Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Decision making

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"A wrong decision is always better than no decision". Yes, this is well-known to everybody, it's no innovation, I did not invent the wheel - yet, we tend to sometimes forget that it's better to make a step into the wrong direction, and assume that decision, than stay foot and wait for the time to go by.

What happens if you take no decision?

Will the problem get solved by itself? NO. Will it be easier to take the same decision tomorrow than it would be today? NO. ok, most probably no. Will you get more data tomorrow if you wait long enough? Maybe, but it may also bring more questions than answers.
Instead, when no decision is taken, your image as projected outside will suffer a lot. You will be seen as a weak person, not able to make a move without having all the information, not a risk taker (so why give to you the big project?), not a leader (why should we follow you when you only wait?), usually creating a mess by letting problems linger around.

What happens if you take the wrong decision?

There will always be someone blaming you for doing it this way or the other way, and it can actually be the best way given the context and the information at hand. So why bother?
A wrong decision will also mean eliminating one (wrong) option from your pool of solutions, so... one thing to worry less about.
If you know that with that amount of information, that was the only logical decision to be taken - then you should be fine. If it was wrong, recognize the error, try to correct it, and move forward. People are more appreciated if they took a wrong decision, and then admit the mistake.

So, what do I do, in the end? Of course - you make the decision.


Still, it would be great if you could minimize the errors, and if you could take the right decision upfront. There are a few techniques that could help you achieve this. And while there is no error-proof solution, using these simple ideas will help a great deal.
 
Step ZERO: define the problem. Define it fully, and correctly, and as accurate as possible.
 
1. Write down what you know. These are called "know what you know"
2. Write down what you don't know. the known unknowns
3. Keep in mind there are also some unknown unknowns :)
4. Agree on a few key criteria that your decision should meet.
 
For example, if you want to buy a new laptop, what would be the main criteria to decide on? Size, weight, performance, pre-installed software, privacy etc.
If you need to choose between a few candidates, what are the must-have of the final choice? Good-looking (yes, if it's for modeling :)), smart, good potential, or already has all the knowledge?
 
 
5. Identify solutions, and for each of them, weigh in all the criteria - put some relevancy to each criteria (some might be less important than others)
6. Use the objective (or less objective) criteria to make a decision.
7. Implement the chosen alternative.
8. Evaluate its success.
9. Modify the decision and the actions taken based on the evaluation did in the previous step.
 
Where does the gut feeling come into play? you will ask me. Nowhere, if you are a rational person. Everywhere, if you are at the other extreme.
While a lot of written literature writes against using gut feeling when making decisions, to me it did wonders - so I encourage you to listen to the gut feeling, and look for arguments to sustain the feeling. There usually exist quite a few, you just have to look for them.
 
Well, this is how I do it - or at least try to, especially if I have enough time to measure all factors. Usually, you also have to move fast, and take the best decision within the limited time you have, with little to no information. Funny enough, quite often it proves to be the right decision. :)
 
Anyway, if you need more materials to go in-depth in the decision making process, here are a few references:
 
Harvard Business Review on Decision Making 
Harvard Business Essentials, Decision Making: 5 Steps to Better Results

 



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