The Detectives’ Notebook

April 6, 2020
Andrew DiMeo

There’s significant similarity between detective work and design.  In both cases, we are building a case. The detectives are building a criminal case based on factual evidence.  The designers are building a business case based on validated consumer research. What happens when the evidence is falsified, even unintentionally?  Similarly, scope creep can slowly drift a design effort to a business case based on invalid research. Neither job provides back of the book answers. Neither job guarantees absolute outcomes.

Some research can be done from the desk where easily gathered information is collected to establish a framework and gameplan.  Ultimately though, the information that really matters is found by immersing oneself in the Gemba.  This is a Japanese term for “the real place.”  The Gemba is the scene of the crime.  It is the operating room if designing a surgical device.  It is the manufacturing floor if designing an assembly process.

The best detectives in the world go to the Gemba with a notebook in hand.  In that notebook they record observations, original thoughts, and data in the form of written notes, sketches, and tables.  The notebook is kept securely in a pocket. It is itself secure, with pages that can stand up to harsh conditions, is waterproof, and untearable.  The notebook is a source of truth and a legal document that is admissible in court.

And while the pages of a design notebook may not be waterproof and untearable, it is also a source of truth.  It too is admissible evidence for a legal proceeding, such as for a case involving intellectual property.

If you’ve ever read a true crime novel like Murder on Birchleaf Drive by Raleigh’s own distinquished attorney Steven B. Epstein.  Or maybe you’ve seen the HBO documentary and/or listened to the popular podcast Serial that involved the case of Adnan Syed.  These examples of literature and investigative journalism do a great job highlighting the complexity and collaboration in the cases.  They include diverse teams of detectives and investigators working for years.

The research methods include more complex tools of forensics, but also include standard techniques of video, photographs, interviews, and observations.  Consider the notebook. Each investigator has their own. They additionally have their own style of taking notes. Some of the detectives are more visual and include sketches.  Others are more verbal and keep copious written dialogue. Others may be more analytical and prefer their pages with gridlines to keep tables filled with data.

The ultimate goal of the investigation is to uncover the truth.

The advantage in investigative journalism is the benefit of time.  It can take years for reporters to dig deeply into the case history and uncover dropped balls and piece together complex relationships otherwise difficult to see.

In real time, detectives don’t have this same luxury.  Dropping a ball and difficulty in connecting the dots can lead to a misinterpretation of the underlying truths, even if they are all there.

In today’s world of real-time multi-site collaboration tools, we can imagine one notebook for all the detectives to share.  It would be critical for this notebook to be a secure environment such that information about the case is kept confidential.  It would be critical for this notebook to allow each detective to keep notes in their native styles, including their written words, photographs, links to video interviews, sketches, and data.  Nearly every crime movie or TV show ever made, true story or fantasy, will have a wall with photographs, Post-it notes, and lines drawing relationships. It would need to have that too.

This is what we are building at CanvasGT.  A method to record observations, original thoughts, and data in a secure and organized manner.  A tool for visualizing complex relationships, enabling running all the way back to original sources of truth to build a stronger case based on facts.  A place to share all of this with a diverse group of stakeholders. Something that minimizes the time and manual labor of moving information back and forth between qualitative and quantitative perspectives.  A tool that connects the dots creating a single source of truth for the data, images, and text.

Our beachhead market is medical device product development.  Nowhere else is the need greater to build a case, a business case, based on the true unmet needs of caregivers and patients.  Nowhere else is the need greater to deploy tools that minimize dropped balls, minimize scope creep, and maximize collaboration of diverse stakeholders.  Nowhere else is the need so great to deliver the right product to the right market faster with better outcomes and reduced cost than in medical innovation.

When CanvasGT matures beyond that beachhead and goes primetime will detectives want to use it?  I suspect so.

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