Capability Insights Consulting



Do a Reality Review

Posted on May 7, 2010 at 12:08 PM

External pressures like recessions, new competition or new regulations force you to look at your products or services and the processes used to deliver them. You move into improvement and change mode because there is no choice.


But when things are going well, the external world isn’t knocking hard on your door and no one in the company seems to be complaining, it is so easy to sit back, smile and enjoy. That is certainly understandable and maybe, for just a short period of time, a necessary rest period for the organization.


Do not rest for long! You have been given a unique and precious opportunity to examine your business, to do what I call the Reality Review.


What is this?

A Reality Review is a brutally honest assessment of the current state of your business or some piece of it. Here’s a sampling of the questions for a review:


For a key business process:

  • Is it as effective as it could be?
  • Is it as efficient as it could be?
  • Could error rates be lowered?
  • Is it shareable or locked inside a key employee’s head?
  • How many people and handoffs are required to get the job done?
  • Do the people involved have the skills they need to perform well? Is the time from hire to proficiency too long?
  • Is recruitment too difficult? Does it take too long?
  • For an existing product or service:
    • Does it sell as well as you’d originally hoped? Again, be honest, it may be selling but is really achieving what you believed possible when you started it?
    • Do your people know when and how to sell it? Do they like to sell it?
    • Could customer satisfaction be higher? Do you know what your customers are saying?

    A Reality Review can also take a look at your people management, performance management and leadership strengths and weaknesses.


    The point is to take the stance that good can always be better. In fact it is often also true that good can hide pockets of bad.


    Why do a Reality Review?

    Beyond assuming that you want to know what is working and what is not, here’s a list of reasons that all have bottom line impact:

    • You will find places where processes can be improved or streamlined. You will (hopefully!) find many things being done right and you get to celebrate that with your people and share those good practices to improve other areas of the organization.
    • You may find products or services that simply need to be retired. Getting rid of a product/service that is a drain on organizational resources allows more focus and attention on the products/services that are doing well. It also opens up the chance to explore new products/services to make use of the organizational capacity no longer needed for the old product/service.
    • You’ll be in a much stronger position to take on external pressures that will inevitably be just around the corner. You may well inoculate your organization from some competitive pressures by staying ahead of the pack.
    • Through doing an honest review of the current state you’ll be better positioned to communicate the changes needed to the people in your organization.

    How do you do it?

    You can and should gather some statistics. I would certainly want them as part of the overall picture. But too many organizations get buried in the “data trap”, arguing about which data should be collected and what the results of the data collection are actually saying.


    More importantly, statistics are a passive review. A true reality review requires something far more active. Consider:

    • The documented process is almost never the actual process that gets executed.
    • The explained process will be what someone thinks you want to hear.
    • The only way to really understand what is being said to customers – at all points of customer interaction – is to hear it.
    • Customers may fill out surveys but this cannot replace focused conversations on their experiences with your products and services.
    • Changes that are made on actual vs. documented processes achieve real improvement.

    You, or a small project team needs to get out there, live it, see it and experience your processes as your people do and your products and services as your customers do.

    • Sit with the people doing the work. Ask them to talk through their work as they do it. Get them to explain their understanding of what they are doing. Ask them what would work better.
    • See where they are interrupted and what impact that has on their ability to execute.
    • Experience how they use the automated systems provided to them.
    • Look for the sticky notes plastered on the screen and desk that indicate some process or system is not intuitive and requires a constant reminder.
    • Sit in on customer interactions.
    • Take the opportunity to ask customers for feedback.

    An active review does not have to take a lot of time, though it does require some planning to ensure the time used is effective in discovering the reality of your process, service or product.


    A side benefit to this active observation and review is that you will discover data points to track that will end up making your statistics much more meaningful in future. A quick story to illustrate…


    A few years ago I worked on a project that was focused on streamlining system interactions for several hundred customer service assistants across the country. The project team spent time sitting in regional offices getting a first-hand view of how the existing systems were used. While in these offices every team member watched the computer network go down unexpectedly, often several times a day. Input data was sometimes lost and the interruption time to restart and get back on track was several minutes. There were no help desk statistics to show this was an issue. People had given up calling to report something that no one seemed to do anything about anyway. The project team put some simple code into the new system they were delivering to track when the system did not close cleanly and were able, over just a few weeks, to statistically prove the network problem. The problem did get fixed and tracking was put in place to ensure the systems really were available and reliable on an ongoing basis.

    Make Reality Reviews a part of your culture

    You do not have to wait for down time to do a Reality Review. Every project has the opportunity to embed active observation into its work. Not only will the results of that project be improved, you will continually find areas for improvement.


    You will build leadership credibility. Your people will feel like they are really being listened to and consulted about the direction of the company.


    No one should bury an organization in constant change and knowing when to act on improvement opportunities is key. But go ahead and be the restless leader. The one who can take pleasure and pride in what has been accomplished while still looking for opportunities to further grow organizational capability.




    Categories: leadership, management of change, business processes

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