What’s happening? This is the first and most repeated question in a major incident or critical continuity event.
Situation Appraisal is the Kepner-Tregoe thinking process designed to answer this question.
The steps are simple in theory:
- Identify (and log) concerns/issues
- Set priority
- Plan next steps
- Manage involvement
However in practice, folk tend to leap all over the shop, simultaneously proposing solutions, detailing the risks inherent in certain actions, defending their team and describing potential causes of symptoms, all before the facts of the matter have been established. Let’s call this the “won’t someone think of the children?” scenario…
Taking time to take stock, establishing the actual issue(s) and the resources available to address these does seem pedestrian but does not need to be slow, just disciplined. Publishing (and maintaining) the Situation Appraisal also reduces confusion and time spent “bringing folk up to speed” – there is always a visible answer to “what do we know?” and “what’s happening now?”
Time for some fact gathering – questions include:
- What’s happening? (Teased out into individual issues.)
- What’s not happening? (To establish the extent.)
- What is the current impact? Perhaps limited due to current service demand?
- What is the future impact, should this continue? Is the situation worsening?
- What deadlines are there? (Month end, exam diets, etc.)
- What further investigation is required?
- What resources have we? (Who is available, with which skills, etc.)
We’re used to prioritising by impact and urgency already, yet sometimes a third dimension is helpful. That dimension is the dynamic – how is the situation changing? If the current impact is low, but is predicted to grow, then that issue is relatively more important that an issue that will continue to be low impact. Similarly, if the urgency is low at the moment, but increasing as the start of semester approaches, then that suggests a relatively higher priority.
Priority for the issues identified will be set relative to each other, not in absolute terms.
Anything that has low impact, low urgency and no prospect for growth can be set aside initially.
Plan next steps
The next steps will be handing over to another “thinking process” – are there gaps in our knowledge? If so, Problem Analysis can be deployed. Are we ready to choose a way forward? Then Decision Analysis can be used. Are we about to act? Then Potential Problem Analysis can perform the risk analysis.
Actions, assignments and due dates can now be divided up. It is likely that not everything can (or should) be done by the folk doing the situation appraisal, so the team may need to be expanded or released. Stakeholder analysis and RACI diagrams may prove useful, but are unlikely to be created on the day unless the situation is protracted.
Keeping it visible
A Situation Appraisal dashboard can be used to remind the team of the current situation, including facts already established, and as a means of bringing new (or replacement) team members up to speed quickly.