Understand the route to a solution with the DASH Onion Canvas
Thinking about problems and what to do about them can be hard. It can be difficult to know what to focus on and how to tackle it. The DASH Onion will help you think about all the influences on a problem to find a solution. It helps you understand what needs to be communicated to each of the people involved and what would help solve their issues.
One of the challenges of complex problems is that the true nature of the problem and the options for solving it may not be clear until you delve deeper.
The DASH Onion Canvas helps frame problems to provide a comprehensive view of the different possible solutions. It is a lean way of developing answers to complex problems without taking too broad or too narrow an approach. The DASH Onion Canvas is a worksheet that is free to use under a creative commons license. It will help you think about your challenges in a new way.
Many problem-solving techniques focus narrowly on the specific problem, when often the visible problems are often just a symptom of wider influences. This leads to the biggest opportunities getting missed.
The DASH Onion Canvas helps identify the impact of problems on the desired outcome taking into account the point of view of stakeholders. It helps define a solution that also solves related problems and needs. The outcomes provide the basis for the tests in the Test Driven Thinking cycle and the stakeholders for the Outcome Driven Engagement.
The layers of the DASH Onion are:
- Outcomes: the desired effects or consequences to achieve, expressed in relation to people and their motivations, including any changes needed.
- Objectives: the goals that define success, expressed as a set of conditions for achieving something new or moving away from a problem – including the changes needed in the minds of stakeholders.
- Outputs: the products of thinking that are needed to drive the objectives, including the decisions, analysis, tests and evidence.
There are three ways in which the onion is used, as marked by the arrows:
The problem definition step helps understand the nature of a problem by expressing the problems to solve in relation to outcomes. It:
- Identifies the problems and specifies these as objectives to resolve.
- Defines the desired outcomes in response to the objectives.
This approach helps in understanding the wider context rather than just a narrow focus. Complex problems do not have a single cause and effect, so focusing on solving a problem alone treats a symptom rather than the cause. Problems often have systemic root causes, that is, the interaction of the participants in the overall system can create the problems, so by understanding the motivations and dynamics of the stakeholders you can scope a solution based on the real root causes.
The scoping step helps you to understand what needs to be done to achieve an outcome. Scope is determined from outside-in so you define only what is required to produce the outcomes. You need to:
- Define the desired outcomes and motivations from the point of view of the stakeholders; for example, the main characteristics of overall success.
- Determine other problems that also need solving to achieve the outcome.
- To scope the objectives, specify the problems to tackle and the key results to achieve with reference to the desired outcomes. Be clear on which objectives are within scope and which are not.
- Identify opportunities to group objectives based on those that are similar in nature or have similar stakeholders. This might mean adding related objectives or dropping unrelated objectives. If stakeholders are involved in solving problems these kinds of problems, you can increase likelihood of success, by giving them a stake in the proposed solution.
- Define the outputs that are needed to meet the objectives. This means defining the decisions to be made, the analysis to be performed and the information to gather.
This approach can be used to scope a project or just to think about the steps that are needed to solve a problem.
Find a solution with DASH
To find a solution to meet the objectives you use the cycles of Test Driven Thinking and Outcome Driven Engagement. You need to:
- Deliver the outputs to meet the objectives.
- Engage with stakeholders to change outcomes.
The DASH Onion is a simple but effective way of finding the context of a problem and the options for solving it within a wider context. It provides the conditions to give the best chance of finding an answer that will solve the problems.