Write Issue Trees

Sorta classic that in 2011, I was blogging about diagnosing business problems on Valentine's Day.

Being able to write an inspirational brief is a great thing. Being able to quickly understand the human factors of a problem is also awesome. But one of the most useful, instantly applicable skills a strategist/planner/whatever can pick up is the ability to develop a solid issue tree.

Like this one.

When you’re breaking down a problem, start with the biggest possible problem first. Then write down the component parts of the program in the plainest possible language, and draw lines to connect the issue with its component parts. Then repeat the process until you have a bunch of little things that you can change. Issue tree, complete. Begin analysis.

Just for comic relief, this seems to be the issue that most agencies are faced with: swimming in the wrong direction against a stiff current. And I suppose that’s common of most projects that go poorly in the marketing world. Immediately trying to figure out the solution only moves you to the right side of the issue tree (the “how”), when you could be getting more money to move left, toward the “why” in the equation.

But here’s what I’m really, really in love with: the Ishikawa Diagram.They’re the shit. Because if you can break it down in every category you’re truly a titan of industry.

The idea behind this kind of diagram (also known as a fishbone) is to help identify the potential causes for defects in process, product, or service. While they’re traditionally used in manufacturing – with different causes/inputs, of course – they’ve exceptionally useful for diagnosing general problems.

I think, though, the way to a get cogent strategic framework is through a reversed Ishikawa Diagram. Once you’ve diagnosed the problem, it’s time to think how everything fits together.

Start with an objective, and then work through all the strategies that have the potential to affect that objective. And then all the tactics that can affect the successful realization of that strategy. And then all the considerations that work for and against that tactic working in the real world.

Once you’ve got that nailed, send everyone to work on bringing it to life.

Subscribe to CPJ.FYI

Every Sunday afternoon, in your inbox: a handcrafted set of reads to get you ready for your week. With a 54% open rate!