When the call to stay home to flatten the curve came in, we suddenly had a lot of time for things we wished we had time for in the past: family, exercise, cleaning closets, Netflix… But sometimes when you get what you “wished” for; you end up drowning in it. There are other silverish linings to the abundant isolation, Zoom-time and family time going on now, and ways to leverage this time with an eye on both the present and future.
Kepner-Tregoe has a risk management tool, Potential Problem Analysis (PPA), that is used to anticipate problems and set up contingency and mitigation plans. Potential Opportunity Analysis (POA) turns PPA on its head and looks for the opportunities that arise when change happens. An example of a classic use of POA is before a “shut,” when a plant is closed down for maintenance or repairs allowing opportunities to plan for additional activities (unscheduled cleaning, additional repairs, reorganizing, etc.) since the plant is shut down anyway. During this Covid-19 shut, POA can provide a tool for exploring some silver linings or at least ways to find some useful actions.
Potential Opportunity Analysis can be used to look for positive opportunities for your community, family, personal health or other topics. For this blog, we discuss it as it applies to work and the opportunities that can be pursued in even these difficult times. It’s a powerful tool, so use it only for the greater good.
KT founders Charles Kepner and Ben Tregoe described it this way: POA is a pattern of thinking that enables us to change and improve the future, rather than allow the future to arrive entirely on its own terms. This analysis is a protective and enhancing process through which we ensure that the future will be as good as we can make it.
POA explores two good questions: “What could go better than expected?” and “What can we do now to make the most of it?” There are three main steps for exploring silver linings using POA.
Step 1. Identify Potential Opportunities
Step 2. Identify Likely Causes
Step 3. Take Promoting Actions
Identify Potential Opportunities
You don’t need to start with opportunities for this to work. List out the potential problems you and/or your business are facing and then flip them. For example, if a problem you face is that most of your on-going job responsibilities are moot during the current crisis, consider how this frees you up for other work-related activities such as training, writing up past-due reports, or tackling lesser priority work that will clear the decks so you can hit the ground running in the future. Is your job on the line in this floundering economy or are you suddenly out of work? This is the “opportunity” to regroup and take stock. Is it time to fast track improving a software skill or learn about personal branding? Your project deadlines up in smoke? Perhaps there’s an opportunity to revisit project goals, better prepare your project team or look for cost reductions or unnecessary complexities.
To create a list of potential opportunities, you can ask:
- What decision, action, plan, or end result do I/we need to leverage?
- What decision, action, plan, or end result might contain an unexpected benefit?
- Build a list with short, clear statements of the opportunity that include action, end result and modifiers. A realistic time frame and costs may be worth considering.
Currently, many organizations are looking for opportunities to survive or to help out because their current business is on pause or because they have needed expertise in this time of crisis. Restaurants are struggling to survive by offering take out, doctors are turning to telemedicine, clothing manufacturers are making medical face masks, varied manufacturers are gearing up to make ventilators and universities are putting classes online.
By looking at the problems you face in your job, you may find opportunities that weren’t worth considering before, didn’t exist, or you simply did not have the time, inclination or need to pursue them in the past.
Identify Likely Causes
Yes, the virus did it…but POA helps us to assess what might happen and what decisions might be necessary now or in the future to adapt better to this current situation. There may be a cascade of causes that reveal future opportunities if you ask, what could cause this potential opportunity and then ask, what else?
While today’s crisis explores some unknown territory, it is possible to review similar economic experiences such as the financial crisis, tech crisis, or a personal crisis and consider what worked in a positive way. A falling stock market offers up cheap investments; the current crisis shines light on what’s not working and reveals the true value of what does work. Consider future outcomes and reflect on where you want to head going forward.
Take actions to encourage likely causes
What can you do to promote or increase the chances of these opportunities?
How can we ensure that the current changes can actually yield a potential opportunity?
List actions you can take to promote opportunities and positive change. Add in any needed resources and a relevant timeframe. For example, widespread unemployment may cause the government to offer free or affordable training: consider how you can improve your skills or how you can redirect your career. Are you always “fire-fighting” at work—that is solving short-term situations instead of focusing on what adds real value? With everything paused, you may be able to determine what will matter most when the world starts up again and spend some badly needed time on these high-value activities.
Except for the hard-working people who can’t work at home now and have to show up every day despite or because of the pandemic, those of us sitting at home have an opportunity to reflect. The POA process helps us to look at today’s problems and then consider the silver linings, to ask what else, and to imagine and prepare for the future.
For over 60 years, Kepner-Tregoe has empowered thousands of companies to solve millions of problems. We provide a data driven, consistent, scalable approach to clients in operations, manufacturing, IT Service Management, Technical Support and Learning and Development. We empower you to solve problems. Kepner-Tregoe provides a unique combination of skills development and consulting services, designed specifically to reveal the root cause of problems and permanently address your organizational challenges. Our approach to problem solving will deliver measurable results to any company looking to improve quality and effectiveness while reducing overall costs.
The following organizations provide updated information on the status of the COVID-19 virus: European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.