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Informed Decision Making

 

Decision making is an inexact process that needs to measure and evaluate numerous conflicting factors and, at best, can only arrive at a decision that is based on probability and judgement.  Decisions are made through a cognitive process where a number of possibly conflicting factors are evaluated to define alternate courses of action and eventually select one over the others.  Clearly, when making choices between competing alternatives more complete and better information should lead to better decisions.  So why is the need to address information as a basis for decision making a topic for discussion?

Firstly, most, if not all, decisions are made with incomplete information.  The challenge for making objective decisions is to identify when the right amount of information has been made available to support a decision process that reduces the risk of a bad decision to an acceptable level.  In most cases, decision makers judge this using intuition and experience.  Informed Decision Making tries to make this judgement more explicit.

 

Donald Rumsfeld, in his most famous quote, explained the problem succinctly.  He said “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.” (Rumsfeld, 2002)

Informed Decision Making attempts to convert unknown unknowns into known unknowns and reduce the risk of known unknowns to a level that is acceptable to the organization.  It does this by adopting a structured and consistent decision process that is information based.

While different organizations have different approaches Tyra has developed an approach that balances the need for information with the importance of the decision and the impact of making a poor or incomplete decision.  It allows informed decisions to be made in a timely and efficient manner.

Context Analysis - Understanding Context and Motivation

The first level in Tyra’s approach is to understand the context and motivation related to the issue under consideration.  While it is possible to perform this analysis standalone, it is more likely that information gaps and poor assumptions will be surfaced if this is undertaken as an interactive effort with a subject matter expert who, while knowledgeable, is not intimately familiar with the specific situation.  The resulting discussion allows assumptions, cultural beliefs and knowledge gaps to be identified.  Topics that are covered are contextual items such as the external business environment, internal business drivers, relevant corporate culture and existing processes, practices, data and technology that impact on the problem space.  The problem is described, the motivation of the decision maker and the organization is explored, and information gaps are documented.

Normally this process, undertaken in a single short session, leads to a decision.  It may be to stop or postpone the decision process.  It might be the identification that enough information is available to make an appropriate decision.  It might be a realization that additional information is required in targeted areas in order to make an appropriately informed decision.

The Strategy Brief - Research, Engagement and Synthesis

If context analysis identifies that additional information is required, there is a need to perform research and engagement that is timely, unbiased, complete and structured.  While it is possible to engage internal resources to perform consider the benefits of involving experienced external resources.  In today’s lean business environment most internal resources are fully engaged in addressing work in progress and meeting well defined performance objectives.  It can be disruptive to the organization if tasks and priorities are changed to address a new activity that may or may not result in a requirement for long term engagement.  Secondly, external resources have broad experience that can help inform an analysis of this type and provide more complete information relating to options that internal resources may not be aware of.  Finally, external resources are often less biased as they are exploring options without the baggage of personal relationships and immersion in the organization’s corporate culture.  In general, a modest investment at this point in time will likely result in better and more timely information.

No matter who undertakes the work, the information that is to be captured needs to be clearly identified at the outset, key personnel need to be made available for interviews and review, the work needs to be completed expediently, and a succinct written report must be created.  The findings need to be shared widely to all interested parties and there needs to be general agreement that the findings are factual and key information was not missed.  Furthermore, this all needs to occur in a timely manner so that the decision process is not delayed or disrupted.  The Strategy Brief provides targeted information quickly to support informed decision making.

Bringing It Together

Decisions, by their nature, suggest that a judgement or choice is made between alternative options.  While the alternative chosen should maximize the value to the entire organization, different alternatives will have different impacts with costs and benefits spread unevenly across internal groups.  The context and strategy based engagement and information gathering approach discussed here, provides the foundations for making informed decisions that are transparent and defensible.  While the decision itself may be unpopular to certain individuals and groups, the clear process and documented information base should allow all parties to accept that the decision was made in good faith and in the best interests of the organization as a whole.

This lays the groundwork for a further engagement, design and implementation process that is inclusive, effective, timely and ultimately successful.

Tyra brings specific skills tied to a proven process that provides decision makers with timely and pertinent information to understand context, reduce risk, engage stakeholders, prioritize investment and initiate meaningful actions.  For more information on these capabilities please visit Tyra’s website.

References

Rumsfeld, D. (2002, February 12). Donald Rumsfeld Quotes. Retrieved from BrainyQuote: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/d/donaldrums148142.html