Speed-diagnosing problems in your business.

Four questions to jump-start your thinking about solutions to your organization’s process problems.

I recently heard about a technique used by teaching hospitals to quickly focus the thinking of medical students and interns on grand rounds.*  It’s called the One Minute Preceptor, described as a framework that “encourages students to think critically about the case and gives insight into clinical reasoning skills.”

Stethoscope (Source: Wikipedia; Photographer: Huji)Four questions asked early on in this process are:

  • What do you think is wrong with this patient?
  • Why do you think that?
  • What other possibilities have you considered?
  • What are you going to do?

Solving business problems should also focus first on identifying the problem, not deciding on the cure.  So it occurred to me that these questions would be suitable early in a discussion among business and IT decision-makers to develop a thumbnail diagnosis before settling on a course of action.

It would especially be useful for data governance advocates (in either business or IT) to introduce the uninitiated to business problems that can arise from poor data governance, quality, and management.

To wit:

  • Why do you think that?  Are most of our bad decisions being made based on intelligence from this one data set?  Do comparable decisions made on other data result in better outcomes? Have we discovered that our otherwise sound data is kept in stovepiped applications or databases?
  • What other possibilities have you considered? Have you ruled out other issues, e.g., sales might be declining due to changing consumer tastes rather than poor marketing processes?  Have you checked your premises to make sure you aren’t biased toward one solution or another (e.g., biased toward a technology fix rather than cheaper/faster alternatives)?
  • What are you going to do? Is this more of a human-side issue, calling for re-training in best practices?  Are there tools that can help address the issues you’ve uncovered? Can you make a business case for investing in these tools?

You might not want to justify a complete overhaul of the way your business unit works or justify a million-dollar technology purchase based on this thumbnail assessment.  But it’s a useful sequence of questions even just to organize and clarify one’s own thinking, and to help begin the task of probing, understanding, and fixing business problems.

*I realize that this is my second post in a row using a medical theme. Medical professionals treat people with a variety of modalities — surgery, medicine, technology, therapy, homeopathy, lifestyle change, etc.  I think that model certainly applies to treating business ills such as bad processes and poor data, which explains why medical metaphors come naturally to mind.

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