System Analysis: Attaining Clarity
Overview: Getting Better Results
Chapter 1 shows tactics that a performance analyst can use to help
attain clarity of direction for a performance improvement project.
The analyst reads, listens actively, and organizes information to
help clients understand what to do, why, and how.
• The “why” is always to get better results.
• The “what” and “how” always involve trying something and
learning from the experience.
This book and this chapter are about discovering why, what,
• How do the analyst and the client and the project team
know what results are worth working for?
• How do they know what to try first and second and third,
and how do they know when and where to try them?
• How do they track the effects of their efforts to keep the
efforts on track toward the results?
The process typically begins with a request or by noticing an
opportunity. The process requires tenacious pursuit of answers to
fundamental questions. Illustrative questions are:
• What is the direction (the mission, the goals, the strategy)
of the organization?
• What is working well?
• What should be improved?
• Why? (And why? And why? And why?)
• What is going on in the organization that will help the
effort? That will hinder or compete with the effort?
• Who are the key players?
• If the project is a success, what will success look like?
10 Performance Analysis
• How will stakeholders (inside and outside the organization)
Answers, by themselves, create a clutter of disorganized data.
The analyst must organize the data so that it can guide deci-
sions that, when implemented, improve performance.
The analysis of the data uses practical procedures readily com-
prehended by intelligent businesspeople. It does not use esoteric
procedures that are incomprehensible except to researchers. The
questioning procedures and the data organization procedures are
guided by what we know about organizations-as-systems and what
we know about the specific organization.
We do not seek simply to change performance; we seek to
improve it. Improving it is a much more difficult and much more
valuable task than merely changing performance.
The analysis procedures should be guided by the Certification
Standards put forth by the International Society for Performance
(ISPI). The 10 standards, say ISPI thought leaders,
must be met to demonstrate competence in performance improve-
The analysis procedures focus on adding measured value, col-
laboratively, in the context of the functioning total organization.
Improving a part can harm the whole, just as surely as aggressively
cutting costs can harm production, profitability, and customer satis-
faction; making small improvements in existing products can harm
strategic positioning for new products in new markets; or improving
short-term profits can harm long-term prospects for success.
Finding direction for performance improvement requires asking
the right questions, tenaciously, to:
• Get information about the context in which the effort will
• Search for critical issues facing the organization and the
people in it
• Convert the data into information
• Organize the information so that it can be linked directly to