An Initial Decision Making Technique

Is it complex?

An Initial Decision Making Technique

Is it complex?

One useful initial, decision making technique is to assess a decision based on its level.

This technique may sound simplistic but it can be very helpful in determining which type of decision making process is the most suitable for any specific situation. In particular, think about the decision both in terms of its level of complexity, and the potential level of impact on your organization.

You may well have already questioned whether a decision is actually called for. If you haven’t, read our decision making lesson to help you think about whether or not there is even a decision to made. If there is, use this and our other articles on decision making to help you make the best decisions.

This decision making technique expands the concept of decision level, introduced in our article: types of decision making.

Decision Making Technique: Simple or Complex?

An initial way to select a type of decision making process is to determine how complex the decision is. Simple, straightforward decisions, with little impact on others or the organization, can be made easily and efficiently.

In fact, wherever possible, they should be made in this manner. Indeed, some decisions become needlessly complex precisely because a decision wasn’t made early on, when the situation was relatively simple. Try analyzing the relative complexity of your situation by asking these easy diagnostic questions:

  • What are the risks associated with the decision?
  • How costly might it be if the decision proved to be wrong?
  • How many people are, or need to be, involved?
  • What are the resource implications of the situation and decision?

On the basis of answers to these questions, how complex do you now think the decision is?

If you think the decision is relatively simple, is it being made at the most appropriate level in the organisation? (decisions are usually best made closest to the action, where tacit knowledge and expertise is likely to be greatest and most effective). For example:

  • Who is the best person to make this decision?
  • How will outcomes be monitored, assessed and addressed?
Decision Making Technique: Importance

Another way to look at the decision is to consider its importance. Here are some more questions to consider, from this perspective:

  • Does the decision affect your team objectives and if so, to what extent?
  • Does it affect other teams’ objectives?
  • To whom is it important?
  • What makes it an important decision?
  • How important is it to: you, your team, your boss, your customer?
  • Is it important now?
  • Might it become more or less important in the future.
  • Is the issue really an urgent one rather than an important one?
Decision Making Technique: Strategic or Operational?

A third way to think about a decision is to ask how strategic it is. Strategic and/or organization-wide decisions have serious implications. To be successful they require the involvement and support of key people, especially those at the top! Time and resources are also often needed, along with appropriate processes and techniques to structure the decision.

It would help if you go over the above “importance” questions again but this time considering the strategic level of the decision. In addition, here are some other straightforward but thought-provoking questions to help focus your thinking:

  • Is the decision a day-to-day or operational decision?
  • Is it intermediate, affecting a number of teams or a wider business area or is it strategic in nature?
  • Even though it may be a day-to-day decision, is it nonetheless high profile?
Decision Making Technique: Novel or Normal?

One final amplification of this initial decision making technique is to consider whether the issue is novel or routine. For example, do you need to make:

  • Routine decisions – which are best dealt with by pre-established organisational procedures or rules;
  • Adaptive decisions – perhaps requiring intuition and decision making abilities, based on clarifying criteria, and using tools and techniques to help;
  • Innovative decisions – addressing new and novel issues and opportunities. Often these are in areas where there are more unknowns than there are facts or data, and may require fresh insights and creative thinking.
Initial decision making technique

Parkinson, 1961 (Source: Rossem, Wim van/Anefo, licensed with CC)

In many cases, it’s quite likely there is a clear relationship between the complexity of a decision, and both its importance and strategic relevance. However, important decisions are neither always organisation wide, nor always complex.

On that note, we would be wise to consider two warnings from the writings of C. Northcote Parkinson. Author of the famous law which carries his name.

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. The first warning relates to the Law of Triviality which means that:

The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.

Avoid the tendency to spend more time on the small things because we understand them. Rather than on the important things which, being difficult and demanding, encourage avoidance! Hence the second warning:

The man who is denied the opportunity of taking decisions of importance begins to regard as important the decisions he is allowed to take.

There is clearly some overlap in the categories we’ve listed above, and in the questions we’ve posed. Nonetheless, they are a good starting point to help you reach the right decisions. Which is what any decision making technique should do!

This article is part of our discussion about types of decision making.

More on decision making styles

Making Better DecisionsYou’ll find more on these and other practical techniques in our e-guide: Making Better Decisions.

It’s packed with practical tools, clear processes, great tools, useful tips, thoughtful insights, and emerging ideas on “nudging” decisions.

Use the tools in this guide to help your decision making:

  • Tool 1: Do you need to make a decision?
  • Tool 2: The POCA decision making model
  • Tool 3: Decision levels
  • Tool 4: 7 step decision making process
  • Tool 5: Team decision making
  • Tool 6: Evaluating alternatives

See for yourself how to use the 7 steps in decision making, to help you be a better manager.

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