Analytical techniques

Decomposable matrices

If it is possible to view the subject of a problem as a complex hierarchical system, then this form of analysis can be employed (Simon, 1969). It involves breaking down the system under study into its various sub-systems. The method employed is as follows:

  • 1 Establish that the subject of the problem can be viewed as a hierarchical set of sub-systems - organisations, groups of people, the human body, many different products, production processes, marketing strategies, etc., can be viewed as such systems.
  • 2 List the major sub-systems and their components.
  • 3 Enter the sub-systems and their components into a diagonal matrix such that it is possible to identify cells representing the interaction of one sub-system with another.
  • 4 Use a five-point scale to represent the importance of the interaction or strength of the relationship between and within the sub-systems.
  • 5 Select the highest-weighted interactions for further analysis or generation of ideas.

Example

Problem: How to improve the customer service level of an organisation.

  • 1 An organisation is suitable for this form of analysis - it is a complex hierarchical system comprising a number of sub-systems.
  • 2 The major sub-systems and their attributes/features are:

The customer service level:

  • a) effectiveness
  • b) friendliness
  • c) reliability
  • d) speed e) complaint handling
  • f) efficiency
  • g) capacity

Infrastructure sub-system:

  • a) decision-making structures
  • b) administrative structures
  • c) policies, operating procedures, and protocols.
  • d) human resources, recruitment, and staff selection
  • e) training system
  • f) supervisory and coaching system
  • g) information system and data supports

Communication sub-system:

  • a) external
  • b) internal
  • 2 Matrix

Here, for reasons of space, we shall consider interactions between the three sub-systems: customer service, infrastructure, and communication

Notes

CS = Customer service

I = Infrastructure

C = Communication

Scores of 5 within the same sub-system are shown in bold (5). Where high scores at the interface between sub-systems occur these will be seen as of great interest and key areas for further exploration. For example, most aspects of infrastructure and communication are picked out as very important in relation to customer service.

Cause-and-effect diagrams

The problem first identified here is the high absenteeism rate. We look for causes, effects, and associations and produce a map or diagram (Figure 5.2). The next stage involves picking out those causes and effects which seem to be central to the problem under study. If something is too far removed from the central problem, it is discarded. In Figure 5.2, the boxes relating to orders and repeat sales are peripheral to the central problem and so are discarded. The remaining boxes, however, may be taken either as suitable redefinitions of the original problem or as starting-points for further exploration.

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Figure 5.1 A decomposable matrix

Cause-and-effect diagram

Figure 5.2 Cause-and-effect diagram

A note of caution

While people should be encouraged to understand a problem before generating ideas, if they do this too thoroughly, they run the risk corrupting any potential ideas they may generate. Problem definition is a catch-22 situation ending in a paradox.

Greater analysis of a problem leads to greater understanding of it. This may produce fresh perspectives but it may inhibit getting unique ideas. Knowing too much can lead to conventional solution proposals.

To overcome this problem Gordon (1961) suggested describing a general, abstract problem without revealing the ‘real’ problem. This abstract problem should have the general principle underlying the real problem. The participants should then be asked to generate ideas for the abstract problem. The process should then be followed by repeating it for a slightly less abstract, more specific version of the real problem. This process may be repeated again with an even more specific version of the real problem. Finally, the real problem should be revealed and the ideas for the two abstract problems used as stimuli for new ideas.

It is suggested here that since the process is a fairly long one it might be reserved for situations where over-analysis and familiarity with the problem are an issue. Moreover, it is an approach which users may find more suitable to use with some creative problem solving techniques than others, e.g. brainstorming.

 
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