Olga is a registered PRINCE2 Practitioner and has a master's degree in project management.
Sometimes, the decision cannot be reached in one go. Instead, you make a step-by-step progress towards a solution. Explore the incremental model and its three phases of decision-making.
The Incremental Model
Instead of making one huge leap towards solving a problem, the incremental model breaks down the decision-making process into small steps. The process of then moving between the steps is known as muddling through and is based on the combination of experience, intuition, guessing, and using different techniques. This model was developed by Charles Lindblom.
A small number of alternatives and consequences are considered at each stage of the decision-making process. As a result, the costs of making a decision are minimized. As each step is proposing only a small change; the immediate effect is minimal and usually not disruptive. Other benefits of the incremental model are its simplicity and flexibility. Because the difference between status quo and proposed solution at every stage is small, it's often easier to reach a consensus between different stakeholders, and conflict is avoided.
Let's also consider the drawbacks of this approach. Limiting the number of alternatives and consequences considered naturally creates a possibility of missing the best possible solution. Instead, decision-makers usually settle for an acceptable 'good enough' option, and the quality of the final decision lowers. It's often impossible to roll out a radical proposal using this approach, since the change at every stage has to be small. The incremental model will work only for situations where continuous decision-making and implementation are acceptable.
The incremental model is often used in the public sector, where significant changes are likely to cause public dispute, and in software development, where bite sized changes help to avoid big and costly mistakes.
Three Decision-Making Phases
The small steps of the incremental model are split into three distinct phases, each consisting of several steps:
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First is the identification phase. At the first phase, the problem is identified and explored. There are two main steps in this process:
Recognition is the first step of the decision-making process, when a manager in the organization becomes aware of a problem or situation requiring a decision. For example, imagine that you're organizing an event and have to prepare a poster to advertise it.
The second step is diagnosis, where information is gathered about the problem. Depending on the size of the problem and availability of resources, this step can be more or less thorough and take more or less time. You'd start thinking about the required poster in more details: what its audience is, what information you should put on it, and how much time you have to prepare it.
Next is the development phase. During the second phase, a solution is created for the existing problem. This process can happen in one of two ways:
First is search or screen. The decision-maker can choose to search for the solution of a problem among alternatives that already exist within the organization. So, if you've previously organized events, you might look through folders on your computer, trying to find a suitable template or poster that could be reused with minor adjustments.
The second step option is design. If no suitable solution exists within the organization, a custom solution will have to be designed for the problem. So, if this is the first time you're creating a poster, you'll start the design process from scratch.
Finally, we have the selection phase. During this phase, the decision is made. If several alternatives were available, a choice of the best suitable solution is made. If only one alternative was available or has been created, its suitability is being evaluated in one of the following three ways:
First is judgement. In this case, there's a single decision-maker who relies on experience when making a choice. For example, your corporate designer might bring three poster sketches to you, and you select the one you think will work best, based on posters your company has produced in the past.
Second is analysis. In this case, the alternatives are systematically evaluated using some technique. So, you might create a scorecard, where you would assign points to each poster for creativity, visual appeal, and information accuracy.
The third way is bargaining. In this case, there are several decision-makers involved in the process, whose differences in opinions result in a conflict. The conflict is resolved and the decision is made once a coalition is formed. So, if the decision about the event poster had to be made together with the marketing manager and your opinions differ, you would start a discussion to reach an agreement.
The final step of the decision-making process is authorization, at which point the decision is accepted by the organization. At this stage, you get an approval for your selected poster from your line manager before you send it for printing.
The incremental model splits the decision-making process into smaller steps. These steps occur in three phases: identification, development, and selection. The decision-makers are not fully rational and consider only a limited number of alternatives during each step. The process relies on muddling through, including the decision-makers' experience and intuition, rather than on formal procedures.
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