Plan all you want. But once that plan is being executed, if you don’t have a method or a tool to assess whether you’re meeting the requirements of the project, then you’re in trouble. To know the actual performance of a project against the desirable performance is to know when a project is going off-track. That knowledge is crucial to identifying a problem and taking the necessary steps to correct it.
One particularly effective method used to figure out if your project is progressing as planned is called gap analysis. It’s a relatively simple tool that helps you gauge and raise the level of performance in your project. A thorough knowledge of it and how to use it can greatly benefit any project management process.
What Is Gap Analysis?
Gap analysis is a formal study of how a business or project is currently progressing and where it plans to go in the future. There are various perspectives that can analyzed, from business direction to business processes, from information technology to product management.
When talking about management, gap analysis is a means to compare actual performance with potential performance. Factors that impact performance include resource planning, capital investment, technology, etc. What a gap analysis does is identify the gaps between the optimized allocation and integration of resources to the current allocation level. It’s by doing such measurements that a pathway towards improvements can be cleared.
To do this involves determining, documenting and improving the difference between requirements and capabilities at the current time. Gap analysis is an outgrowth of such techniques as benchmarking and other ways to assess progress.
What Gaps Can Gap Analysis Target?
What gap analysis is doing is providing a way to measure the investment in time, money and human resources that are needed to achieve an outcome. There are a number of different gaps and outcomes that gap analysis can target.
- Gap analysis can be used to classify how well a product meets its targeted need.
- Gap analysis can also help identify gaps in the market. It can compare the forecast profits to the desired profits and reveal a planning gap.
- Gap analysis can be used to analyze a usage gap. The usage gap is the gap between the total potential for the market and the actual use at the present time. This includes data, such as market use and existing use. Existing use measures the consumer use for the full market. It comes from doing in-depth marketing research, and sometimes data from government or industry studies.
- Gap analysis can also target a product gap. The product gap is the part of a market that excludes you, for whatever reason. This exclusion can occur because the product that you offer lacks certain features that are required by a customer base, or maybe certain customers just don’t align with your company’s mission statement or general policy.
How to Do a Gap Analysis
When you’re doing a gap analysis, you’re really asking yourself a few questions: Where are we now, where do we wish we were and how are we going to get there? So, it’s not merely a picture but a roadmap to improve production.
There are four basic steps that you take when conducting a gap analysis. They can be boiled down to the following.
1. Identify Current State
The first step is knowing where you are at the present time. So, be clear as to what is being described and what is not. This will avoid scope creep and keep your analysis focused. Then comes collecting contextual information. That means collecting qualitative information, such as what are your team processes and methodologies.
Also, quantitative information is important, meaning anything that can be counted and measured. That includes everything you’re currently doing. Yes, it’s a lot of data to gather, but the more you gather, the sharper the picture of your current state.
2. Identity Where You Want to Go
The point of a gap analysis is to figure out where you want to go and if you’re getting there. This is the desired state, future target or stretch goal. To get there you need to know about your current state and what a reasonable timeframe is to get from there to the goal you’ve set for yourself.
But first, you must mark that point in the future that you’re aiming for. Think about where that should be, what’s not happening that needs to happen, what could be happening that hasn’t before or has changed, and what needs to happen to get there.
3. Identify the Gaps
You know where you are and where you want to go, the space between those two marks is the gap you must bridge to reach your target. This is when you want to figure out why there is a gap. To do that you need to be very specific about the gap. Also, dig deeper and determine why the gap happened. Ask yourself questions that are applicable to your business and answer them honestly.
Some questions you might consider asking are the following:
- What critical decisions led to this point?
- What could have we done differently?
- What resources do we require in order to reach our target?
- Do we need to set new objectives to bridge the gap?
4. Bridge the Gap
You’ve done the due diligence, and now it’s time to act. You know why there’s a gap, so you must now devise a way to close it. To do this, you can follow the guidelines of basing all improvements on the information you discovered when you identified the gap. Also, consider the cost of implementation for each solution that you come up with; you might not have the capital or capacity to achieve it. Finally, figure out the date at which the gap will be closed. If you don’t have a deadline, it will get overlooked or ignored. A project scheduling software can help you stay on task and organized.
After doing all the work, don’t neglect the follow-through. That is, follow up on the improvements you’re making by doing a gap analysis. If you don’t, then you’re doomed to repeat them. Also, it’s important not to try and close too many gaps at once. If you put too much stress on any organization, it’s going to break.
Gap Analysis in Project Management
The application of gap analysis in project management is obvious. As a project manager, you’re trying to control various activities in a project, all of which might have various solutions. What’s the best course of action that leads to project success?
That’s where gap analysis comes in. It helps identity what needs to get done while meeting your company’s and project’s goals and objectives.
Gap Analysis Tools
There are gap analysis tools that can help a project manager identify the gap between the current state of the project and its future goals and objectives. These tools will also help to make clear the required tasks that are necessary to close that gap.
One such tool is a SWOT analysis, which is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. By using a SWOT analysis both quantitatively and qualitatively, you can determine internal and external threats to the project.
Another tool is the fishbone diagram, which is also called a cause and effect diagram. It is a way to visualize and categorize the potential causes of a problem. Then you can go about to identify its root causes. It’s a helpful tool when brainstorming to keep the conversation focused.
McKinsey 7-S Framework
The McKinsey 7-S Framework can be used to improve performance, examine effects of future change, align departments and processes and determine how best to implement a proposed strategy. It can be applied to teams or a project by looking at the seven interdependent factors of the tool.
One more tool is the PEST analysis, which is another acronym that stands for political, economic, social and technological. This allows one to make a framework of macro-environmental factors for the purpose of designing effective environmental strategies, which would apply to projects that are applicable.
Managing a project is constantly working to bridge the gap between where you are and where you are going, within the constraints of time, money and resources. Gap analysis is a great tool to help make better decisions. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that allows you to implement those decisions more effectively with real-time data and online Gantt charts. See how it can help you bridge the gap by taking this free 30-day trial today.