Making durable decisions easy

Making decisions always seemed simple and satisfying, and easy to change to suit circumstances.

But that was back in the days when they were design decisions, and I had developed a number of tools and techniques to help me shake the pieces into place. Things like evaluating requirements, identifying options, noting constraints, and twisting and turning the results until clear winners start to emerge. And of course – number one rule – note it ALL down. You need to know how you got where – and most importantly why, because then, once you plug in the newly changed circumstances, the design could flex and easily produce new results.

But now it all seems to revolve around money – the cost of doing something versus the cost of not doing it. Early attempts to record decisions were far from perfect. Scoping the decision was not a problem – describing what we need to decide and giving weightings to the factors that would help us decide. Nor was it difficult to list out costs, benefits and risks of the different options. The biggest issue turned out to be the inter-relation between the different options – the benefits of one option were to avoid the risks of another, or the risks involved not achieving the benefits. Tedious, repetitive and confusing!

So the solution I am using for now is to assume that the benefits (positive outcomes) and risks (negative outcomes) are all “theoretically possible” across all options, marked on a scale of 0% to 100% probability of maturing. This means the difference between the options is expressed as a combination of negative versus positive probabilities. I have stopped short of allotting a price to the benefit or risk, because these are so often subjective – in the eye of the beholder. Still, seeing the balance of plus and minus percentages should help people do their own calculations from their point of view. After all, many would-be decision-makers work from preconceptions, and massage the statistics to make the formula give the result they want, so no point in putting them through the unnecessary effort, is there?

In some ways commercial decisions are less complex than technology design, because there are fewer dimensions to consider. Money, however, can cause rather emotive reactions in people, and hard cash can boil things down to black and white results that might not have been obvious when you first asked a technological question.

I am currently using the following schema:

Decision

  • ID – identification number for this decision record
  • Title – short title to recognise the subject matter
  • Question – what exactly are we trying to decide here
  • Factors – a list of weightings to put the consequences into perspective
  • Outcome – if the decision has been made, which option was chosen?
  • Authority – who is the person who has signed this decision off?

Options

Each of the options that has been raised is described with:

  • ID – identification number (within Decision)
  • Title – short title to recognise the option
  • Description – an explanation of what this option involves
  • Status – e.g. under consideration, not considered, recommended, rejected, etc

Consequences

What are the potential consequences of choosing any one of the options? These include costs, benefits and risks. We list all consequences that could affect any of the options.

  • Description – an explanation of what this option involves

Evaluations

Once we have listed all the consequences, then we evaluate them against each of the options, and then mark them up with…

(one evaluation per each combination of option and consequence within a decision)

  • Type – (+/0/-) is this positive consequence (a benefit), negative (a risk or cost), or does it not apply on this option? (in which case leave the rest blank)
  • Probability – (%) what is the chance of this consequence occuring – Costs are 100%, as are many benefits
  • Impact – (H/M/L) as mentioned earlier, it’s not not always worth trying to calculate the financial value of a risk or benefit, so a high/ medium/ low grading helps draw attention to the big issues (considering the factors at the top of the decision)
  • Value – most costs can be attributed a financial value. As mentioned, it might not be relevant to all benefits and risks
  • Notes – because not all outcomes from evaluating the consequences of an option can be expressed in numbers or codes
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