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Six steps to making a quality decision

Highlights
  • Major decisions are affected by uncertainties out of the decision-maker’s control, so outcomes cannot be predicted with certainty.
  • By applying ‘decision analysis’ you can make higher quality decisions, and therefore have the best chance of achieving good outcomes.
  • Improve decision-making in your organisation by ensuring decision-makers are aware of the six steps of high-quality decisions.

There is a proven six-step process for making a quality decision, according to the experts at the Society of Decision Professionals.

Professor Steve Begg is a lecturer at the University of Adelaide where he researches the ways people make decisions, particularly under uncertain conditions. His expertise also draws on his career in the oil and gas sector spanning several decades.

“We are interested in finding the most effective processes for people to make decisions that are in their – not someone else’s – interest,” Begg says. 

men using tablet

The outcomes of most major decisions are affected by all kinds of uncertainties the decision-maker cannot control, he adds, so the outcome cannot be predicted with certainty – good decisions can have bad outcomes and vice versa.

“Many people in senior leadership positions today think they are there because they are good at making decisions,” Begg says. “But even bad decisions can deliver good outcomes when you have a combination of good luck and being in the right place at the right time.”

By using the methods and processes of ‘decision analysis’, people can make higher quality decisions – and so have the best chance of achieving good outcomes.

Sure, decision-making is an art; it’s also a science, Begg says. “People do postgraduate degrees in this field,” he says.

Decision-making has a formal, accepted methodology – and even an international professional organisation promoting the underlying principals, the Society of Decision Professionals.

“Decision science is based on logic and evidence and it has come up with a prescriptive, pragmatic and scalable application of tools and processes to deliver high-quality decisions,” Begg says. This method is known as decision analysis.

Humans, no matter how intelligent, fall prey to a whole range of systematic biases, Begg says.

Often the way we prefer to make decisions is counter to how we should make them, he says. “Our intuition is often very wrong in situations of complexity and uncertainty.”

How can you bring good decision-making to an organisation? Begin by making sure key decision-makers have a good understanding of the six steps of high quality decisions, says Begg.

“Many people in senior leadership positions today think they are there because they are good at making decisions; but even bad decisions can deliver good outcomes when you have a combination of good luck and being in the right place at the right time” 

Professor Steve Begg

The six steps to making a good decision

Step 1: Frame the decision appropriately

Clearly define the decision to be made. Identify any constraints or policies that must be obeyed and don’t impose any that are hard and fast (for example, the project must start by 1 Jan). Identify related decisions that can be left until later.

Step 2: Be clear about your goals

What are the real reasons behind making this decision?  What do you fundamentally want to achieve? How do you define ‘value’ in the decision context?  How will you assess or evaluate achievement?  Be clear about the priorities when there are multiple goals.

Step 3: Develop options

Here, you need to get creative and identify a good range of ‘doable’ alternatives that might be selected to achieve your desired outcomes. 

Step 4: Gather useful information

What background information do you have?  You only need to get extra information that impacts achievement of your objectives; without it, your decision could potentially be different.

Step 5: Weigh the evidence and choose the best

In this step, evaluate how the different alternatives will achieve your objectives, and choose the one that is expected to deliver the most value. Be objective, think rationally and make sure you are not falling prey to biases.

Step 6: Commit to action

The decision remains just an idea until you have assigned the resources (time, money and people) required to implement it. 

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