We continue with the last part of our four-part study on how to make right decisions. We discussed at length the tools and techniques the professional uses to arrive at right solutions.
Step 4: Choose the best alternative
After you have evaluated the alternatives, the next step is to choose between them. The choice may be obvious. However, if it isn’t, these tools will help:
Decision Matrix Analysis: Decision Matrix Analysis is a key tool for this type of evaluation. It’s invaluable because it helps you bring disparate factors into your decision-making process in a reliable and rigorous way. How do you get around with this tool? There are a few steps.
(1) Brainstorm the evaluation criteria appropriate to the situation. If possible, involve customers in this process. (2) Discuss and refine the list of criteria. Identify any criteria that must be included and any that must not be included. (3) Reduce the list of criteria to those that the team believes are most important. (4) Assign a relative weight to each criterion based on how important that criterion is to the situation. Do this by distributing 10 points among the criteria. The assignment can be done by discussion and consensus. (5) Or each member can assign weights, then the numbers for each criterion are added for a composite team weighting. Draw an L-shaped matrix. Write the criteria and their weights as labels along one edge and the list of options along the other edge. Usually, whichever group has fewer items occupies the vertical edge. (6) Evaluate each choice against the criteria. Make sure that your rating scales are consistent. Word your criteria and set the scales so that the high end of the scale (5 or 3) is always the rating that would tend to make you select that option: most impact on customers, greatest importance, least difficulty, greatest likelihood of success.
Decision Trees: Another tool which will help you choosing among options is known as Decision Trees. These help you lay out the different options open to you and bring the likelihood of project success or failure into the decision-making process. (1) You start a Decision Tree with a decision that you need to make. Draw a small square to represent this towards the left of a large piece of paper. (2) From this box draw out lines towards the right for each possible solution and write that solution along the line. Keep the lines apart as far as possible so that you can expand your thoughts. (3) At the end of each line, consider the results. (4) If the result of taking that decision is uncertain, draw a small circle. (5) If the result is another decision that you need to make, draw another square. Squares represent decisions, and circles represent uncertain outcomes. (6) Write the decision or factor above the square or circle. (7) If you have completed the solution at the end of the line, just leave it blank. (8) Starting from the new decision squares on your diagram, draw out lines representing the options that you could select. (9) From the circles draw lines representing possible outcomes. Again make a brief note on the line saying what it means. Keep on doing this until you have drawn out as many of the possible outcomes and decisions as you can see leading on from the original decisions.
Multi-Voting: When decision criteria are subjective and it’s critical that you gain consensus, you can use techniques like Multi-Voting. This technique narrows a large list of possibilities to a smaller list of the top priorities or to a final selection. Multi-voting is preferable to straight voting because it allows an item that is favoured by all, but not the top choice of any, to rise to the top a group agrees on priorities, for example, so that they can assign resources and funds.
(1) Display the list of options. (2) Combine duplicate items. (3) Number (or letter) all items. (4) Decide how many items must be on the final reduced list.
Decide also how many choices each member will vote for. Usually, five choices are allowed. The longer the original list, the more votes will be allowed, up to 10. (5) Working individually, each member selects the five items (or whatever the number of choices is allowed) he or she thinks most important. Then each member ranks the choices in order of priority, with the first choice ranking the highest. For example, if each member has five votes, the top choice would be ranked five, the next choice four and so on. Each choice is written on a separate paper, with the ranking underlined in the lower right corner. (6) Tally votes. Collect the papers, shuffle them, then record on a flipchart or whiteboard. The easiest way to record votes is for the scribe to write all the individual rankings next to each choice. For each item, the rankings are totalled next to the individual rankings.
If a decision is clear, stop here. Otherwise, continue with a brief discussion of the vote. The purpose of the discussion is to look at dramatic voting differences, such as an item that received both five and one ratings and avoid errors from incorrect information or understandings about the item. The discussion should not result in pressure on anyone to change their vote.
Delphi Technique: The Delphi Technique, another tool, uses multiple cycles of anonymous written discussion and argument, managed by a facilitator. Participants in the process do not meet and sometimes they don’t even know who else is involved. The facilitator controls the process and manages the flow and organisation of information. This is useful where you need to bring the opinions of many different experts into the decision-making process. It’s particularly useful where some of these experts don’t get on!
The anonymity and remoteness of the process helps to avoid issues of groupthink and personality conflict. More than this, it gives people time to think issues through properly, critique arguments rigorously and contribute fully. The editing of responses by a facilitator means that inflammatory interventions can be toned down and input can be consolidated efficiently. And the iterative approach means that arguments can be refined and tested until they are robust and fully-considered.
Step 5: Check your decision
With all of the effort and hard work that goes into evaluating alternatives and deciding the best way forward, it’s easy to forget to ‘sense check’ your decisions. This is where you look at the decision you’re about to make dispassionately, to make sure that your process has been thorough and to ensure that common errors haven’t crept into the decision-making process. After all, we can all now see the catastrophic consequences that over-confidence, groupthink and other decision-making errors have wrought on the world economy.
The important part of this is an intuitive step, which involves quietly and methodically testing the assumptions and the decisions you’ve made against your own experience and thoroughly reviewing and exploring any doubts you might have.
Step 6: Communicate your decision and move to action
Once you’ve made your decision, it’s important to explain it to those affected by it and involved in implementing it. Talk about why you chose the alternative you did. The more information you provide about risks and projected benefits, the more likely people are to support the decision.
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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