Decision-making is something we have to do every day as individuals and as organizations, yet often we end up making some very bad decisions and thus some costly mistakes.
Improving the decision-making process is critical to keeping us safe, sound, and stably advancing toward the achievement of our goals.
All too often decisions are made based on gut, intuition, politics, and subjective management whim. This is almost as good as flipping a coin or rolling a pair of dice.
Disciplines such as enterprise architecture planning and governance attempt to improve on the decision-making process by establishing a strategic roadmap and then guiding the organization toward the target architecture through governance boards that vet and validate decisions based on return on investment, risk mitigation, alignment to strategic business goals, and compliance to technical standards and architecture.
In essence, decisions are taken out of the realm of the “I think” or “I feel” phenomenon and into the order of larger group analysis and toward true information-based decision-making.
While no decision process is perfect, the mere presence of an orderly process with “quality gates” and gatekeepers helps to mitigate reckless decisions.
“Make Better Decisions,” an article in Harvard Business Review (HBR), November 2009, states, “In recent years, decision makers in both the public and private sectors have made an astounding number of poor calls.”
This is attributed to two major drivers:
Individuals going it alone: “Decisions have generally been viewed as the prerogative of individuals-usually senior executives. The process employed, the information used, the logic relied on, have been left up to them, in something of a black box. Information goes in [quantity and quality vary], decisions come out—and who knows what happens in between.”
A non-structured decision-making processes: “Decision-making has rarely been the focus of systematic analysis inside the firm. Very few organizations have ‘reengineered’ the decision. Yet there are just as many opportunities to improve decision making as to improve other processes.”
The article’s author, Thomas Davenport, who has a forthcoming book on decision-making, proposes four steps (four I’s) organizations can take to improve this process:
Identification—What decision needs to be made and which are most important?
Inventory—What are the factors or attributes for making each decision?
Intervention—What is the process, roles, and systems for decision-making?
Institutionalization—How do we establish sound decision-making ongoingly through training, measurement, and process improvement?
He acknowledges that “better processes won’t guarantee better decisions, of course, but they can make them more likely.”
It is interesting that Davenport’s business management approach is so closely aligned with IT management best practices such as enterprise architecture and capital planning and investment control (CPIC). Is shows that the two disciplines are in sync and moving together toward optimized decision-making.
One other point I’d like to make is that even with the best processes and intentions, organizations may stumble when it comes to decision making because they fail into various decision traps based on things like: groupthink, silo-thinking and turf battles, analysis paralysis, autocratic leadership, cultures where employees fear making mistakes or where innovation is discouraged or even frowned upon, and various other dysfunctional impediments to sound decision-making.
Each of these areas could easily be a discourse in and of themselves. The point however is that getting to better decision-making is not a simple thing that can be achieved through articulating a new processes or standing up a new governance board alone.
We cannot delegate good decision-making or write a cursory business case and voila the decision is a good one. Rather optimizing decision-making processes is an ongoing endeavor and not a one-time event. It requires genuine commitment, participation, transparency, and plenty of information sharing and collaboration across the enterprise.