Decision-Making

These are my notes from a recent lecture on decision making. A useful way of categorising decision-making techniques is by the variables that surround it:

  • Input: relates to expected benefits and costs, especially the way in which that information is derived (quantitatively/qualitatively)
  • Output: one objective or more? Is there a weighting system attached to them?
  • Constraints: how much is known about the circumstances surrounding the decision?
  • Resources: techniques available for making a decision

Central to all of this is the decision-maker. Does one person have the authority to make a decision, is it committee based. In my experience I’ve always found committee-based decisions to be extremely painful. They stretch out a decision much longer than is required and I often feel it can undermime the individual that has carried out all of the background research/work. This does however relate strongly to leadership qualities. Is an individual willing to take on the responsibility and be accountable for what they feel is the correct decision?

My lecture outlined two models of decision-making:

  1. Dewey (1933): Suggestion; Intellectualisation; Guiding; Reasoning; and Testing.
  2. Simon (1977): Intelligence; Design; Response; and Review.

For the purpose of my module it seems we’ll be using a mixture of the two:

  1. Defining the problem
  2. Gathering data
  3. Identifying alternative solutions
  4. Evaluating their cost and effectiveness
  5. Selecting the best
  6. Implementing the selected option
  7. Monitoring, evaluation and improvment

My only observation is that Simon’s model and the model being used as part of my module both seem to extend beyond what I would think of as the decision-making process. They include the action’s taken as a result of a decision. For example, in project management the decision-making process is typified by a Business Case. In the afore mentioned list, this would cover points 1-5. If an organisation/individual decides to go ahead (decision has been made) then the selected option would be implemented, monitored, evaluated and continuously reviewed/improved (points 6 and 7).

The lecture then went on to mention a range of tools that could be used during each of the stages but I’ll leave that for another post.

Personal/Work Perspective

From a personal and work perspective I think there is a long way to go in terms of improving steps 1-5 of the above model. If we can get this right it makes steps 5 and 6 so much easier. At JISC, we’re beginning to develop more guidance around ‘gathering data’. Projects are typically very good at defining what their problem is, but the supporting evidence is sometimes a little too light and in some instances missing completely. If we get it right it focuses attention; clarifies expectations; enables accountability; increases objectivity; provides the basis for goal-setting; improves execution; promotes consistency; facilitates feedback; increases alignment; improves problem-solving; provides early warning signals; enhances understanding; enables prediction; motivates; and improves decision-making! (Spitzer, 2007, p.18-19)

Dewey, J. (1933) How We Think. A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process (Revised edn.). Boston: D. C. Heath.

No Author (No Date) ‘Introduction to decision-making: the Process’. Project Risk & Value Management for MSc Project Management [Online]. Available at: https://elp.northumbria.ac.uk (Accessed: 22 October 2012).

Simon, H (1977) Models of Discovery: and other topics in the methods of science. Dordrecht, Holland: Reidel.

Spitzer, D. R. (2007) Transforming Performance Measurement. New York: AMACOM.

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