Decision Making Process Part 6 – Summary

In the preceding series of posts, I presented a process I use for making key decisions. Now I will present a brief summary of those posts.

  • We struggle with some decisions because…
    • There are too many choices
    • The apparent choices are all bad
    • The apparent choices seem all equally good
    • Loss Aversion – we fear risking something we have for something we want
    • Fear of being wrong
    • Fear of being criticized
  • Poor decision making process results in…
    • Regret
    • Unintended consequences
  • Good decision making process will…
    • Eliminate decision paralysis
    • Reduce stress
    • Keep you moving forward
    • Eliminate regret
    • Look at decisions as a “portfolio” instead of isolated events
  • The process in 8 steps…
    • Begin with the end in mind – know your desired outcomes and how you will measure success
    • Analyze your alternatives – there may be more than you think!
    • Identify and mitigate risks
    • Distance yourself from short-term emotion
    • Create contingency plans
    • Make the decision
    • Evaluate the outcomes
    • Evaluate the process

Try using the process on your next key decision. Tweak it as needed for your specific circumstances. Leave some comments on this post as to what worked and what didn’t.

 

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Decision Making Process Part 5i – Evaluate the Process

For the eighth andĀ  final step in the decision making process you will evaluate the process itself. You do this in the spirit of continuous process improvement. This will improve your future decision making process and outcomes.

Here are some questions to ask yourself regarding your process:

  • For good outcomes:
    • What process steps were the most useful?
    • What could you have done to make the good outcomes even better?
  • For negative outcomes:
    • Did the process fail or was it circumstances beyond your control?
    • Did you skip steps?
    • Were there some steps you did not give sufficient time and energy?
    • Did you anticipate and plan for this negative outcome? If not, what would you have done different?

The next post will be the final post in the Decision Making series and I will summarize and give you some additional thoughts on the topic.

Decision Making Process Part 5h – Evaluate the Outcomes

At an appropriate point in time after you have made the decision, you should evaluate the outcomes as part of a program of continuous improvement in the decision making process. Here are the steps to take:

  • Revisit the “measures of success” you defined in the first step in the process. In that step, you determined what success would look like and how you would measure success. This is the time to take those measurements.
  • Evaluate the “degree of success” for each measure. Not all of your success criteria will be a binary “yes or no”. Often you will have achieved some measure of success but perhaps not all you targeted. This is a key input to the next step.
  • Determine if additional activity, time or resources will increase your degree of success. This is a key decision point. You don’t want to “throw good money after bad” hoping to succeed. You will need to decide if the calculated risk of continuing to invest more in the decision is worth it to you. Employ the same decision making methodology for this as used in the original decision.

In the next post I will present the final step in the 8 step process, where you evaluate the process itself to help you improve your future decisions.

Decision Making Process Part 5g – Make the Decision

At this point you have created a vision of the end result, analyzed your alternatives, identified and mitigated your risks, made contingency plans and distanced yourself from short-term emotions. You should also understand the constraints that limit your choices (e.g. “I can’t move from my current home”).

It is now time to make the decision. You will compare all of your alternatives, with an understanding of the range of outcomes and risks, and make and commit to a decision with confidence. There will be no need to look back with regret, no matter the result, because your process was sound and you made the best call based on the information available to you.

At this point you should prepare a timeline of major milestones. These are significant points in time where something (good or otherwise) should have happened by then and you will use those milestones as opportunities to evaluate your decision and make course corrections if necessary.

Decision Making Process Part5f – Have Contingency Plans

Once you have identified your most important risks the next step is to make sure you have at least one contingency plan (aka “Plan B”) for every risk. These are alternate plans you will use in case the risk occurs despite your efforts to mitigate. For example, if you are buying a new home and expect to close on a certain date, you should have contingency plans for living arrangements and storage in case the date moves out.

Here are a few ideas to help you identify the kinds of contingency plans you may need:

  • Conduct a “pre-mortem” – This is a look into the future where you ask yourself “My decision failed – what were the causes?” Was it lack of time, money, or support? Were you being too ambitious?
  • Conduct a “pre-parade” – Ask yourself “My decision was wildly successful – what were the reasons?” Brainstorming the answers to this question will help you avoid problems and identify ways to ensure success.
  • Set a milestone – This is a point in time where you will evaluate your efforts and decide to carry on, make a course correction, or stop altogether. This will prevent you from falling into the “sunk cost” trap (Where you continue with a bad investment in time or money simply because you already have invested so much).
  • Be prepared for unexpected success – Your endeavor may be more successful sooner than you anticipated. This might mean more of your time and money to keep up. Be prepared in advance to react quickly.

 

Decision Making Process Part 5e – Distance Yourself from Short-Term Emotion

We are all human and emotions can play a part in any decisions we make. However, emotions can sometimes cause us to make decisions against our own best interests. For example, a pro athlete claims his current team made him an “insulting” offer only to find when he reaches free agency that no other team will pay him nearly as much. In this post I will state some techniques that will help you combat this effect.

One technique to use is to first think about potentialĀ  “undesired outcomes” of your decision. As an example, think about a time you received a nasty email from a co-worker. Your emotions tell you to lash out and immediately respond in kind. Stop and think: what are the undesired outcomes? You are trading a few seconds of self-satisfaction over your clever response for a damaged relationship and an escalating flame war. Think before acting!

Another technique is to pretend you have made the desired decision. How will you feel about it 10 minutes from now? How about 10 days from now? Ten months from now?

My favorite technique for removing short-term emotion is asking yourself “If this was my best friend confronted with this decision, what would I advise them to do?” This works remarkably well and will help you make cool, logical decisions.

There is also a psychological factor at play in making decisions. It is called “loss aversion”. This is the tendency to feel more pain for losses than joy in gains (many sports fans will tell you that having their team lose always feels worse than the joys of victory). It can prevent you from taking calculated risks that would be in your favor. Be aware when this factor is in play and remove it from the decision making process.

Decison Making Process Part 5d – Identify and Mitigate Risks

When making important decisions, it is critical to identify and understand the risks for each alternative. Some hear the word “risk” and take that to mean “don’t do it!”. In project management and decision making, we understand that we want to take “calculated risks”, meaning risks where we understand the probability and impact of each risk, as well as how we might mitigate the risks and make contingency plans.

One way to quickly identify risks is to ask yourself and those involved in the decision “What worries me about this alternative?”. Also, “What are the possible undesired outcomes?”. Another way to help identify risks is to use a “Risk Hierarchy Chart” (you can Google this term for examples). These charts identify topics of possible concern and make a good starting point for brainstorming.

You will want to avoid “confirmation bias” (only seeking out information that confirms self-serving assumptions). For example, if there is a particular model car you wish to buy, you avoid reading any negative reviews of the auto. You will bury your “risk identification head” in the sand in you do this.

Another good way to identify risks is to seek out a “devil’s advocate”. We all have a least one friend or family member that sees the dark side of any decision. Although these people seem like negative thinkers, their insights can help you identify and avoid risks you may not have been aware of. If you know someone who has done what you are considering, consult with them and ask them what pitfalls they encountered and how they could be avoided.

Risks can also be found by looking at the big picture as well as the minute details. For example, if you are considering entering the gourmet cupcake business, you can look at the big picture by conducting research on how much competition you have, successes and failures, and current trends. You can look at the details by identifying specific businesses that are like you want yours to be and studying their methods and approach.

Once you have identified your risks, you will want to assign a probability (low, medium, high) and an impact (low, medium, high) to each. For the high probability and/or high impact risk, you mitigate them (prior to the risk occurring) by looking for ways of reducing the probability or impact of the risk. In the cupcake business example, you could keep your day job and start small as a side business. Start by trying to sell to friends, family and co-workers.

Contingency plans are created in case the risk occurs despite your mitigation plans. This is what’s known by many as “Plan B”. Make sure you always have at least one Plan B for every high impact risk.