- using a specific tool helps you to clarify your own thinking and spot any omissions or errors
- a graphic enables you to share your thinking with others in a structured and systematic way
- a common tool means a common language and common understanding
All of this should be part of the basic training for an EB-HR practitioner (see ‘EBM Lessons’ category) but there is one tool that is particularly useful at several levels in HR – Critical Path Analysis (CPA). The critical path is the one that dictates the minimum time it takes for a process to be completed. In the illustrative diagram shown, where the times taken for each step or event are shown above the boxes (say in days), the red path dictates it will take at least 10 days for the entire process to be completed (Events 3, 5, 8 and 11 take 3, 1, 3 and 3 days respectively).
Most of us automatically think like this and apply it quite naturally to our daily lives. We organise our errands by starting with the longest task first (e.g. taking the car in for a repair) before shopping and visiting the bank and then returning to pick up the car. The car repair dictates how long we will have to be out.
Critical path charts or diagrams are very closely related to the technique of process mapping (they look almost identical) so when we consider an HR process, such as hiring someone, we can draw a critical path chart that shows the CRB check (Criminal Records Bureau), or some other event outside our control, might be the longest event. However, the real benefit of disciplined and highly skilled critical path thinking, and adopting a habit of physically drawing the chart, comes into its own at a much more strategic level in HR; especially when attempting significant organisational change.
Take issues such as improving diversity, changing culture or enhancing organisational learning capability – what would be the complete series of events that would be required to take you from A to B and which of those events is going to take the longest (in years?). Who would have to leave if you are to be able to change the mix of people at the top and how long would you have to wait? How much effort would you have to put into dealing with resistance to change and can you afford the time? If you need to speed up organisational maturity how long does it currently take to share important knowledge and how much shorter could you make that critical path?
Of course if you get the right people around the table and involve them in drawing the chart you might find it automatically speeds up change by revealing to them how they need to help you clear the way of the critical path.