Social significance of gap analysis

Although I’m not entirely sure of the implications for infrastructure, gap analysis is commonly used and seems promising as a research site — and yet, despite widespread use in management and implementation of software, gap analysis is an untapped and unappreciated workflow analysis technique in research.

In general, gap analysis takes three forms, which document the gaps between two states: current versus future, expected versus actual, perception versus delivered. The difference between the two states defines the gap, and from such assessments others are possible such as benchmarking (Boxwell 1994).

The first form is a map. Cartographic representations are mainly utilized in lean management to chart flows of raw materials – including information – currently necessary to make a product or service available to consumers so that they can be assessed for flow and waste. Once areas for improved flow and reduced waste are identified, analysts draw them into a future state value stream map. The differences between the two states define the gaps, which orient work toward that future condition. The map gap was designed at Toyota (Rother and Shook 1999).

The second form is a step chart. Temporality is built-into the step chart, which also identifies and compares current practice and desired future state for the performance of a service or product. Brown and Plenert (2006:319) provide a good example of where a step chart might solve the gap between expected and actual states: “customers may expect to wait only 20 minutes to see their doctor but, in fact, have to wait more than thirty minutes.” Step charts chart the steps necessary to move from current practice to future practice (Chakrapani 1999).

The third form, which is most appropriate for working-around packaged software, is a cross-list. Such analyses are most routinely undertaken in consumer research wherein gap analysis refers to the:

methodological tabulation of all known requirements of consumers in a particular category of products, together with a cross-listing of all features provided by existing products to satisfy existing requirements. Such a chart shows up any gaps that exist (n.a. 2006).

Once cross-listed in table format gaps make themselves obvious and their analysis points to unmet consumer demand which new or poorly marketed products might fulfill. However, prior to the establishment of a cross-list, consumer expectations and experiences must be gathered, for example, by focus-group interviews. Once collected and made to populate a cross-listed table, according to Brown and Plenert (2006:320), “gaps can be simply calculated as the arithmetic difference between the two measurements for each attribute.”