Over the past few hours I have had conversation or two about Teams: Making Decisions that reminded me that that effective decisions are the reflection of more than just an outcome of a process. Effective decisions are also a reflections of the information that is input into the process, the filters that information is passed through to make a choice and how well the decision is communicated.
Good decisions can’t be made without relevant and accurate knowledge and information (except by luck). Very early in my professional career I worked for a woman’s clothing manufacturer. During the time I was with the firm the market changed fundamentally. The primary place women shopped shifted from department stores to specialty stores in malls. The information we had to make market decisions did not reflect the change, therefore we made erroneous decisions that caused a significant market share loss. The input into the decision process was not accurate or relevant, therefore, regardless of the decision processes an effective decision could not be made.
All decision processes pass the information that has been collected and will be used as basis for a decision through a set of filters. In informal decision-making processes, those filters are in the decision makers mind. In more formal, standardized approaches those filters are embodied in published decision criteria. All filters or decisions criteria reflect the cognitive biases of the decision makers. Cognitive biases refers to a pattern of behavior that reflects a deviation in judgment that occurs under particular situations. The filters that are used to make decisions, whether formally or informally, need to be reviewed and periodically challenged to ensure they have not become myopic. As the level of criticality of the decision increases, the more the decision-making criteria need to be collaboratively reviewed by the team and others outside the team.
Once a decision has been made, the decision and the process used to make the decision need to be communicated to those impacted by the decision. I am aware that outcome of decision needs to be controlled for some period of time. For example a decision to buy a software product during a project may not be made public while the price and support services are still in progress. This example and others like it are the exception, not the rule. Teams should and must share the majority of decisions and the rationale behind those decisions as there effects can ripple through a project. For example, I recently saw the impact of an imperfectly communicated decision on a project. In this case the product owner and chief architect decided that the project they were involved with was to leverage external SAAS (Software as a Service) provider rather than building an internal application. The offshore development team heard about the decision in an end of sprint demo. Consider the cost in dollars and motivation when the output of seven developers working for two weeks was thrown out as not relevant. Communicate decisions to everyone impacted or risk wasting time and money.
Making decisions does require a standard well understood process, but that is not enough. The inputs into the decision-making process needs to accurate and relevant. That data then needs to be passed through equally relevant filters. Making decisions on travel based on view that the world is flat and that you fall off if you get too close to the edge will generate far different decision than if the team knows that the earth is a sphere. Effective decisions require process, people, information and communication.