Ever walked into a meeting that could have been more productive? What am I saying, if you’ve been an employee, you have probably experienced one of those kinds of meetings. Meetings where there’s no agenda. Or the meeting facilitator allows the participants to bounce from one topic to another. Or where lots of decisions and next steps were determined but then there was another email chain after the minutes to talk about the minutes themselves.

The 4D framework

I’d like to share a framework I learned from Getting Things Done by Roger Fisher. It’s a way of solving problems, but I think it can easily be applied to problem-solving meetings to give them structure and make them more productive.

The 4D framework is this:

  • Data – What are the symptoms and facts of the problem you are trying to solve?
  • Diagnosis – What are the underlying causes of the symptom? What is the root cause?
  • Direction – What can and should we do about them? What options do we have?
  • Do next – Which option is best? Who is doing it? When? Where?

Looking at the framework, it seems simple and the best frameworks are, but how does this help you during a meeting?

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Using the framework will help you in several ways:

  • It gives you a way to generate discussions and ask questions without doing it yourself.
  • Everyone can see what’s being written in real-time and can add or edit when appropriate.
  • The meeting notes are already written – what was discussed, what was decided, and next steps. If you’re doing this on a whiteboard, you simply have to copy what was written; and if this was done on a PowerPoint, you can send the PowerPoint as your minutes.
  • You minimize duplicate discussions – because you’re focused on the root cause, you can easily see whether a new topic is a new root cause or not.
  • You separate the different types of thinking and can focus the audience on specific discussion topics. Identifying a root cause and brainstorming different options often requires critical thinking and free thinking, respectively and the framework helps the audience think either critically or freely, together.

How to use the framework

The idea is to put up the four Ds on a whiteboard or slide where everyone can see them. Since you’re in a problem-solving meeting, you throw up the problem(s) you are trying to solve and ask everyone to identify what problems they are seeing, how they know they are problems and what they think are the causes of the problem.

As meeting participants throw out ideas, you categorize them into the right column. For example, if a team member says “the user interface for our product is clunky”, you might put it into Data and then lead the discussion into Diagnosis, Direction and Do Next. Or if a team member gives you a solution to try, you can put it under Direction and then work backwards to see what Data supports this.

The 4D framework isn’t just for meetings; you can use the 4D framework for solving any problem you have as well to clarify your thinking and to focus in on what to do next.