!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Three Approaches to Decision Making

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Three Approaches to Decision Making

If you've ever thought that a purely analytical approach to reaching a decision — define the issue, diagnose its cause-and-effect dynamic, identify options for addressing it, choose the best option, and implement — doesn't seem optimal in some situations, Henry Mintzberg and Frances Westley are here to tell you you're right.

In a Spring 2001 article in the Sloan Management Review, they argue that the "thinking first" approach is only one of three possibilities. The other two are "seeing first" ("creating a picture with others in order to see everyone's concerns") and "doing first" ("going ahead with an action in order to learn"), each of which is your best bet in certain situations.

Mintzberg and Westley offer the following advice:
  • Think first "when the issue is clear, data [are] reliable, the context is structured, thoughts can be pinned down, and discipline can be applied — for example, in an established production process."

  • See first "when many elements must be combined into creative solutions, commitment to those solutions is key, and communication across boundaries is essential — for example, in new product development.

  • Do first "when the situation is novel and confusing, when complicated specifications might get in the way, and a few simple relationship rules could help people move forward — for example, when companies face a disruptive technology.
As in most areas of management, the key is developing good judgment, in this case developing the ability to recognize which type of situation you're facing and then working toward a decision using the best-suited approach, whether it's analyzing, or clarifying the overall picture, or experimenting and learning from the results.

And, as with most management skills, the skill of choosing the best decision making approach for the circumstances is something that can be learned and honed through well-planned developmental activities.


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