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Diagnostic Review: Solving the right problem

What problem are we solving? The importance of a Diagnostic Review

In the interplay between humans, business processes and complex systems in any organisation, causes of poor performance are not always clear. Our understandings of problems vary, depending on our point of view. Executives often see a challenge quite differently from their staff, clients or supporting organisations.

In this environment, if we jump straight into ‘solution mode’ we are not likely to address the issues underlying project or program challenges. Unintended consequences of solving the wrong problem may even make things worse.

Diagnostic Review: designing the right thing

Here is where a structured, independent Diagnostic Review offers value. Diagnostic Review is a method of inquiry that identifies contributing factors, develops a shared understanding of the challenge and recommends steps to address the causes.

Diagnostic Review takes a design approach to critical questions. A lead investigator and team conduct the review, using their depth of experience in investigation, research and interviewing as well as interrogating complex systems, processes and procedures.

A Diagnostic Review is not about finding fault. It means judiciously assessing organisational issues and proposing evidence-based measures to improve performance. The Diagnostic Review process is illustrated below.The Diagnostic Review process

If you are familiar with design thinking, you will recognise this as the first half of the ‘double diamond’. These are the discover and define phases of the design process, what we call ‘designing the right thing’.

Scene of a lighthouse on a point at night

A Diagnostic Review takes a systematic approach

The Intent stage sets the basis for the review. The team works with the owner of the business area being investigated, to clarify the drivers for the review, the agreed approach and desired outcomes.

The Explore stage takes a multi-perspective lens to the problem. Through interviews, focus groups, observation and research, the team builds a comprehensive and broad understanding of the problem’s context, consequences and potential sources.

The review team then makes sense of its discoveries in the Innovate stage. It derives initial conclusions and develops possible recommendations.

Draft recommendations are tested with the organisation during the Evaluate stage. Working with the client, the team checks if it is on the right track and tests proposals for validity and viability. Tweaks are made to recommendations as necessary.

During the final stage, Recommend, the team completes and delivers the Diagnostic Review report. At this point, the team will have collaboratively assessed the causes of the issue and recommended steps to take to address these causes.

Case Study: Australian Federal Police International Engagement Strategy

After a reorganisation, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) asked ThinkPlace to help renew the strategy and operating model for its international operations. We applied the Diagnostic Review methodology, to ensure the challenge was clearly understood before recommending a course of action.

Global crime is changing, in dangerous ways. Criminals and terrorists work in loose networks, often from unstable and war-struck regions, helped by new technologies. We analysed this volatile and complex environment, to ensure the AFP is able to respond to current challenges and be adaptive to future possibilities.

We consulted broadly with law enforcement agencies and other national and international government organisations. Our research included changes to workforce, processes, policy and organisation.

We developed iterative models for international engagement and the strategy driving it. We tested these models with the AFP, refining them at each stage.

The result was International Engagement 2020 and Beyond, a live and dynamic strategy aligned with broader AFP goals. It optimises AFP international engagement across the organisation and is coordinated with national and international cooperative partners.

Solving the right problem

A Diagnostic Review takes a systemic design approach to a challenge. We ensure that a wide range of perspectives and data are considered before proposing solutions. Only after these alternative solutions are tested with those affected will we then make a recommendation.

By employing a Diagnostic Review, you have greater confidence that you are solving the right problem with full view of the potential consequences.

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Phil Kowalick

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