Last week, we said that there are six steps to making an effective management decision. We explored in detail the first step - creating a constructive environment. This week we explore in detail the second step.
Step 2: Generate good alternatives This step is critical to making an effective decision. The more good options you consider, the more comprehensive your final decision will be.When you generate alternatives, you force yourself to dig deeper and look at the problem from different angles. If you use the mindset ‘there must be other solutions out there’, you’re more likely to make the best decision possible. If you don’t have reasonable alternatives, then there’s really not much of a decision to make!
Here’s a summary of some of the key tools and techniques to help you and your team develop good alternatives.Brainstorming: Brainstorming is probably the most popular method of generating ideas. This tool combines a relaxed, informal approach to problem solving with lateral thinking. It encourages people to come up with thoughts and ideas that can, at first, seem a bit crazy. Some of these ideas can be crafted into original, creative solutions to a problem, while others can spark even more ideas.
During brainstorming sessions, you should avoid criticizing or rewarding ideas. You’re trying to open up possibilities and break down incorrect assumptions about the problem’s limits.
Evaluate ideas at the end of the session – this is the time to explore solutions further, using conventional approaches.Reverse Brainstorming: Another approach is ‘Reverse Brainstorming’. This tool helps you solve problems by combining brainstorming and reversal techniques. By combining these, you can extend your use of brainstorming to draw out even more creative ideas. To use this technique, you start with one of two ‘reverse’ questions: Instead of asking “How do I solve or prevent this problem?” ask “How could I possibly cause the problem?” And instead of asking “How do I achieve these results?” ask “How could I possibly achieve the opposite effect?”
Charette Procedure: One more technique commonly used is known as Charette Procedure. This technique is valuable when you are brainstorming with more than 10 people? Or tried to brainstorm ideas for two or more related issues? These sessions quickly spin out of control, becoming chaotic and unproductive. What’s more, they tend to be dominated by only a few people, with the majority remaining silent. The Charette Procedure involves organising people into several small groups, each of which brainstorms ideas one-after-the-other until everyone involved has had a chance to contribute fully.
Crawford Slip Method: Crawford Slip Method is another technique. How do you unlock the collective knowledge and ideas of your team, your department or even your whole organisation? And how do you do this in a way that everyone (not just those with the biggest egos) gets heard? The Crawford Slip Method is a simple yet effective type of brainstorming that gives all team members’ opinions equal weight, however quiet they are. In fact, you probably will have encountered this way of generating ideas and solutions even if you haven’t called it the Crawford Slip Method.
The method simply involves collating input from people on slips of paper (nowadays often on sticky notes). Not only does this help you generate a wide variety of solutions, it also helps people get involved and feel that their contributions are valued. Writing rather than speaking during the session can have added advantages: it helps people to think freely without interruption and it levels the playing field between quieter people and more outspoken participants.
Reframing Matrix: The Reframing Matrix uses four Ps (product, planning, potential and people) as the basis for gathering different perspectives. You can also ask outsiders to join the discussion or ask the existing participants to adopt different functional perspectives (for example, have a marketing person speak from the viewpoint of a financial manager).
The Reframing Matrix tool helps you to look at business problems from various perspectives. Using these, you can come up with more creative solutions. The approach relies on the fact that different people withdifferent experiences are likely to approach problems in different ways. The technique helps you put yourself into the minds of different people, imagine the way that they would face these problems and explore the possible solutions that they might suggest.
Concept Fans: We often have to solve problems that have no easy solution. This can be frustrating, especially when we’re on a deadline and when normal problem-solving approaches haven’t worked. This is where Concept Fans are useful. They help you widen your search for solutions when you have exhausted all obvious options. To start a Concept Fan, draw a circle on a large piece of paper (A3 paper or white board) just right of centre. Write the problem you are trying to solve into it. To the right of it radiate lines representing possible solutions to the problem. It may be that the first ideas generated are impractical, unremarkable, or do not really solve the problem. If this is the case, take a ‘step back’for a broader view of the problem. Do this by drawing another circle to the left of the first circle and write the broader definition into this new circle. Link it with an arrow to show that it comes from the first. If this does not give you the idea you are looking for then repeat the process and take another step back. By this time, you would have broader idea of the solution.
Appreciative Inquiry: Another approach is to shift to a positive perspective, look at the things that are working and build on them. In some situations this can be very powerful because by focusing on positives, you can build the unique strengths which bring real success.
This is the premise behind ‘Appreciative Inquiry’, a method of problem solving. To understand the basis of Appreciative Inquiry it is useful to look at the meaning of the two words in context.Appreciation means t o recognize and value the contributions or attributes of things and people around us. Inquiry means to explore and discover, in the spirit of seeking to better understand and being open to new possibilities. When combined, this means that by appreciating what is good and valuable in the present situation, we can discover and learn about ways to effect positive change for the future. This technique forces you to look at the problem based on what’s ‘going right,’ rather than what’s ‘going wrong.
Organising ideas This is especially helpful when you have a large number of ideas. Sometimes separate ideas can be combined into one comprehensive alternative.
Affinity Diagrams: This technique can organise ideas into common themes and groupings. When you use an affinity diagram, you group unorganized ideas into meaningful themes. You can then see the connections between them.
Step 1: Transfer ideas onto sticky notes: Write down every piece of information that you need to organise onto a separate sticky note.
When you are sure that you have written everything down, stick your notes on to a wall or table. Don’t worry about organising information at this stage – you’ll do this next.
Step 2: Sort ideas into themes - Your next step is to sort all the ideas into groups. Start small – look for just two ideas that are similar in some way and group them together on the table or wall. Then, look for another two ideas that relate to one other and so on. (Next week: How to explore these
alternatives) (Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)