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Complexity is Simple with PDIA

4 mins read

Guest blog written by Ahmad Aljazaeri

After many years working in the for-profit private sector, I moved about two years ago into a government-owned company that was set up several year ago to be an execution arm for what used to be called the Ministry of Labor. This company grew to be a huge enabler for the transformation plans for that ministry and several other government entities and even some private companies. After being on the receiving end of public policy, I am now ever closer to influencing and even participating in drafting policies. Having been outside my comfort zone, I thought that nothing would be better than going back to school to learn how to better deal with the new challenges in front of me. I went through several options, but IPP grabbed my attention with its structure and scope. I thought this would be a good start for me to understand policy making and implementation and I honestly thought there would be a lot of theory. I didn’t mind that, but I was very interested in learning what it would take to succeed in the implementation of those policies. By that time, I have already worked on a couple of small policies that saw the light and were implemented successfully, but I wanted to tackle bigger problems and I needed to be well-equipped.


I had some concerns about the program being completely online, but I also knew that this could work although 20 weeks seemed a very long time for a training course. After the second week, I was completely convinced that this set up was going to be way better than a condensed 2-week course as it allows participant to fully digest the content and put what they have learned into real action. The course exceeded my expectations in every measure imagined and I would certainly like to see more of such courses in all disciplines.

You learn to think structurally about your challenges. You learn that no matter how big and impossible the challenge is, there is still a way to tackle it and you feel confident that you will eventually come out victorious. It reminds me of the race between the tortoise and the hare: small, consistent, and well-planned steps will always triumph. It’s not that I have never heard of fishbone problem analysis, but the way the program integrates it with the rest of material is what makes it so useful. I also never thought about authority the way it was presented in this course. Authority and being effective are the two wings of success in public policy implementation and one needs to grow them a little bit but simultaneously to maintain the balance and go to the next level. I also learned that most public policy challenges around the world are quite similar which gave me a courage boost to try harder and aim higher.


Constructing and reconstructing the problem at hand could mean the difference between success and failure. Spend as much time needed to get this right and don’t get bothered if you seem unsure and uncertain. Being readily too sure when you frame the problem could be a sign that you have not dug deep enough. Always take your time and use others as a sounding board.


I learned a lot by just talking with more people which might come as a surprise for those who are too busy or not very comfortable talking to new people. One thing is for sure, it was worth all the introvert-discomfort one might feel.

I chose to work on a policy that was too hard to work on to maximize my benefits while implementing some of the techniques I learned in this program in everyday tasks and projects. I can see PDIA working even on a personal level outside of work. The daycare issue was complex because it basically had no real champion in within the government. Actually, in the middle of the program, the authority got transferred from one government department to another which wiped out a lot of the previous work we have done with the previous department. COVID-19 issues also negatively impacted the prospects of putting government resources into the issue. Nevertheless, the old department was no way near helpful in doing what needs to be done, so this shift could actually be a good thing. Pivoting to another project I was working on helped me get unstuck and move on with some results that I was able to influence much better.

The main insight I gathered from working on my challenge was that getting the right level of authority is quite hard. Not only you need to talk to so many people and learn about their priorities, but you also need to budget for the time needed to do all the groundwork. I cannot say that I have solved my original challenge, but this made me more focused on a project that I have started working on by the end of Q1. I think I might have kind of worked out some of the concepts in this course without knowing as I’ve decided to build model daycare centers with an aim to influence authorizers later. As in many startups, there was a steep learning curve but ultimately, we were successful in signing 3 deals with businesses to provide them a daycare service mainly for their working mothers.

The beauty of PDIA is that it gives you the confidence to tackle big problems as it allows you to summon support from different stakeholders in a somewhat predictable way. I have used parts of PDIA with my team and with different authorizers and I found it to work! Compared with tackling things head on in an inside-out fashion, PDIA forces you to think of problems at different levels and with a higher focus on the outside. The course whether the PDIA, time management and delegation tips, teaming, and skills to go through complexity will be practiced especially within my organization and even everyday life. Historically, whenever I was faced with a complex problem, it would solicit a state of high anxiety due to the need to find a quick and simple “complete” solution. After this course, I started to be more confident that no matter how big and complex a problem is, steady and sure small steps would eventually make it easier to tackle.

Finally, to my future colleagues in this course I say: Engage your team early when choosing your problem and don’t shy away from changing the problem more than once if necessary.

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 6-month online learning course in December 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

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