Pull The Trigger: Stop Analysis Paralysis In Its Tracks

Posted by on Dec 13, 2020 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

We all know people that tear the watch apart when solving problems and making decisions.  They’re the ones that go into meticulous detail and try to peak behind every corner and cranny.  They have a hard time making the simplest decision, never quite sure they’ve made the right one.  They worry about what their boss and friends will think and say about them.  They’re afraid to take action, fearing they never have all the information they need to make the correct one.  In short, these people have analysis paralysis or AP.

AP can describe an individual, team, group, or organization when overanalyzing or overthinking a problem or decision, causing them to become paralyzed so that no solution, decision, or action is taken.

In this article, I’ll explain some of the causes of AP and its consequences.  I’ll also discuss some of the things you can do to prevent AP, especially during your Lean Six Sigma projects.

Causes of Analysis Paralysis

Here are a few of the common causes of analysis paralysis:

  • Fear of making a mistake or error.  No one wants to make a mistake or error knowingly, but if you do, try to learn something from it.  Making the same mistake over and over is an indication that you’re going through the motions and not taking the task seriously enough.
  • Fear of what your boss or other people will think or say about you.  No one wants to be criticized for not doing a thorough job.
  • Access to way too much information.  It’s easy to get overwhelmed with information, especially since you’re able to Google just about anything you can think of.  Try to understand the basics and don’t get caught up trying to learn every last detail.
  • Too many options or choices.  Sometimes it’s overwhelming the number of choices available.  My wife and I just remodeled our bathrooms.  The number of choices in floor tile, wall tile, bath fixtures, lighting, exhaust fans, etc., is enough to make your head hurt.
  • Lack of confidence in the problem-solving process, the decision-making process, or yourself.  This is where practice comes into play.  Using a problem-solving or decision-making process keeps you on track and focused.  Following these processes, time after time, should help you build your confidence and improve your ability.

Consequences of Analysis Paralysis

The consequences of analysis paralysis are devastating to everyone affected.  The consequences include:

  • Lowers performance.  Often, when I meet with clients, I hear them say, “We’ve talked about doing so and so for several years.”  My answer to them is, “We’re going to stop talking about it and do something.”  Failure to take action is not acceptable and is an indication that the organization is not serious about making improvements.
  • Kills creativity.  Over-thinking a problem or a decision kills your desire to move forward.  You become stuck, not sure what to do next.
  • Reduces willpower and causes exhaustion.  Customers and employees expect problems to be solved and decisions to be made.  When they don’t, customers start looking for other sources, and employees become frustrated.
  • Creates unhappiness.  No one is happy when nothing happens, and the organization becomes paralyzed, mired in constant indecision, and inaction.

Ways to prevent Analysis Paralysis

  • Structure your day for the decisions that matter most.  Take time at the end of the day to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and what remains to be done the next day.  Prioritize your daily activities, so you make the most of your precious time.
  • Limit the amount of information you consume.  Don’t get sucked into collecting huge amounts of data or searching the web for more and more information.
  • Set a deadline and hold yourself accountable to meet it.  Having a deadline forces action.
  • Know your objective.  Make sure everyone on your team understands the objective and stays focused.
  • Get out of your own head and talk to someone else.  Sometimes talking to another person about a problem or decision can help.  Just the process of talking about it can help your thinking and clear things up.  Ask the person you’re talking with to give you feedback about the clarity of the problem or decision to be made and their thoughts.
  • Use an iterative approach to making decisions and solving problems.  Learn and understand as you go along.  You can’t expect to know everything out of the gate.
  • Spend time and energy to develop a concrete, actionable plan to make your problem solution or decision succeed.  Finding the solution or making the decision is only a start.  Making sure the solution or decision is successful requires planning and execution.

How to prevent Analysis Paralysis in your Lean Six Sigma projects

  1. The initial scope of projects must be small and remain that way.  Don’t try to eat the whole elephant or solve world hunger!  Keeping the projects’ scope small will ensure you stay focused and give you the best chance to complete the project on time.  This is the reason I like small kaizen events because the scope is small, and the event can be completed in a short amount of time.  Watch out for scope creep.  As new opportunities present themselves and are identified, put them on your list of future projects to tackle.
  2. Keep the team size small.  Large teams are hard to manage, create confusion, and are averse to consensus decision making.  A large team, in my opinion, is eight people.  I usually like team sizes of four or five.
  3. Visit Gemba.  Gemba is where the work is occurring.  Observe what is going on.  Are people frustrated with the process?  What causes their frustration?  Ask questions and get opinions from those that actually do the work. Avoid opinions and base your information gathering on facts.  I always ask the simple question, “Show me what you’re talking about?”
  4. Focus your “Gemba Walk” observations on the 6Ms and TIM WOODS.  The 6Ms are the source of variation in every process.  They are Man (people), Machine (equipment), Material (raw material, work-in-process, finished goods, etc.), Method (work instructions, SOPs, standard work, etc.), Measurement (repeatability and reproducibility), and Mother Nature (environment).  TIM WOODS is the wastes that affect every process.  It stands for Transportation (movement of material or information), Inventory (raw, work-in-process, finished goods, supplies, spare parts, etc.), Motion (people movement), Waiting (for information, instructions, assistance, tow motor, service, etc.), Overproduction (making more than what the customer requires or sooner than required), Over-processing (giving the customer more than they’re paying for, i.e., inspection, unnecessary signatures, etc.), Defects (errors, mistakes, scrap, rework, etc.), and Safety / Skills (safety issues, and utilization of people, equipment, machines, material, etc.)
  5. What data already exists?  Can you rely on it?  How was it taken, and by whom? Remember, “garbage in, garbage out!”
  6. Ensure your data collection plan is adequate.  How is data going to be collected?  Who is going to collect it?  How will they record the data?  Is the measurement system adequate?  What is the gauge repeatability and reproducibility?  Do we need operational definitions to ensure our data is accurate?  How will you analyze the data?  What tools will you use?
  7. How much data do you need?  If reliable data exists, generally, you can get a wealth of information from a couple of months’ worth.  I want my data to include as many sources of variation as necessary to provide possible clues about which of the 6Ms is causing the problem.  If I have to start from scratch and collect data, depending on how frequently the process produces a product or service, I generally start analyzing it as soon as possible, continuing to collect data as I go.
  8. Avoid shotgunning!  It is easy for an inexperienced team to get caught up in how they’re going to improve the process and brainstorm potential solutions.  This is the wrong thing to do and leads to a “poke and hope” strategy.  Follow the DMAIC or PDCA process, step by step, and you’ll get to the root cause of your issue sooner and ensure you have the correct solution and not a band-aid solution.
  9. Torture data.  Data by itself is confusing.  You need to analyze the data using simple tools, such as histograms, box-plots, run charts, Pareto diagrams, multi-vari charts, control charts, capability studies, etc.  None of these tools are complicated to learn, but you will need software, such as Minitab or QI Macros.  Use as many of these tools as possible because each one will give you a slightly different insight into what is going on.  Look for patterns and irregular behavior.  These can be clues to finding the root cause.
  10. Compare extremes.  A simple comparison of the worst product produced that’s available with an acceptable product can sometimes generate clues.  I’ve found this useful when comparing attribute defects to determine differences, which then pointed to the part of the process that caused the problem.  Other useful tools you can use are concentration diagrams and the Kepner-Tregoe, Is – Is Not diagram.
  11. 5-Why analysis.  As you start to drill down, begin using the 5-Why analysis to help you get to the root cause of the problem.  Other tools that can help you get to the root cause are fishbone diagram, PFMEA (process failure mode and effects analysis), etc.
  12. Pilot potential solutions.  You and your team will want to brainstorm potential solutions that are effective and inexpensive to implement.  What can we do quickly that will solve the problem?  You will want to pilot the solution on a small scale to determine how well it works and see if it solves the problem.  You can continue to collect data and use it to determine how effective the solution is.  Piloting the solution allows you to tweak the solution and make changes before implementing it full-scale.
  13. Use hypothesis testing to establish confidence in your solution.  Hypothesis testing can provide confidence that there is a statistical difference and that your solution really works.  Again, statistical software, such as Minitab, QI Macros, etc., will be required.
  14. Communicate learning and results.  Communication is key, and letting project sponsors, champions, and key stakeholders know what you’ve learned regularly will give them confidence you’re on the right track.  Use tollgate reviews to give formal presentations.
  15. Conduct project post mortems.  At the end of your project, you and the team should discuss what went well and what didn’t go so well.  Think about what you could do differently next project to have it go more smoothly.

Analysis paralysis can be stopped by having a well-defined process, following it, and having confidence in your ability.  Hopefully, the tips I’ve outlined above will help.




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