One-Stop Shop for
Software review by Dirk Dusharme
When we first dove into PowerSolve, the quality improvement software package from Marshall-Qualtec Inc., we expected to find a highly structured problem-solving process tool. What we found was something that is, in some ways, better.
PowerSolve is really an open-ended organizational tool to help teams in their quality improvement efforts. Yes, it provides all the necessary tools for team problem solving, including Marshall-Qualtec's seven-step quality improvement process template, the seven basic quality control tools (Pareto charts, Ishikawa charts, control charts, histograms, scatter plots, checksheets and line/pie/bar charts) and several team aids for brainstorming and scheduling (countermeasures matrix, barriers and aids analysis, team meeting minutes creation and tracking, project planning and so forth). But the real emphasis seems to be on helping teams organize and track their quality improvement efforts and create documentation to share those efforts with stakeholders. In fact, the customers we interviewed commented more on how the software organizes data and helps generate storyboards than on the available tools.
By the company's own admission, PowerSolve's tools were designed for breadth, not depth. Our tests bore this out. All the tools are functional but not fancy.
Although PowerSolve tools can be used independently, it is easier to understand the program's functionality by seeing how a team might use it.
First, the team creates a quality improvement story by inputting all information about the problem and the team members. The team may use the scheduler to generate a timeline of the quality improvement process. A nifty meeting profiler allows the team recorder to take attendance and meeting minutes.
From this point, the team can proceed to each process improvement step using either the seven-step quality improvement template provided by Marshall-Qualtec or by creating one of its own. At each step, members have at their fingertips all the basic tools mentioned above.
Again, all this functionality is almost incidental to what PowerSolve really does. From an organizational standpoint, the program creates a separate directory for each problem (theme) the team will tackle and a separate subdirectory for each step within that theme. As members use the quality improvement tools, they can save charts, graphs and text related to that step, which is automatically placed in that step's directory. This also the feature most commented on by the customers we interviewed.
Because teams need to share information with stakeholders, the documentation feature is a big plus. The document generator allows the user to place and arrange the text, graphics and charts generated at each step into a master document for use in presentations.
OK, the downside. Although I can't argue with the bare bones functionality, there are some functional issues that need to be addressed. First, many of the screens don't have a zoom option, and on some of the complex charts, this is a real drag. Also, in several fields where the user is allowed to input text data, the boxes are not large enough. In a strange gotcha, not all charts generated by PowerSolve can be brought into its document generator.
Does PowerSolve do what it was designed to do? That is, provide a one-stop application that helps to organize, analyze and present a problem-solving process and its solutions. The answer is yes. A lot of software tools will outperform PowerSolve's individual functions and provide more functionality, but for an integrated package, PowerSolve's brass tacks approach gets the job done.