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Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and is currently working on his PhD in Higher Education Administration.
Each day we make decisions; some insignificant and some that require much of our thought and attention. Maybe we need to choose between pizza or a salad for lunch. At work, maybe we need to decide which employee will be the chair of an important upcoming project.
For complex decisions, it is often helpful to have tools to organize your thoughts and prioritize your considerations. It is also important to have a model that you can use to be comprehensive as you go through the steps of decision making, especially in situations where your decision will impact a number of stakeholders.
There is an important distinction between decision-making models and decision-making tools. Decision-making models provide a framework to follow as you collect, process, and apply information and evidence to your decision. Decision-making tools are designed to help you collect the evidence, process the information, and identify the best way to make your decision.
There are many different decision-making models, most of them presented as a process with four to seven steps. Some of these models are based on a single individual making the decision while others focus on a group making a decision or being involved in organizing and providing feedback to the decision maker.
The most common decision-making models can be summarized in five basic steps:
Each of these is an important step in any decision-making model. While some may seem so obvious that they don't warrant specific attention, that is simply not true. A quick example will help highlight why each step is so important.
Renee, an HR manager for a midsize company, is asked to work with Brian, the director of a warehouse, to improve his operation. He currently has a disruptive culture in the workplace. Brian tells Renee one of his first action items: 'I need to promote one of my area supervisors to distribution manager. Choosing who to promote is a tough decision.'
Think about that statement by Brian. What did he do in that simple statement (a very likely statement and one that Renee could easily agree with and support)? In that one statement, he brushed over steps one and two of a good decision-making model. He identified the decision and the options with little, if any, specific attention.
If culture is a potential issue, does he need a distribution manager, or should a reorganization be considered? If he does need a new manager, are the only options his current supervisors, or should he look outside? In making decisions, relying too closely on past choices made can actually be the most significant hindrance to a good decision.
Considering the cost/benefits, making and implementing the decision (which are steps three, four, and five) become much more clearly defined when steps one and two are carefully considered. So, always be aware that each decision you make should be approached as a new decision. We can learn from past decisions, but they do not need to dictate how we make new decisions.
Because the steps of decision-making are so important, helpful tools have been developed to ensure that we consciously go through each step. Two of these tools are the decision matrix and silent brainstorming.
A decision matrix is a grid with certain decision-making criteria on each row and possible options at the top of each column. This allows you to look at each option and compare it against other options along the same factor. For example, let's say you're trying to decide which of three job offers to accept.
Your factors listed on each row might include salary, benefits, potential for promotion, length of commute, and how much you liked the people that interviewed you. In each column, you would have job #1, job #2, and job #3. You would then go through each row and complete the answers for each job.
Salary should be easy, it's a dollar figure. How much you liked the people that interviewed you may be more subjective, but it's still important for you, so you give each job a rating between one and ten. After you've completed all the rows for all the columns, you can go back and analyze your answers and see if one option, or job, sticks out as the best option.
Second is the idea of silent brainstorming. Often times, decisions must be made as a group, or at least with considerable group input. Brainstorming is commonly used as a way to have everyone in the group share ideas. However, one downfall of brainstorming is that those in the group not comfortable sharing their ideas aloud may not speak up, or members that are more assertive or aggressive may push their ideas further than the ideas are worth pursuing.
To address those shortfalls, silent brainstorming simply transforms the exercise from discussing ideas aloud to having everyone write them down on slips of paper. After a few minutes of writing, those ideas are collected and read aloud. Discussion occurs and after everyone has heard and considered those ideas, there is another round of writing with any new ideas that may have come to mind. In the end, the goal is to have heard as many options, and input on those options, as possible.
Decisions, minor and significant, are faced by each of us every day. Most of the time we barely recognize them as decisions we need to make, but when the pressure is on us, it's helpful to know there are decision-making models to help approach decisions in a structured way. Also, there are decision-making tools, such as a decision matrix and silent brainstorming, to help identify options, gather information, and consider the impact of our decisions.
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Back To CourseProject Management Training
10 chapters | 105 lessons
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