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A Decision-Making Checklist

April 25, 2000
Related Topics: Featured Article
Use the following checklist to evaluate a decision-making process and assess whether it is likely to produce a good decision.

Questions to Ask

Strategy: Does the decision fit into the strategic plan?

  1. If you state both the decision and the strategy in one sentence, do they sound consistent?
  2. Will it help your customers?
  3. Does it support other strategic decisions you've already made?
  4. Does it reflect your organization s values?
  5. Does it move the organization closer to what it wants to be?
  6. Does it fit your organization s strengths and limits?

What to look for in an answer
Strategy may be either a guiding light or a buzzword. Does this decision put strategy into action or does the decision seem to use strategy to justify what people want to do anyway?

Strategy: What are the fundamental assumptions?

  1. Do they support the organization's strategy?
  2. Will the outcome of this decision be resilient when the environment changes?
  3. Are the goals and the methods consistent?
  4. Does it try to do too much?

What to look for in an answer
Try to figure out what assumptions the decision is based on. Unstated assumptions limit thinking and bias the -- outcome.

Strategy: How does this decision help the whole organization?

  1. Does this decision create synergy with other decisions you ve made this year?
  2. Does it help customers in the long run?
  3. Does it help your industry?
  4. Can it generate support?
  5. How does it affect other -- departments?
  6. Does it create constructive pressure?
  7. Does it make some organizational conflicts worse?
  8. What are the possible negative -- consequences?
  9. Does it create movement toward your goals?
  10. Is it consistent with other decisions made in the past?

What to look for in an answer
Good decisions build strength into the organization and, often, into the industry. Risk is involved in many decisions, but unknown risk may do the most damage.

Environment: Is the decision resilient under different conditions?

  1. Does the decision consider a changing environment?
  2. Does it recognize that needs of different customers, departments, and goals may be in conflict?
  3. Does it give too much weight to the needs of one area at the expense of another?
  4. How does it deal with unknowns? Is it based on the assumption that everything is known?
  5. Does it address trade-offs?
  6. Has the decision-making group thought about the best and worst outcomes?
  7. How much risk is involved?

What to look for in an answer
Decisions are often made from one point of view, even if based on rational information. A strong decision, -- however, is based on many -- different points of view and takes into account changes in the environment, less-than-perfect conditions, and other unknowns.

Process: Who is involved in the decision?

  1. Are the decision-makers from different backgrounds or departments?
  2. Do some people have unusual viewpoints?
  3. Do the decision-makers have different thinking styles?
  4. Are some from inside and others from outside the organization?
  5. Are they from different levels in the hierarchy?

What to look for in an answer
A good decision is based on many different ideas and points of view.

Process: What types of information are used in making the decision?

  1. Is hard data balanced with soft data?
  2. Are multiple tools from several disciplines used?
  3. Is the discussion dominated by a few people or viewpoints?
  4. Were measurements of customer reaction considered?
  5. Did analysis include unlikely scenarios as well as likely scenarios?
  6. Did information come from several departments?

What to look for in an answer
Think of different information as shining light into the same dark room from different windows. The more views the better. Every type of data and analysis tool has a bias. If you rely on little data or only one type (such as financial), you cannot see the full picture. The strategic information is often ignored because it is difficult to quantify.

Process: What was it like?

  1. Was there open discussion and disagreement?
  2. Were multiple viewpoints discussed?
  3. Were impractical ideas used to lead to practical solutions?
  4. Did the opinions of group members change during the process?
  5. Did truly new ideas emerge, based on existing ideas?
  6. Was there a sense of excitement and fun?
  7. Did the group members talk about risks?
  8. Were the trade-offs and the limits of each idea well-thought-out?
  9. Did ideas flow into and out of the group, or was it insulated?

What to look for in an answer
Creativity is like evolution in the sense that you need lots of ideas bumping into one another openly to create new, better, more practical ideas. The process is messy. People disagree. They experiment, play, and argue. They know the downside of their decisions, the risks. Look for movement and change in ideas during the process.

Implementation: Can the decision be put into action?

  1. Do you understand and support the decision?
  2. Will other people understand it, especially at lower levels and different areas of the organization?
  3. How do you know the timeline is sensible?
  4. Are some departments protecting themselves from responsibility?
  5. Does the level of support equal the needed level of action?
  6. What are the resource limitations and conflicts?
  7. Are there too many competing projects?
  8. Is it obvious what actions are to be taken?
  9. Does the action sound as big as the decision?
  10. Are there polarized centers of resistance that you should learn from?

What to look for in an answer
For a good implementation, a decision has to be understandable, generate support, and result in concrete actions. Ask whether this decision will generate the support needed for the desired implementation to happen.

This checklist was excerpted with permission of the publisher Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, a Wiley Company, from The 2000 Annual: Volume I: Training. Copyright (c) 2000 by Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer. This book is available at all bookstores, online booksellers, and from the Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer Web site, or call 1-800-274-4434.

This checklist is based on the ideas of Teresa Amabile on creativity, John Bryson and Peter Schwartz on strategic planning, Harlan Cleveland on ambiguity and paradox, Eliayhu Goldratt on dealing with natural conflicting needs of the system, and Noel Tichy on leadership.

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