Breaking Down the Decision Making Process
We have now reached a point where we must clarify the "analytical process" in decision making; but before we are able to do that, it would be beneficial to first have a better understanding of the term "analytical process," and that requires an interpretation of each word separately. Knowledge is cumulative and builds upon itself. In this case, understanding the meaning of these two terms, apart and together, is the only way to decipher how it is used in decision making.
An analysis of anything means that information is broken down into its separate components and studied, looking for connections and relationships; while a process is a series of actions with an end goal in mind. So, when put together, an analytical process is taking the whole of something and breaking it into pieces for the purpose of some form of action.
That is what we want to understand about decision making; we want to understand how analysis is used to come to a decision.
If that sounds challenging, it is. There comes a point in any lesson where the learning gets hard, and it requires the student to focus, or re-read and revisit material to internalize and understand it.
A brief review
Let us first remember the four steps of decision making: labeling the decision, researching it and organizing related information, making a decision based on the information gathered, and implementing and monitoring the decision. Perhaps you don't realize that the entire process, from beginning to end, is one long analysis.
You have put forth a good amount of personal time and effort to learn more about the subject of decision making. The assumption is that you are attempting to improve your own higher-level thinking and performance capabilities, so it is our responsibility to ensure that ample information is provided to allow you to identify important links and associations in your scholarly pursuits.
Therefore, the remainder of this article will be an elementary explanation of the analytical process of decision making. Hold on to your hats!
The analytical process of decision making based on 10 points of enlightenment – or
Can you read these 10 concepts about decision making using an analytical process? We've added some hints for you in bold print.
1. Decision making is a series of steps presented as a model. In this model, two things occur. First, the decision that requires a response must be iterated and researched. Next, the decision must be implemented and monitored.
You will notice that the process for analyzing decision making has been simply to reframe what we already know into a slightly different format. That's not so hard to understand, is it?
2. Decision making may either be done for programmed or non-programmed purposes. This means that some decisions are routine, and do not require a great amount of examination and exploration -- while others press the boundaries of our capabilities.
We have discussed the fact that decision making is done at various levels – from elementary or inconsequential, to life-altering.
3. Decision making must take risk into account. The more risk a decision can incur, the more consequential the decision. Consider the parts of the whole. Is there risk in naming a decision? Hardly. Is there risk in gathering information – only that something will be overlooked. The greatest amount of risk comes in the selection of a decision based on the options, and in implementing the decision – or ensuring that the monitoring is effective.
The greatest guard against risk is to conduct extensive research in advance. Well-informed is well-armed; the broader the scope of the research, the better the vantage point for the decision maker. The analytical process – or search for connections and relationships -- will be more effective with adequate knowledge of all aspects that comprise the decision.
4. The model we have offered for the decision-making process assumes that the decision maker is rational and logical, and that we have all of the facts that are necessary to make a decision devoid of emotion. The decision maker is presumed to be able to consider all the options prior to making a decision.
Here, again, we are employing a reasoned examination of the essence of decision making, to come to a conclusion about its constituent parts, and our ability to apply rationality to each step, thereby utilizing an analytical process of decision making.
5. We, as decision makers, must be able to assess our skill level for making decisions. As we have learned in the creative process, humans will often make choices based on the easiest or most obvious option that will require the least amount of effort on their part. If you do this in the decision making process, then the selections you make are bound to fail.
Be willing and able to put in the hard work up front. Do not leave any stone unturned. Use problem-solving and creativity strategies to develop the broadest scope of options and accompanying reasoning prior to making that decision, and do not hesitate to be brutally honest in the monitoring process, if there is a reason to be uncomfortable or second guess a decision. Of course, if you take the time and effort to employ the analytical process of decision making at the outset, the outcome should be acceptable.
6. Use all of the tools at your disposal for decision making. Analyze which are most appropriate for the decision you must make. For example, one of the creative-thinking tools is using creative dreaming and future memory. While these are valuable tools, are they appropriate for this particular situation? Learn how to choose the right tool for the job. You wouldn't use a screwdriver to pull a nail out of the wall, would you? Then don't use a creative tool when you are in the throes of problem solving, prior to decision making. Employ an analytical process to determine what actions are necessary.
Remember, an analytical process is taking the whole of something and breaking it into pieces for the purpose of some form of action. More formally, it is explained as a methodology employed for the separation and consideration of constituent elements. This begins with considering all of the tools that you have learned about and can use to help you in your efforts. Put the greatest amount of time and effort into the early stages of decision making, it will make the rest of the process simpler.
7. When performing an analytical process to decision making, avoid simply using information that is easily accessed. Analysis calls for deep investigation and evaluation. Stretch your thinking; force yourself to broaden your horizons.
Utilizing the analytical process in decision making assumes the individual has the maturity level that is required to be reflective before being selective. A favorite saying of intellectuals is, "The hard way is the easy way." In the case of employing the analytical process in decision making, it means that you must take your time, think it through, consider all possibilities, and research your options completely.
8. Be aware of cognitive biases and deliberately avoid them. For example, do not focus only on facts and information that confirm a preconceived decision. Be open to understanding all of the options that are available. If it becomes apparent that information is incorrect, be prepared to remove it from your consideration fully, and do not try to make it fit because it seemed like a palatable option. When a choice is wrong – it's wrong – no matter how many ways you try to massage it.
The analytical process of decision making is especially pertinent in this case. What it says is that when you take the parts as a whole and undo them into their individual components, there are some that are flawed, and when this is apparent, then do not continue to incorporate it into any part of the decision-making continuum. Abandon incorrect data and ideas, because they will pollute the quality of your decision and its outcomes.
9. When employing the analytical process to decision making, it is valuable to consider each of the constituent parts separately, but they should also be put back together and examined forward and backward -- that's right, backward -- to ensure continuity and sensibility. When analyzing a decision, you should be able to say A+B+C= Decision. If there are any problems with this equation, then you should go back to the drawing board and begin anew. Better that, than making a decision based on flawed information that will lead you astray. Remember, garbage in – garbage out.
Employing the methodology of undoing the components of a decision, and examining each for its efficacy, is the essence of the analytical process. The aim is to uncover defects, breaches, or cracks that will make the decision untenable.
10. The reflective decision maker will allow time to implement the analytical process and step-by-step review of the parts of a decision, well in advance of the need to select an option. Decisions made in haste and without proper examination will often result in problems and require extra effort, as the decision maker must repeat the process from the beginning. The adage – decide in haste, repent in leisure is especially relevant here. The analytical process of decision making expects a methodical approach, without shortcuts or hurry.
Tools to Improve Analysis
Let us agree that decision making is an important task and the more tools one has at their disposal will make the outcome more reliable and satisfactory. Remember, the four steps to decision making are naming the decision that one is facing, listing all of the options that are possible choices as a final decision and researching each to determine their viability, selecting the choice that is most appropriate given the information you have, implementing the decision and monitoring it to ensure that it meets your personal and professional needs.
To be sure, this is a simplified version of a dynamic experience that often has a variety of factors and moving parts that must be accounted for; therefore, it would be helpful to know what tools are available that would be useful in the analysis of decision making. In a previous lesson, we explained that one way to improve decision making is to create a visual aid during the research step of the process, and this is also valuable during the implementation and monitoring process. But there are other analytical tools, as well, that are at the disposal of the decision-maker. And when he or she utilizes them, it not only broadens the scope of the decision, it ensures more intellectual effort has gone into the process and a better outcome is likely.
The two analytical tools that will be explained in this lesson are graphic representations (aside from graphic organizers): labeled decision trees and influence diagrams. The reader should note that there are dozens of complex models for decision making, but they require an understanding of probability and other complex mathematical and scientific knowledge that is simply not appropriate for a beginning course in decision making. However, if you continue on the path of discovery and education in this sophisticated skill, you are sure to hear more about such analytical tools as probability models, risk-taking models, utility functions, and more.
The following two analytical tools should help you become more skilled in analyzing the components of decision making.
One of the most common forms of graphic representations that is useful in decision making is the decision tree. It is more formally named a "predictive analytical tool," because its use allows the decision maker to consider options and possible, if not probable, outcomes as a result. It is a useful model for considering decisions in a sequential and orderly fashion.
A decision tree mirrors a real tree and the many branches that may grow from it. So, terms such as branches, strategies, and nodes are familiar descriptions. While there are programs that allow decision makers to travel through the process of analysis by means of technology, the novice decision maker – and even the seasoned one – can develop a graphic representation on a board, or piece of paper. Just make sure you leave enough room to branch out.
The decision maker should begin by drawing the trunk. This represents the main decision that must be made. The trunk can be as simple as a box drawn at the bottom of the paper or to the left side – in either case it should be placed squarely in the middle and snug against the edge to allow for the greatest manipulation of this main idea.
Let us consider an authentic, but fairly elementary, example of the use of a decision tree. We will imagine that a young lady, Ms. Q, has decided to throw an end of the summer bash for friends and family. She must first decide where to hold the party. The trunk of this decision is simply that – location of party. Her choices branch directly from the trunk with equal room between each to allow for further growth, as more factors are identified. Ms. Q determines that the party can be held at a park, in her backyard, or at a community center. Each of these options become a branch on a tree; but, again, remember that adequate space must be allotted among the choices to allow for further delineation.
Now, Ms. Q. considers which would be better under what weather conditions. If it is sunny, then the party can be held at the park, in her backyard, or at a community center. In other words, weather will not be a factor in her final decision. Therefore off of each branch she could add a twig that uses the words ‘sunny weather option'. All three will have this twig. Now Ms. Q has to consider the possibility that it might actually rain that day and it will influence her ultimate decision about what her options are for holding the party. In this case, she will draw a twig off of those selections that will allow for a rainy weather option. Ms. Q. can only add this twig to one of the branches – the community center branch. Now Ms. Q. steps back and looks at her decision tree that graphically represents the choices that are at her disposal and an analysis of influencing factors.
In case you couldn't guess, after analyzing her options Ms. Q. decides that her only viable option is to hold the party at a community center to guard against ruining the party in case of rain.
What makes the decision tree a tool of analysis?
Analysis is a more detailed examination of the components of a structure, or in this case, a decision. It is more than a list, it actively seeks to determine such things as cause and effect or, "If this happens, then what is the outcome?" A decision tree provides the user with an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the parts of a situation or scenario. It is extremely effective and with practice can be mastered. Let's try another example.
Mr. B. wants to take a vacation. He can either visit his family in Boston, take a cruise in the Caribbean, or attend a golf outing for work. The trunk of the decision tree is, "where to take a vacation." You must learn to abbreviate ideas; it is not sensible to write out long paragraphs to try to fit into a small compartment! Now, there are three branches; can you tell what they are?
That's right – they are Boston, cruise, and golf outing. Remember, you are drawing this tree to leave equal distance between each branch to allow for further analysis. Now, the factor that Mr. B. will base his decision on is cost. Which options can he afford? Let's say that he is willing to spend up to $2000 dollars for his vacation. His trip to Boston will cost him $1200, the Caribbean Cruise will be $1800, and the golf outing will be $900. For each branch a twig will be drawn that and the price written on it. Now let's say that Mr. B. wants to get the most bang for his buck and take advantage of as many freebies as possible. If he goes to Boston to visit his family, he gets free room and board; if he goes on the Caribbean cruise, he must pay for everything from room and board to food and entertainment, and if he goes on the golf outing, he will also have to pay for everything, because it is a fund raiser for the company. Therefore, there is only one branch that Mr. B. can add the twig labeled "freebie" to, and that is Boston. If he were making his choice based solely on whether or not there were gratis opportunities then the decision tree reveals this is the best decision.
Certainly decision trees can, and will, be more complex than this in the real world. But using them for simple decision-making exercises is an excellent way to develop an expertise and internalize their analytical powers, turning to them habitually to enhance the process. Remember, real world applications of decision trees can involve statistics and mathematical equations. If you are interested in this component, consider taking a course on probability and advanced math at a university.
Like the decision tree, an influence diagram is a tool for analyzing decisions. It shares many of the same attributes, because it requires the user to graphically represent the components of a decision that is under consideration. However, an influence diagram represents cause and effect, and differs from a decision tree, because the latter details possible paths that could be taken in the ultimate decision, whereas the former shows dependencies among variables much more plainly.
While, here again, probability is a component of this graphic representation when it is used for sophisticated problems, it is also a valuable tool for the novice decision maker, helping to hone competencies in recognizing relevant factors of a decision. Influence diagrams can be quite complex, but for our purposes it will be simplified to ensure the learner grasps the basic underlying concepts for its use.
In this case, shapes and arrows are used to demonstrate cause and effect. The impetus of the decision should appear in a box in the left hand corner of the graphic, whether it be on paper, a chalkboard, or other device. Let us use the example of Mr. B again, planning his vacation. In this case, he will base his decision on what influence the weather could have on his decision. In the left hand corner, we have the purpose of the diagram, vacation activity and an arrow pointing in the direction of an octagon on the right, in which the word "enjoyment" is written. This shorthand can be translated to mean that from his vacation activity, the most important thing to Mr. B. is that he gets enjoyment from it.
Now above the square is a circle in which the simple proclamation, "weather forecast" is written. An arrow is drawn from the bottom of the circle to the square in which the driving concept of vacation activity is written. This can be translated to mean that the weather forecast will have a direct influence on Mr. B's vacation activity, and whether he will enjoy the experience in the end. A fourth geometric shape rounds out the corners, so to speak, and in this one are the words, "weather conditions." An arrow is drawn from this shape to both the weather forecast and enjoyment. The inference is that the weather conditions will influence the weather forecast, the weather forecast will influence the vacation activities, and the overall enjoyment will be influenced by the weather and activities.
Using simple shapes to represent main ideas and influencing factors, and then drawing arrows to indicate what will influence another item on the diagram is an excellent way to begin to develop the nuanced skill of utilizing analytical tools in the decision-making process. Influence diagramming can become very refined and advanced. It is best to begin with simple exercises that allow the novice decision maker to develop their skills along the continuum of learning, becoming better at it with each practice drill.
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