes are merely defined as tools, but its success of implementation in the organization depends on the employees and the management using it. Several factors should be considered including the support of the senior management, its communication, and in evangelizing the entire organization. There should be clear objectives and understanding of the process and more importantly its strategic fit. People who will be directly impacted by this new tool should be trained and be allowed to have a hands-on experience in applying to real situations in the organization. Besides the strategic fit of the rational process, it should also be operationally fit so employees and even management would always refer to the tool in dealing with problem solving and decision-making.  It is important that there is a reinforcement mechanism in the company to address the rapid adoption of the process in the organization such as reward systems. Continuous improvement should also be in place to monitor and evaluate the process and create a feedback loop to adjust and improve the process. Other factors such as visibility of metrics in the teams and organization and knowledge management would also play an important role for the success of implementing the framework of rational processes.

References:

  1. Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe, “The New Rational Manager”
  2. Rashed Iqbal , “Rational Processes and Agile Practices”
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