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IMPLEMENTING YOUR SOLUTION

By ITS Education Asia


[Problem Solving Guide-Home]

Implementation is the culmination of all your work in solving a problem and requires careful attention to detail. There are three basic stages involved:

  • planning and preparing to implement the solution
  • implementing and monitoring the action
  • reviewing and analysing the success of the  action.

Planning and preparation

Planning and preparation is the key to successful implementationThe more important the problem, or the more complex the actions required to solve it, the more thorough your planning and preparation needs to be to ensure success.

Implemeting solutions

These questions highlight the main features of planning and preparation, which involve:

  • constructing a plan of action
  • the actions required
  • scheduling the actions
  • the resources required
  • measures to counter adverse consequences
  • management of the action
  • reviewing the plan
  • selecting, briefing and training those involved.

Constructing a plan of action

Basically, the plan of action describes what actions are required and how they will be implemented to ensure success. Unless the problem is simple or routine, you need to construct a detailed plan of action. This involves systematically identifying and recording the following elements:

1. The actions required

These must be identified fully and precisely, otherwise the results expected will not be achieved. The expected effects of these actions must also be identified, so that you will know when they have been carried out successfully. This part of the plan can be constructed as follows:

  • state your objective
  • list the individual goals in the order in which they must be achieved to reach that objective
  • identify what actions are required to achieve each goal, determine the sequence in which they need to be carried out, and record them
  • define, in measurable terms, what a successful outcome will be for each action and add the details to the plan.

The sequence you choose for the various actions and goals is determined by a number of factors. In some situations it may be necessary to complete one action or set of actions before another can begin, eg laying a foundation before building a wall. Actions also have to run consecutively when they each use the same resource to its available capacity. On other occasions actions can run concurrently, such as when each member of a team is assigned a specific piece of equipment to test and evaluate. 

With all but the very simplest plans it's wise to use a diagram, to represent the sequence of actions and how they contribute to the overall objective. This helps to show how the actions interact and to reveal areas of possible conflict. Actions should be fitted together as closely as possible, to prevent wastage of resources, while allowing some margin for overrun. To do this you need to prepare a time schedule for the actions.

2. Scheduling the actions

To create a time schedule for the actions, first you identify the time required to complete each action. By representing this information on the diagram you can calculate at what stage, relative to the starting time, each action will commence and finish, and determine the total time required to achieve the objective. Simple plans can be represented by a chart which uses bars to show the sequence and duration of the actions.

More complex plans require a more flexible structurelike a chain diagram or flow chart. Diagrams help you to arrange the actions in a way which makes the best use of time and other resources. In drawing up a schedule. it's important not to be over-optimistic in the time you allow for each action. Additional time is required to accommodate delays and unforeseen obstacles, particularly with actions which must be completed on time or which are susceptible to delays.

3. The resources required

For each action the resources required have to be precisely defined along a number of parameters, including the type, amount and when they are required. Each resource is considered individually:       

Time is sometimes overlooked but it can be a key resource in some situations. These can be defined by answering some simple questions.

  • What time is available before the deadline for achieving each action/goal/the overall objective?
  •  Are these timings compatible?
  • Whose time is required?
  • Will this time be spent within normal working hours?

Manpower may come from within and outside the organisation and can be defined by answering these questions

  • How many people will be required?
  • What skills, qualities and knowledge will they need to carry out the actions required of them?
  • When and where will they be required?
  • Will they be available when and where required?
  • Will they be available for the length of time required?
  • What briefing and training will they need to be able to carry out their tasks effectively?

Money can be defined by answering the questions

  • How much will be needed?
  •  In what form? (eg cash, cheque, foreign currency)
  • How will it be acquired? (eg loan, grant, endowment)
  • What will be the source? (eg profits, merchant bank, local or central government)
  • How will it be used and is this compatible with the source? (eg if it's a development grant does the plan use it appropriately?)
  • When and where will it be required?
  • Will it be available when and where required?
  • Does it need to be repaid, and when?
  • Will it be recouped, how, and when? (eg through increased profits)
  • Will there be additional cost in using this money? (eg interest or handling charges)
  • Have the costs of all other resources been included?

Materials may fall into a number of categories, including consumables, raw materials, and equipment (for temporary or permanent use). The material reqirementsse can be defined by answering the questions

  • What type of materials will be required?
  • If capital equipment is required, how will it be financed? (eg lease, loan)
  • What are the specifications' of the materials required? (eg quality, size)
  • What wastage is likely to occur?
  • In what quantities are they required?
  • When and where will they be required?
  • Will they be available when and where required?
  • Will transport be required?
  • What handling (human and mechanical) will be required?
  • Will storage space be required, where, how much, for how long, and will it be available?

Space can be defined by answering these questions

  • What space will be required?
  • How much space will be required?
  • Where will the space be required?
  • Does it have to be of a particular type (eg covered, with amenities) or with particular dimensions?
  • How long will the space be required?

Information may form a part of the manpower resource (eg expert advice or skills) but it can also be a resource in its own right (eg renting a mailing list for a direct mail campaign). To define this resource you need to answer these questions

  • What specific information will be required?
  • Is this information available from within the organisation or does it have to be bought-in?
  • Where specifically is it available?
  • When and where will it be required?
  • Will it be available when and where required?
  • How long will it be required?

When you are calculating the resources required to implement a solution it's vital not to under-estimate. A shortage could disrupt implementation completely and possibly incur heavy penalties, eg having to pay a consultant for doing nothing while he's waiting for the installation of a piece of equipment. Sometimes you may have to adapt your plan of action to suit the availability of resources.

Once you have made a complete list of the resource requirements, draw up a schedule of resources,showing how and when they will be requested, from whom, and when and where they are to be delivered.

4. Measures to counter adverse consequences

These have to be included in the plan. Although you have considered the areas of risk and possible side-effects when constructing and evaluating your solution, and adapted it to try to minimise the adverse consequences, you need to identify everything that could go wrong during implementa­tion and devise countermeasures. This includes even minor problems such as a key person being sick.

The steps involved are similar to those used to evaluate and minimise the risks associated with the solution, only more detailed.

There are certain features of a plan of action which can make it more susceptible to something going wrong. To identify these and make provision in your plan to deal with them, you should examine your plan step-by-step and follow these stages:

  • identify everything that could go wrong; look for areas where, for example,

- timing is crucial (eg with delays, could a deadline be missed?)

- a slippage in timing could bring subsequent actions into conflict (eg so that they simultan­eously require the same resource)

- two or more activities coincide (eg will they interfere with each other?)

- there is no way of predicting what may happen (eg because of lack of knowledge or experience)

- there is heavy reliance on facilities or equipment (eg could they fail?)    ,

- there is heavy reliance on the cooperation and efforts of people (eg will they perform as required?)

- all available resources in a particular category are being used (eg could an unexpected event require their more urgent use elsewhere?)

- external factors could affect the actions required (eg withdrawal of labour in a national dispute) or the effectiveness of the results (eg a change in market needs)

  • analyse and evaluate the consequences, eg .

- what are the effects if this happens?

- how serious are they?

- what is their relative seriousness?

- what is the probability of them happening (low, medium or high)?

  • define how you could recognise trouble as early as possible, eg through the detection of unexpec­ted changes in predicted events
  • devise countermeasures where possible, either to prevent the cause of trouble or minimise its effects
  • incorporate the method of recognition and the appropriate countermeasure into your plan.

Adverse consequences which have the highest probability of occurring combined with the greatest seriousness should be tackled first and every effort made to ensure that provision is made in your plan to counter them effectively. Even if time is short and it requires extensive work, you can only afford to omit minor adverse consequences with a low probability of occurrence. Although problems may not arise during Implementation, if they do your plan must contain appropriate countermeasures which can be taken without jepardising the rest of the plan.

5. Management of the action

Unless the solution is very simple or routine you must specify how the implementation will be monitored and controlled. This enables the manpower to be appropriately led and managed, their progress to be measured at specific intervals, and appropriate action to be taken to correct any variance from the plan. The following steps help to identify how to manage the implementation:

  • identify actions which require on-the-job super­vision and monitoring (eg where individuals have no previous experience of the actions required of them)
  • identify the stages at which progress should be measured (eg upon completion of individual goals or major activities; at critical phases)
  • specify exactly what results are expected to have been achieved at these stages
  • specify how and by whom the actual results will be measured
  • ensure that appropriate measures to correct any variance between the expected and the actual results are specified in the plan.

The stages you identify for measuring progress are, in effect, deadlines for achieving specific results. These must be stated as a specific time or date in the overall time schedule. Unspecific or woolly deadlines make implementation difficult to manage and can lead to disaster. The frequency of measuring progress is dependent upon a number of factors:

  • what is practical (eg economical and not interfering significantly with progress)
  • the rate at which the situation is likely to change (eg major building works compared with delicate negotiations over a couple of days)
  • the seriousness of potential variances from the plan

Provision should also be made to monitor the solution once it has been implemented, so that any unforeseen adverse consequences arising in the long term can be detected. For example, has a change in the system created a bottleneck in processing work, or resulted in undue pressure on one individual or department?

6. Reviewing the plan

Finally, you need to check the plan to ensure that

  • the actions listed will achieve the various goals and the overall objective
  • your time schedule is workable and can accommodate unexpected delays
  •  your estimation of resources is accurate
  •  the plan for managing the action will enable it to be kept on course.

Drawing up a plan of action is the most crucial stage in ensuring efficient implementation and it must be accurate and thorough. This plan provides a blueprint for the remaining stages of implementation.

Selecting, briefing and training those involved

Your plan of action provides most of the information you require at this stage.

This situation is very similar to having to get your solution implemented successfully. You need to go through the following stages:

  • select indjviduals with the appropriate skills, qualities and knowledge required to carry out the various actions effectively
  • brief these people. so that they know and understand what they are required to do
  • give training, if necessary, to individuals who do not meet the exact requirements for carrying out their assigned tasks effectively.

Selection involves comparing the skills, qualities and knowledge required for specific tasks with those available amongst individual members of the workforce. By identify­ing the ideal attributes for carrying out each action effectively - both what is required and what is to be avoided - you can construct a model of the ideal candidate. Selection then consists of finding the best match to this ideal amongst members of the workforce.

Once you have selected appropriate individuals you need to draw up a list of what actions each is required to carry out, the results they will be expected to achieve, and what responsibilities they have for achieving these results.

Frequently there will be at least some aspects of your plan for which the individuals available are not ideally suited. If the discrepancy is large it may be necessary to buy in manpower with the appropriate attributes. However, frequently the shortfall can he overcome by careful briefing or specific training.

Briefing is often the final step before a plan is implemented. As in any other type of communication, it must be planned and executed carefully to ensure that it's effective. The following steps will help you to brief people effectively:

  • give individuals reasonable advance warning of what will be required of them
  • prepare your briefing carefully so that it is clear, comprehensive and can be understood easily by everyone
  • after the briefing, check that everyone has under­stood what they are required to do by asking them to repeat your instructions.

Your instructions should state clearly the responsibilities of each individual and the scope of their authority in carrying out their taskIt's important to give a level of authority which enables individuals to use their initiative and not be bound rigidly to the plan. For example, if they foresee a problem arising they need the freedom to act immediately if necessary.

The way you communicate your message is very important. Some individuals may have a different view of the situation and different attitudes to your own, particularly if they have not been involved in finding and evaluating solutions.

Training can be expensive and time-consuming. If people with the appropriate skills are not readily available you need to compare the advantages and disadvantages of training them or buying-in the necessary skills, eg training may provide individuals with skills which are of value in other aspects of their work; hiring a consultant may create a valuable business contact.

Once people have been briefed on what they are required to do and other appropriate resources have been arranged, the plan of action can be implemented.

Implementing and monitoring the action - Once action has been initiated, it has to be supervised and monitored to ensure that the plan is followed accurately, implementing corrective action when necessary. The details of this stage are specified in the plan of action.

Supervising the action ensures that individuals carry out their tasks efficiently according to the plan.

Monitoring progress enables you to identify whether or not the results being achieved are meeting the planned requirements, and if not, why not. A decision can then be made on the action required to put the plan back on course. Reviewing the overall achievement once the plan has progressed significantly will indicate how well it is achieving the objective. If there are major discrepancies it suggests that the plan is inadequate and needs to be revised.

Taking corrective action may involve implementing the appropriate countermeasure laid down in the plan, or taking unplanned action to counter unforeseen problems. For example, if time. has been lost in completing one activity, other activities may have to be completed more quickly than planned in order to meet a deadline. Minor problems which are unlikely to recur may not require any action. Major faults in the plan may make it necessary to abandon implementa­tion if no appropriate corrective action is possible.

These three processes must be maintained until the plan is completed.

Reviewing and analysing the outcome - When the plan has been completed and the solution implemented it is important to measure and analyse its success. This tells you whether the solution has been effective in solving the problem and how useful it will be in solving similar problems in the future. There are three stages

  • measure the success of the solution by comparing the outcome of the action with the expected results
  • analyse any discrepancy to identify the reasons for it
  • take further action if necessary.

Remember

  • The more important the .problem, or the more complex the actions required to solve it, the more planning and preparation you need to do.
  •  Action must be monitored to ensure that it is being carried out effectively and having the desired effects; if not, corrective action must be taken.
  • Once the action is completed, the outcome must be measured to check that it has provided an effective solution; if not, further action may be required.

Read the next article : The Action Plan


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