Introduction

Sustainability and the Universal Life Cycle
by Lori Welsch, RN
last updated: 
January 28, 2010

What is Sustainability?

In my opinion, sustainability is the same as homeostasis in life.  The definition of Life can be adapted to the life of a business.  Consider the following definition of life and the adaptation to business.

Sustainability in Life

Sustainability Adapted for Business

“Life is the condition which distinguishes active organisms from inorganic matter.  Living organisms undergo metabolism, maintain homeostasis, possess a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, reproduce and, through natural selection, adapt to their environment in successive generations.”[1]

 

Sustainability is the condition which distinguishes active organizations from their competition.  Successful organizations undergo metabolism [change], maintain homeostasis [are stable], possess a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli [internal and external environment], reproduce [grow and expand] and, through natural selection, adapt to their environment in successive generations. 

 

Achieving Sustainability

In biology, homeostasis (sustainability) is achieved by a trigger event, known as the negative or positive feedback loops. 

Negative Feedback Loops

“If the overall feedback of the system is negative, then the system will tend to be stable.  Negative feedback is used to describe the act of reversing any discrepancy between desired and actual output. An example of this is your body temperature, if you go outside in the cold without a coat, your body will try to compensate for the loss of body temperature and you’ll begin to shiver; your body’s mechanism to generate more body heat.  Negative feedback loops are necessary because if you don’t know something is broke, how can you fix it?

Positive Feedback Loops

In contrast, positive feedback is feedback in which the system responds so as to increase the magnitude of any particular perturbation, resulting in amplification of the original signal instead of stabilization.  Any system where there is a net positive feedback will result in a runaway situation.[2]   If we minimize a problem, the severity will not be known until it becomes a runaway problem...it grows larger until it becomes out of control.    

To achieve sustainability, quality organizations like the International Standards Organization (ISO), Baldwin National Quality Award, and Capability Maturity Model (CMM) create criteria to improve their processes, products, services, and employees, which in turn grows the business and promotes satisfied customers.  The criteria, for all three, are very similar in that they focus is on quality, management, and measurements to achieve sustainability.  Certification in any of these is highly desirable, adds to the credibility of a business, and is a sign that businesses with these certifications do their work better, faster, and with less cost than their competition.

So how do we attain these certifications and more importantly how do we become a sustainable business?  I believe it is achieved with the development and growth of a standard, repeatable process consistently applied by all employees

Are All Processes The Same?

There are so many processes…the software development life cycle (SDLC), the nursing process, Plan Do Act Check, numerous business-specific processes, and so on.  There is a process for everything.  However, have you noticed that all processes have relatively the same elements; only the labels change?  Labels for analysis may include identify, define, measure, etc.  Most process labels can be lumped within one of the SDLC phases of Analysis, Design, Planning, Constructing, Testing, Implementing, and Evaluating. 

A Lexicon of Synonyms for the ULC Phases

Trigger

Analyze

Design

Plan

Create

Test

Implement

Evaluate

activate, cause, generate, start, elicit, initiate

 

examine, study, investigate, consider, question, explore, probe, disect, identify, define, research, explore, look into, appraise, make inquiries, seek, understand,
review,
determine, groundwork

 

devise, propose, identify a solution, formulate, conceive, blueprint, sketch

diagram, map,
graph, arrange, prepare, stategy, tactic

make, generate, produce, fashion, form,
craft,
build, construct, conceive, assemble, compose

exam, experiment, investigate, check,
trial,
try out, scrutinize, observe, study, ensure, verify, confirm

apply,
put into practice, realize, execute, employ, utilize, make use of, operate, activate

assess, appraise, estimate, calculate, review, judge, consider, weigh, mediate


Poor processes will miss or exclude one or more of the SDLC phases.  I challenge you to go out to Google, type in the word “Process”, and then click on “Images” to see just how similar all processes really are to one another.  So why do we spend time creating new processes if they are going to ultimately include the same elements each time with different labels? 


The purpose of this document is not to tell you about the SDLC, but to introduce you to a new theory I call the Universal Life Cycle.  Below is a comparison of two processes.  I will get to the point of how the ULC differs from these commonly used processes after explaining a few things.

Six Sigma DMAIC

Universal Life Cycle (ULC) Process

Define

Trigger Event Analysis (Fully defines the problem statement)

Measure

Analyze

Analysis (Answers the questions “What” and “Why”, but NOT “How’)

Improve

Design (Answers “How” a.k.a. the resolution itself)

Improve

Planning

Improve

Construction

Improve

Testing

Improve

Implementing

Control

Evaluating

 

Plan Do Study Act

Universal Life Cycle (ULC) Process

 

Trigger Event Analysis

 

Analysis

Baseline Measures

 

Design

Plan

Planning

Do

Construction

Do

Testing

Do

Implementing

Check/Act

Evaluating

Introduction to the Universal Life Cycle (ULC) Process

In the above examples, the ULC doesn’t look much different from the SDLC.  I will explain the differences and how the ULC is truly repeatable for every project large and small and can even be used in your daily life for greater success.  I have gained some personal insight on this repeatable process through my past experiences.  I have used it myself and believe I have been more successful when using this repeatable process than when I do not use it.  I call it the Universal Life Cycle (ULC) process and it is a spin on the SDLC as you will see.  I would like to explain the process at a high-level. 

ULC starts with the Trigger event

The most important element of any project is the trigger event; an idea, task, or project.  A trigger event can also be a strategic vision or business change.  It is a time for fact finding, identifying the root cause, and understanding the trigger event and why it is important to find a resolution.  The most important phase of the ULC is the trigger event because if you don’t fully understand the problem statement, how can you deliver the correct solution? 

If you’ve ever done the communication test where everyone sits in a row and the first person starts by telling the person next to them something, then by the time it gets to the last person, the statement doesn’t even resemble the original statement.  The same applies to trigger events.  If it is not clearly understood, documented, and final problem statement agreed upon by the originator, how can you be sure your resolution will answer the trigger event?

At the end of the trigger event phase you should have a detailed problem or idea statement that is agreed upon by the customer to make sure you fully understand their request.  If you don’t understand what they are experiencing, then you don’t have enough information about the trigger event to properly come up with a resolution to meet the customer needs.    This phase should also include the client’s vision of what the end result will look like.  (Do not discuss ‘HOW” to resolve the problem in this stage.) 

Emphasis on Analysis 

If you think about past projects or tasks you’ve been involved with, how often have you or another team member jumped to a solution before even understanding “what” the problem is and “why” it’s happening before figuring out “how” to fix it.  With any project, doing a poor job in analysis can cost 10-100 times more (in time and costs) to fix if implemented.[3]  Jumping to a solution is, however, an innate response of being human and we must really make an effort and to look before we leap in everything we do.  By applying proven questioning techniques and critical thinking skills, we can have greater success in everything we do at work, home, and play.

For a simple example, if you want to keep within your grocery budget, what do you do before you go grocery shopping? You make a list. Otherwise, you run the risk of coming home with some things you did need, some you didn’t, and some things you already have in your cupboard.   It is true, you can go grocery shopping without a list, but you will be more successful if you have one.  How many of our projects do we implement without making our list first (doing a better job with analysis and critical thinking)?  We would be more successful if we made our list (did a thorough job in analysis) first. 

If you were in the construction business and your customer asked you to build a house, would you start building immediately?  No, you would first need to know what the expectations of the customer are, how many rooms, size of each room, how many bathrooms, tile, carpet, wood flooring, attached or detached garage, etc.  What do THEY want the house to look like?  What is the baseline of cost and timeframe for completion, etc?  This same principle applies with everything you do in business. Are we creating OUR vision of the resolution or the customer’s vision of the resolution?  

Another example of analysis is when a patient arrives in the emergency room with a possible stroke, the medical staff does not immediately give the patient a dose of clot busting drugs (jumping to a solution without first analyzing the situation).  No, they remain calm and think through the process, complete diagnostic imaging of the patient quickly, and then quickly determine the correct course of treatment.  In this case, we will say it's a hemorrhagic stroke....had the physician given the patient that dose of clot busting drugs, the patient would be dead since it would make this particular type of stroke patient bleed even more.  We need to learn that the price of jumping to a immediate solution can be very costly.  Slow down and complete your analysis first!

ULC for Every Size Idea, Task, or Project

Since the ULC can be applied for every project, task, and idea, the larger the project to more time the process repeats. I'll explain.  Within each phase of the Process, these exact phases (also subphases) repeat over and over until all of the information is complete. 

 

ULC Process Phases

Description

ULC Subphases

 

Trigger Event

Any problem, issue, or improvement opportunity.  We must fully understand the problem, issue, or improvement opportunity to move onto the next phase. (Think Scientific Process here.)

Trigger Event Statement
Analysis
Design
Planning
Construction
Testing
Implementing
Evaluating


Analysis (Assessment)

Analyzing current workflow (people, hardware, software, and data) and requirements (people, hardware, software, and data), cost versus benefit, and alignment with the (corporate) strategic goals.  This answers the questions “WHAT” and “WHY”, but does not include “How” to fix the problem. Baseline measurements are included.

Trigger Event of Analysis
Analysis
Design
Planning
Construction
Testing
Implementing
Evaluating


Designing

Answering or identifying “HOW” to fix the problem (Identifying the Solution)

Trigger Event of Design
Analysis
Design
Planning
Construction
Testing
Implementing
Evaluating

Planning (Proposing)

Plans to accomplish the solution (people, hardware, software, and data). Answers “WHERE”, “WHO”, “WHEN” and “HOW OFTEN”.

Trigger Event of planning
Analysis
Design
Planning
Construction
Testing
Implementing
Evaluating

Creating/Constructing Developing/Building/Creating

Building the solution.

Trigger Event of Creating
Analysis
Design
Planning
Construction
Testing
Implementing
Evaluating

Testing (Validating)

Testing the solution.

Trigger Event of Testing
Analysis
Design
Planning
Construction
Testing
Implementing
Evaluating

Implementing (Delivering)

Beginning to use the solution (people, hardware, software, data, and workflow.)

Trigger Event of Implementing
Analysis
Design
Planning
Construction
Testing
Implementing
Evaluating

Evaluating (Monitoring)

Monitoring the solution is working, including comparing outcome measurements with baseline measurements.  If another change is needed, go back to the “Trigger Event”.  Actual measurements are evaluated here. This phase would also include best practices and lessons learned.

Trigger Event of Evaluating
Analysis
Design
Planning
Construction
Testing
Implementing
Evaluating

 

ULC for Medium to Large Projects

This process is repeatable in that the phases of the process (i.e. analysis, design, planning, construction, testing, implementing, and evaluating) also repeat within each phase.  So under analysis are ALL the phases repeated again, under design are ALL the phases repeat again, etc. They repeat again and again depending on the size of the project.  Let’s look at one segment of implementing the software "training" your staff.  Training falls under the Implementation phase.  So the phases including the Trigger event, analysis, design, planning, constructing, and testing of the software has already been completed and now we are at the phase where we are ready to deploy the software.  Training falls under the Implementation Phase.  

Example of Repeatability Subphase - Implementing a Training Program

Training Trigger Event

New software program that needs to be rolled out to staff. 

Analysis

Detailed Training Analysis of who will need what training and what is the current knowledge of the trainee.

Design

The most effective way to get the training across to all participants. (Identifying the solution)

Planning

Arranging the training room, the trainer, the dates, times, equipment.

Developing

Creating the training materials, printing any copies that need to be made.

Testing

Verifying all elements to be trained are included and that the equipment is in working order before the training takes place.

Implementing

Actual training session.

Evaluating

The training evaluation is completed (best practices/lessons learned, and the trainee has been monitored to be able to successfully complete training objectives or back to the trigger event to identify additional training needs.

If there were multiple departments or multiple offices that need to be trained, the process would repeat again and again until completed. Then the next phase of the project would be evaluation of the entire project. This is also true for medium and large projects, the ULC process repeats over and over within each phase for as long as it takes to complete all the steps.  The larger the process, the more times it repeats. 


Example of ULC used at the Thought or Idea level

For a very small trigger event like doing the Heimlich maneuver on a choking victim in a restaurant, you would use the process so quickly you really don’t have time to think about it and would not necessarily need to repeat subphases. For example, trigger event is someone is choking.

ULC Phase

Response

Trigger Event

You see someone choking.

Analysis

when you ask the person “Are you choking?” (subjective info), see their hands by their neck, and witness the person not breathing (objective info)

Design

making the decision to ask someone to call 911 and determine the Heimlich maneuver will be the best solution

Planning

is remembering how to do the Heimlich maneuver

Construction

getting yourself into position behind the person in preparation for the Heimlich

Testing

making sure your hands are in the proper position

Implementing

act of performing the Heimlich maneuver

Evaluation

determining if it was effective

The process in this example moves so quickly because it is an emergency situation and you really do not have time to think of the individual thought process.


Example of ULC used at the TASK level

For tasks like in nursing, using the example of a medication as the trigger event:

ULC Phase

Response

Trigger Event

Order from the physician (clarification may be needed if the nurse doesn’t understand or can’t read the order.)

Analysis

Identifying the classification of the medication, the intended effect, the client’s allergies, and baseline data needed to determine if the medication will be effective or not.

Design

how the medication will be administered and equipment and supplies needed to administer the medication

Planning

when the medication will be administered and who will give it and when it is needed based on baseline assessment data

Construction

how you will draw up the medication or take out of the medication machine and take it to the bedside

Testing

making sure you have the correct patient, medication, route, dose, and time

Implementing

giving the medication

Evaluation

assessing the patient and comparing to the baseline to see if the medication helped.  If not, start over with a new trigger event

 

DMAIC and PDSA Limitations

The Six Sigma DMAIC process emphasizes getting to the root cause of a problem so you are not just fixing a symptom, but are also looking at the main reason the problem occurred.  It focuses on doing a good job in the analysis phase to mitigate any defects early which is why it has been so successful and popular.  However, DMAIC doesn’t have repeatable subphases like the ULC process.

The Plan Do Study Act process does not put emphasis on root cause in the trigger event nor a rich process of analysis.  It is also not repeatable like the ULC process.  Because of this, errors that could be caught in the trigger event or analysis phases are checked on the back end.  Basically it jumps to the problem resolution (Design) phase.

Tools

As far as tools are concerned, phase-specific tools will be created, modified and used based on the size of the project and business industry, but the ULC process itself remains constant.  There are a lot of great tools out there, but a tool is not a process.  A tool is to be used to help you to accomplish something.

Have you ever applied for something in your personal life and an application form was given to you.  How many times did you write additional things on the back of the form because you ran out of room or the form didn’t include a section for everything you wanted to include?  This applies with any tool.  One example of a tool is Six Sigma’s Asking Five Whys which is their way to get to the root cause of the problem. 

Example of 5 Whys

Problem:  My head hurts.

  1. why?  Because I fell off my bicycle and hit my head.
  2. why did you fall of your bicycle?  Because I was going to fast and wasn’t looking.
  3. why? Because I was late
  4. why were you late?  Because I overslept
  5. why did you oversleep?  Because I stayed up to watch a movie passed my normal bedtime.

So we can conclude that the root cause of the person’s head hurting was that he stayed up passed his bedtime to watch a movie.  What the five why’s doesn’t tell us is that this person has a subdural hematoma (bleeding in the brain causing swelling) due to his fall and if he doesn’t get immediate medical attention he will die.  Identifying the root causes doesn't always tell us with is coming in the near or distant future.

While tools can be helpful, sometimes they limit our thinking.  We want to make sure that tools do not prevent us from doing a good job. It is important to differentiate which phase a tool or tools are to be used so that it is clear when to utilize the tool during the process.  Again, a tool is not a process.

Other uses for the ULC

Approach

Other use of the ULC process is when someone asks what your approach will be on a new project.  You would say something like “My approach will be to analyze the issue, workflow, and requirements with the stakeholders, then design a viable solution, etc. 

Marketing

It is also an effective marketing approach.  Businesses today are operating on lean budgets.  If you had 12 million to spend on a project, wouldn’t you rather spend it on a company that does a good job with analysis to provide quality projects instead of having errors that will cost time and more money to fix?  If a prospective client asks the marketing staff, “What makes you any different then company ABC?  We could say that "our people and our process make a difference; we spend time to really understand your needs and do a more thorough job in analysis which is why we produce better outcomes then the competition".

Project Plans

In addition, if we establish project plans with the ULC Phases as labels, everyone would know exactly where we are in the project.  The Program Managers could better track where all the projects are at and the communication between project managers and CEO, other managers, and staff would be clear.  You would know exactly where you are in the process.  If someone had to take over a project plan, they would know exactly where the project stands. 

Performance Evaluations

I believe to encourage staff to actively use the ULC process; we need to incorporate it into our performance evaluations.  “How did the employee use the process to successfully achieve results in our jobs?”  That way it will not be out of sight, out of mind.  We should also be supportive and encourage doing a good job in analyzing to prevent rework and costs for errors.  Also incorporate best practices and lessons learned to we can learn and grow from errors.

Risk Management

Risks and assumptions should be identified and mitigated throughout the phases of the ULC. 

Measurements

Baseline and actual measurements are identified and tracked based on project size and are business industry-specific. 

Conclusion

There are so many processes and methodologies available.  The companies that sell their processes and methodologies are as numerous as car salespersons (no offense).  Some are so difficult to implement that you need to hire their consultants to assist your organization in implementing it to the enterprise. Or worse yet, only a handful of employees are sent to learn the process, leaving out the majority of the work staff.  I think we need to keep it simple and understandable by EVERYONE, including non-technical staff.  The ULC is an approach, a process, a methodology, a marketing approach, project planning label, and it’s repeatable.  The more we use it the better we will be at using it successfully and becoming more sustainable as a business. Using the ULC has the potential to assist in outperforming the competition with every product, service, project, and task.  It provides value to customers and can improve the reputation of a business based on increasing quality outcomes, and placing the business in a better position for future contracts and sustainable for future generations.


Leadership Support and Involvement with
Enterprise Processes

See page 9 of the link below regarding Enterprise Maturity for Leadership,  Also, for a humorous visual example of poor analysis, see also page 11 of this linked pdf.

http://www.soasymposium.com/presentations/Doug%20Groves%20-%20Shell%20SOA%20Symposium.pdf

 

 


[1] Wikipedia definition of Life - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life

[2] Wikipedia.  Negative Feedback Definition - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_feedback

[3] McConnell, Steve, Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction, June 2004. ISBN-10: 0735619670



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