As a tool for identifying needed change, the Gap Analysis technique is often overlooked. This is in part due to its simplicity, which can be described in three steps:
- Identify the current state;
- Articulate the desired future state;
- Identify the gaps between.
Its simplicity allows Gap Analysis to be used for almost anything, including clarifying your business strategy, product roadmap, or organizational evolution. However, without more guidance, it devolves into the equivalent of “just figure it out”.
Just figure it out…together
The necessary ingredients to turn almost anything into something amazing are smart people, post-its, and a whiteboard. Oh, and a timer. Always have a timer.
What I love about these tools is that, used together, they can foster collaborative problem solving in a way that’s accessible to everyone. Whiteboards and post-its unlock our creativity, which helps us create the future. Time-boxing the Gap Analysis activity puts creativity into hyper-mode.
Mixing in game-storming
The point is to combine a brainstorming method with a framework that provides focus. For the former, I like the Post-Up game, in which everyone is given a bunch of post-its, markers and a short amount of time (8-15 minutes) to generate as many ideas as possible.
Constraints spur creativity. In this case, time is one constraint.
The other constraint is the framework, and there are many of them out there. If you’re focusing on business strategy, consider the 5Ps from Aaron Dignan: Purpose, Process, People, Product, and Platform (see at 40:30 in the linked video). For market approach, the 4Cs by Robert Lauterborn et al: Consumer, Cost, Communication, and Convenience. For organization or process change, the McKinsey 7S framework is useful: Strategy, Structure, Systems, Skills, Staff, Style, and Shared Values.
As you can see, there are great frameworks to consider. Choose one that best fits the problem you’re analyzing.
Running the game
The Gap Analysis game has three phases, one for each part of the tool: Current State, Future State, and Gaps. Each phase includes two activities: brainstorming and prioritizing. As noted earlier, the Post-Up game is great for brainstorming. Dot Voting, a game where everyone gets a number of votes represented by stickers, tokens, or just ticks on the whiteboard, is useful for prioritizing.
To identify the current state, ask everyone to think about how they would describe using your chosen framework as the focus. Give them eight minutes to generate as many ideas as possible on the post-its. At the end of the round, place the post-its in the appropriate category. If there is any ambiguity about a note, ask the person who generated it to explain it.
Next, give each person 10 votes to assign to the notes they think portray the best ideas. Within a few minutes, the votes should be assigned to the post-its. At the end of this activity, shunt the lowest-voted notes aside, leaving the highest-priority descriptors most visible.
Repeat for the Future State phase. Note: this is the most important phase to get right, so the leader should take a couple minutes to evaluate whether the voting outcome aligns with the desired goals. If the ideas are too few, then consider running the same phase a second time to generate more ideas. If the ideas are different or compete with the outlined vision, consider taking time to re-articulate the vision and run the phase again.
Once the desired future state is established, use the highest-priority descriptors to guide the next phase.
Repeat for the Gap Identification phase. This final phase is slightly more mechanical, since the team is comparing and contrasting the current and future states and identifying the differences between the two. This round often can be shorter than the first two rounds.
As before, the result should be a list of the highest-priority gaps by category.
Extra credit: resolving the gaps
If the team still has energy, consider a fourth phase to articulate the actions or activities needed to resolve the gaps. Now that the team members have collaboratively determined where they need to go and what’s in their way, have them identify what’s needed to move in the desired direction.
This time together can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Afterwards you’ll want to hang out and spend some time decompressing as a team. But most importantly, you have to commit to resolving the gaps. If you don’t, you lose all credibility and leave a demoralized team. In short, don’t start something you can’t finish.
Share in the comments if you’ve led or participated in a game-storming session. Tell how it worked out. Also share your ideas on how to make this process even better.
Looking forward to hearing from you.