Using an influence diagram is one way to frame a problem. Framing the problem is also the first step in strategic communication using the FINESSE approach for problems with high levels of complexity and uncertainty.
Problem framing usually consists of identifying a failure or desired outcome, identifying the measures associated with that failure or desired outcome, identifying contributing factors, and placing boundaries around the issue to make resolution more manageable. The problem frame is frequently developed in a collaborative, social-type setting.
What is an Influence Diagram?
An influence diagram is a simple schematic that shows the relationships of inputs and outputs. For this reason, influence diagrams are considered a good practice as a precursor for formulating all types of models, including Excel-based models. Influence diagrams are also known as relevance diagrams when used for developing decision trees by decision analysts.
Developing an Influence Diagram
Influence diagrams are developed from the output to the top-level inputs. The input variables that directly impact the output are linked to it. Then contributing input variables are linked to the most impactful input variables.
An input variable can only appear once. In practice, this creates discussion concerning what input depends on the others and whether additional inputs are needed. Available data and data quality also become part of the discussion.
Remember, the end goal of the influence diagram is to build a model of what happens in the real world. Programmers must understand the factors, data, and logic to create a realistic model.
The Power of Influence Diagrams
Spreadsheets are the most common tool for problem-solving and risk management. However, most spreadsheets have errors. Studies have shown that the use of influence diagrams, and their visual representation of the relationships among the input variables in a problem, reduce the likelihood of the spreadsheet model containing an error.
Influence Diagrams as a Framing Technique
Sometimes a modeler will say, “that is not in the model," when asked if something was considered in the analysis. The modeler is really saying, "that is not in the problem frame.” This makes developing an influence diagram a viable technique for framing a problem and the associated communication.
Applying It with FINESSE
Influence diagrams are a viable technique for framing. For me, an influence diagram is an alternative technique because you will see some eyes glaze over anytime you talk about model development and draw any logic diagram on a whiteboard. On the other hand, most issues involving high levels of complexity and uncertainty will need a model. Decision makers and modelers need to get the frame correct.
Founded by JD Solomon, Communicating with FINESSE is a not-for-profit community of technical professionals dedicated to being highly effective communicators and facilitators. The community’s 750 Club shares special tips and pointers associated with each bone in the FINESSE fishbone (cause and effect) diagram. Learn more about our publications, webinars, and workshops. Join the community for free.