making (big) decisions

We all do it!

We all do it, but not many of us are actually good at it, decision making. It is regrettably something we don’t really learn at school. We can be flummoxed by having to make life and career changing decisions.

The only control an organisation has over its future is the decisions it makes and their implementation. The same applies to our personal lives. Fortunately, there is a right way to make the best decisions for getting the outcomes we desire, which is the focus of this course. It consists of a non-proprietary, structured, pragmatic methodology, based on decision science, that balances the effort needed to decide with its importance, consequences, difficulty, and cost. Thus, it is scalable from decisions requiring a 10-minute conversation to strategic decisions.

Steve Begg, Decision Making Under Uncertainty training course 2022

Having a simple process to guide you through is helpful. And thankfully, there is a process. This can be used for deciding on anything, from personal to career to life choices.

It is important to realise that at the time a decision is made, it is only possible to control the quality of the decision…..

Steve Begg and Reidar Bratvold, SPE Making Good Decisions
copyright SPE: Steve Begg and Reidar Bradtvold

I am a big proponent of decision making training, and am part of a group that seeks to introduce it at primary school level. Only too often does a good outcome get confused with a good decision, and a bad outcome with a bad decision. Many of us can point to examples where bad decision making was hidden by a good outcome, however, a good decision making process could have significantly improved the outcome.

You need some basic information to start the process:

  1. What is the frame of the decision? Do we need to make a large decision, or can we break it up and are there parts that can be decided on later? I
  2. What are we trying to achieve from the decision, write down the fundamental objectives. You think you know, so write them down. Did you know, did you agree?
  3. What are all the alternatives possible?

Stop here and review them, those alternatives, all of them. You may already have a favourite but have a look at the others anyway. Could things change? What would the impact of that change be.

This is the step that is too often ignored, especially in business decision. If the Boss likes option A, option A it shall be. The wheels have been put into motion, and any other option would lead to a delay in the project, and money is time, or is it?

Making the wrong decision could be significantly more costly than delaying the project! It could potentially bankrupt the company.

Even if you already have a favourite and are moving forward with it, make sure you have a look at the alternatives, just in case life or science throws you a curved ball.

So for buying a car, I may look at objectives like cost, fuel economy, size, colour, brand, likely maintenance costs (overseas vs local), etc. The alternatives would be the different cars I am realistically considering buying.

To weigh off the alternatives, I like to make a simple table that scores each alternative (columns) against the objectives (in rows) on a qualitative basis. So based on a score out of 5 or 10, how does that alternative achieve the objectives.

copyright SPE: Steve Begg and Reidar Bradtvold

If some of the objectives are more important than others, I provide a weighting to that one, so e.g. when choosing a car, if cost is more important than colour, I can multiply the score by 2 or 3.

Total up the scores for each alternative and see which one comes out on top. You have now made a decision after evaluating realistic alternatives.

To make the decision process more comprehensive, you can test the outcome to a different environment. In our car model, what if the fuel price goes up dramatically, does my preferred choice still come up as best? Or if the family is extended, would it still fit us?

copyright SPE: Steve Begg and Reidar Bradtvold

Remember, a good outcome is not necessarily the result of a good decision process. But a good decision process is the foundation of a good decision!

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