Decision Quality

The decisions we make are often complex and uncertain. Making the decision-making process better is critical to success, and yet too often we do not think of the how we make decisions, and how to confirm we are making good decisions. In order to bring quality to our decisions, we need to understand what quality looks like and how to obtain it

There is no universal best process or set of steps to follow in making good decisions. However, any good decision process needs to embed the idea of decision-quality as the measurable destination.

Decisions do not come ready to be made. You must shape them and declare what is the decision you should be making; that must be made. All decisions have one thing in common – the best choice creates the best possibility of what you truly want. To find that best choice, you need decision-quality and you must recognize it as the destination when you get there. You cannot reach a good decision, achieve decision-quality, if you are unable to visualize or describe it. Nor can you say you have accomplished it, if you cannot recognize it when it is achieved.

What makes a Good Decision?

The six requirements for a good decision are: (1) an appropriate frame, (2) creative alternatives, (3) relevant and reliable information, (4) clear values and trade-offs, (5) sound reasoning, and (6) commitment to action. To judge the quality of any decision before you act, each requirement must be met and addressed with quality. I like representing it as a chain, because a decision is no better than the weakest link.

The frame specifies the problem or opportunity you are tackling, asking what is to be decided. It has three parts:  purpose in making the decision; scope of what will be included and left out; and your perspective including your point of view, how you want to approach the decision, what conversations will be needed, and with whom. Agreement on framing is essential, especially when more than one party is involved in decision making. What is important is to find the frame that is most appropriate for the situation. If you get the frame wrong, you will be solving the wrong problem or not dealing with the opportunity in the correct way.

The next three links are: alternatives – defining what you can do; information – capturing what you know and believe (but cannot control), and values – representing what you want and hope to achieve. These are the basis of the decision and are combined using sound reasoning, which guides you to the best choice (the alternative that gets you the most of what you want and in light of what you know). With sound reasoning, you reach clarity of intention and are ready for the final element – commitment to action.

Asking: “What is the decision I should be making?” is not a simple question. Furthermore, asking the question “On what decision should I be focusing?” is particularly challenging. It is a question, however, that is important to be asked, because you must know what decision you are making. It defines the range within which you have creative and compelling alternatives. It defines constraints. It defines what is possible. Many organizations fail to create a rich set of alternatives and simply debate whether to accept or reject a proposal. The problem with this approach is that people frequently latch on to ideas that are easily accessible, familiar or aligned directly with their experiences.

Exploring alternatives is a combination of analysis, rigor, technology and judgement. This is about the past and present – requiring additional judgement to anticipate future consequences. What we know about the future is uncertain and therefore needs to be described with possibilities and probabilities. Questions like: “What might happen?” and “How likely is it to happen?” are difficult and often compound. To produce reliable judgements about future outcomes and probabilities you must gather facts, study trends and interview experts while avoiding distortions from biases and decision traps. When one alternative provides everything desired, the choice among alternatives is not difficult. Trade-offs must be made when alternatives do not provide everything desired. You must then decide how much of one value you are willing to give up to receive more of another.  

Commitment to action is reached by involving the right people in the decision efforts. The right people must include individuals who have the authority and resources to commit to the decision and to make it stick (the decision makers) and those who will be asked to execute the decided-upon actions (the implementers). Decision makers are frequently not the implementers and much of a decision’s value can be lost in the handoff to implementers. It is important to always consider the resource requirements and challenges for implementation.

These six requirements of decision-quality can be used to judge the quality of the decision at the time it is made. There is no need to wait six months or six years to assess its outcome before declaring the decision’s quality. By meeting the six requirements you know at the time of the decision you made a high-quality choice. You cannot simply say: “I did all the right steps.” You have got to be able to judge the decision itself, not just how you got to that decision. When you ask, “How good is this decision if we make it now?” the answer must be a very big part of your process. The piece missing in the process just may be in the material and the research and that is a piece that must go right.

Decision-quality is all about reducing comfort zone bias – when people do what they know how to do, rather than what is needed to make a strong, high-quality decision. You overcome the comfort zone bias by figuring out where there are gaps. Let us say the gap is with alternatives. Your process then becomes primarily a creative process to generate alternatives instead of gathering a great deal more data. Maybe we are awash in a sea of information, but we just have not done the reasoning and modelling and understanding of the consequences. This becomes more of an analytical effort. The specific gaps define where you should put your attention to improve the quality of the decision.

Leadership needs to have clearly defined decision rights and understand that the role of leadership is assembling the right people to make quality decisions. Once you know how to recognize digital quality, you need an effective and efficient process to get there and that process involves many things including structured interactions between decision maker and decision staff, remembering that productive discussions result when multiple parties are involved in the decision process and difference in judgement are present.

Beware Advocacy

The most common decision process tends to be an advocacy decision process – you are asking somebody to sell you an answer. Once you are in advocacy mode, you are no longer in a decision-quality mode and you cannot get the best choice out of an advocacy decision process. Advocacy suppresses alternatives. Advocacy forces confirming evidence bias and means selective attention to what supports your position. Once in advocacy mode, you are really in a sales mode and it becomes a people competition.

When you want quality in a decision, you want the alternatives to compete, not the people. From the decision board’s perspective, when you are making a decision, you want to have multiple alternatives in front of you and you want to figure out which of these alternatives beats the others in terms of understanding the full consequences in risk, uncertainty and return. For each of the alternatives one will show up better. If you can make this happen, then it is not the advocate selling it, it is you trying to help look at which of these things gives us the most value for our investment in some way.

The role outcomes play in the measuring of decision quality

Always think of decisions and outcomes as separate because when you make decisions in an uncertain world, you cannot fully control the outcomes. When looking back from an outcome to a decision, the only thing you can really tell is if you had a good outcome or a bad outcome. Hindsight bias is strong, and once triggered, it is hard to put yourself back into understanding what decisions should have been made with what you knew, or could have known, at the time.

In understanding how we use outcomes in terms of evaluating decisions, you need to understand the importance of documenting the decision and the decision quality at the time of the decision. Ask yourself, if you were going to look back two years from now, what about this decision file answers the questions: “Did we make a decision that was good?” and “What can we learn about the things about which we had some questions?” This kind of documentation is different from what people usually do. What is usually documented is the approval and the working process. There is usually no documentation answering the question: “If we are going to look back in the future, what would we need to know to be able to learn about making better decisions?”

The reason you want to look back is because that is the way you learn and improve the whole decision process. It is not for blaming; in the end, what you are trying to show in documentation is: “We made the best decision we could then. Here is what we thought about the uncertainties. Here is what we thought were the driving factors.” Its about having a learning culture.

When decision makers and individuals understand the importance of reaching quality in each of the six requirements, they feel meeting those requirements is a decision-making right and should be demanded as part of the decision process. To be in a position where they can make a good decision, they know they deserve a good frame and significantly different alternatives or they cannot be in a position to reach a powerful, correct conclusion and make a decision. From a decision-maker’s perspective, these are indeed needs and rights to be thought about. From a decision support perspective, these needs and rights are required to be able to position the decision maker to make a good choice.

Building decision-quality enables measurable value creation and its framework can be learned, implemented and measured. Decision-quality helps you navigate the complexity of uncertainty of significant and strategic choices, avoid mega biases and big decision traps.

Team and Workplace Excellence Forum Leadership Announcement

It is now officially announced. I have volunteered to be the chair of the Team and Excellence Forum for the ASQ.

The Team and Excellence Forum is well placed to develop and provide best practices in the input and process factors, and to develop competencies that the other technical divisions and forums can leverage. Areas such as facilitation, team organization, collaboration and the list goes on. In the last few months I have found myself narrowing in to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Division for my professional/technical competencies and the Team and Workplace Excellence will be the focus on my interests in social and self competencies.

As the announcement indicates I am currently pulling together a leadership team -we will need to fill at minimum a secretary and chair elect (the chair position for the forum runs through 2021 so I’m not going anywhere) – and folks to build and drive content.

My immediate goals are:

  1. Conduct a voice-of-the-customer survey – need to figure out what topics the membership is most interested in and what content formats (case studies, podcasts, webinars, videos, articles, etc) work best
  2. Build content on the my.ASQ community so it can go public
  3. Create a 2020 business plan aligned to the ASQ strategic priorities (due in September)

An exciting year is ahead. If you are a member of the ASQ and looking for volunteer opportunities, and your interests align with Team Excellence, then drop me an email.

ASQ Technical Forums and Divisions as Knowledge Communities

I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about how to best build and grow knowledge communities within quality. One of my objectives at WCQI this year was to get more involved in the divisions and technical forums and I, frankly, might have been overly successful in volunteering for the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum (TWEF) – more on that later when announcements have been made.

Stan Garfield provides 10 principles for successful Knowledge Management Communities. If you are interested in the topic of knowledge management, Stan is a great thinker and resource.

PrincipleThoughts for ASQ Divisions/Technical Forums
Communities should be independent of organizational structure; they are built around areas upon which members wish to interact. The divisions and technical forums are one part of the organizational structure of the ASQ, but they tend to be more on the knowledge generating side of things. The other major membership unit, sections, are geographical.

Divisions and forums are basically broken in two categories: industry type(s) and activity band.

The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic or Biomedical are great examples of industry focused (these are by nature of my work the only two I’ve paid attention to), and they seem to be very focused on product integrity questions.

The activity bands are all over the place. For example in the People and Service technical committee there is a Quality Management, Human Development and Leadership and a Team Excellence Forum. Those three have serious overlap.

It is of interest to me that the other divisions in the People and Service technical committee are Education, Healthcare, Government, Customer Supplier and Service Quality, which are much more industry focused.

And then there is the Social Responsibility division. I have super respect for those people, because they are basically trying to reinvent the definition of quality in a way that can be seen as anathema to the traditional product integrity focused viewpoint.

There is still so much to figure out about the TCCs.
Communities are different from teams; they are based on topics, not on assignments. Easy enough in the ASQ as this is a volunteer organization.
Communities are not sites, team spaces, blogs or wikis; they are groups of people who choose to interact. As the ASQ tries to develop my.ASQ to something folks are actually using, this is a critical principle. The site pages will grow and be used because people are interacting, not drive interaction.

Ravelry seems like a great example on how to do this right. Anyone know of any white papers on Ravelry?
Community leadership and membership should be voluntary; you can suggest that people join, but should not force them to. Divisions are voluntary to join, and people get involved if they chose to.

Please volunteer…..
Communities should span boundaries; they should cross functions, organizations, and geographic locations. The ASQ has this mostly right.

The industry focused communities are made up of members across companies, with a wide spread of locations.
Minimize redundancy in communities; before creating a new one, check if an existing community already addresses the topic. The ASQ hasn’t done a great job of this. One of my major thoughts is that the Quality Management Division has traditionally claimed ownership of the CMQ/OE body of knowledge, but frankly a good chunk of it should be between the Team Excellence and Human Development divisions, which between them seem to have a fair bit of overlap.

Take change management, or project management, or program management. Which one of the three divisions should be focusing on that? All three? Seems a waste of effort. It’s even worse that I know the Lean Division spends a fair amount talking about this.
Communities need critical mass; take steps to build membership.The major dilemma for professional associations. Love to see your suggestions in the comments.
Communities should start with as broad a scope as is reasonable; separate communities can be spun off if warranted. I’m going to say a radical and unpopular thought. If the ASQ was serious about transformation it would have dissolved half of the divisions and then rebuilt them from scratch. Too many are relics of the past and are not relevant in their current construction. Do you truly need a Lean and a Six Sigma forum? A Team Excellence and a Human development (and a quality management).Should biomedical (medical devices) be part of the FDC?
Communities need to be actively nurtured; community leaders need to create, build, and sustain communities. To do this community leaders need training, coaching and mentoring. I’m happy with the connections I’ve started building in headquarters and with a certain board member.

Perhaps one of the focuses of the Team and Workplace Excellence Forum should be to help push the praxis on this.
Communities can be created, led, and supported using TARGETs:
Types (TRAIL — Topic, Role, Audience, Industry, Location)
Activities (SPACE — Subscribe, Post, Attend, Contribute, Engage)
Requirements (SMILE — Subject, Members, Interaction, Leaders, Enthusiasm)
Goals (PATCH — Participation, Anecdotes, Tools, Coverage, Health)
Expectations (SHAPE — Schedule, Host, Answer, Post, Expand)
Tools (SCENT — Site, Calendar, Events, News, Threads).
Okay. So much here. But this helps me build an agenda for a forthcoming meeting.

I may be jumping the gun, but if you are a member of the ASQ and interested in contributing to the Team and Excellence Forum, contact me.

Goals, Objectives and Transparency

Organizations, projects and teams have goals and objectives, and often these terms are used interchangeably. When I’m trying to be good on nomenclature, I use the following standard definitions:

Goal is generally described as an effort directed towards an end. In project management, for example, the term goal is to three different target values of performance, time and resources. To be more specific, the project goal specifies the desired outcome (performance), the specific end date (time) and the assigned amount of resources (resources). A goal answers to “What” is the main aim of the project. 

An Objective defines the tangible and measurable results of the team to support the agreed goal and meet the planned end time and other resource restrictions. It answers to “How” something is to be done.

I think many of us are familiar with the concept of SMART goals. Lately I’ve been using FAST objectives.

From “With Goals, FAST Beats SMART” by Donald Sull and Charles Sull

Transparency provides the connective tissue, and must be a primary aspect of any quality culture. Transparency is creating a free flow within an organization and between the organization and its many stakeholders. This flow of information is the central nervous system of an organization and it’s effectiveness depends on it. Transparency influences the capacity to solve problems, innovate, meet challenges and as shown above, meet goals.

This information flow is simply that critical information gets to the right person at the right time and for the right reason. By making our goals transparent we can start that process and make a difference in our organizations.

Topics of concern for collaboration

More a collection of topics for things I am currently exploring. Please add additional ones and/or resources in the comments.

Trends Concerns
Increasing collaborative modes of working, specifically more:
Matrix structures (Cross et al. 2013, 2016; Cross and Gray 2013)
(Distributed) Teamwork (Cross et al. 2015) 
(Multi-) Project work (Zika-Viktorsson et al. 2006) and multiple team membership (O`Leary et al. 2011)
Interruptions, which are ‘normal’ or even as a necessary part of knowledge workers’ workday (Wajcman and Rose 2011)
Collaboration, which is seen as an end (Breu et al. 2005; Dewar et al. 2009; Gardner 2017; Randle 2017)
Collaborative work is highly demanding (Barley et al. 2011; Dewar et al. 2009; Eppler and Mengis 2004)
Perils of multitasking (Atchley 2010; Ophir et al. 2009; Turkle 2015)
Too many structurally unproductive and inefficient teams (Duhigg 2016)
Lack of accountability for meeting and conference call time (Fried 2016)
Overall, lack of structural protection of employee’s productive time (Fried 2016)
Impacts of collaborative technology
Growing share of social technologies in the workplace (Bughin et al. 2017)
‘Always on’ mentality, cycle of responsiveness (Perlow 2012)
Platforms are designed to prime and nudge users to spend more time using them (Stewart 2017)
Unclear organizational expectations how to use collaborative technology and limited individual knowledge (Griffith 2014; Maruping and Magni 2015)
Technology exacerbates organizational issues (Mankins 2017)
Inability to ‘turn off’ (Perlow 2012)
Technology creates more complexity than productivity gains (Stephens et al. 2017)
Increasing complex media repertoires: highly differentiated, vanishing common denominator (Greene 2017; Mankins 2017)
Social technology specific Increased visibility (Treem and Leonardi 2013) and thus the ability to monitor behaviour Impression management and frustration (Farzan et al. 2008)
Overall, overload scenarios and fragmentation of work (Cross et al. 2015; Wajcman and Rose 2011)
Increasing ratio of collaborative activities for managers (Mankins and Garton 2017; Mintzberg 1990) and employees (CEB 2013; Cross and Gray 2013)

Workdays are primarily characterized by communication and collaboration.
Managers at intersections of matrix structures get overloaded (Feintzeig 2016; Mankins and Garton 2017)
Limited knowledge how to shape collaboration on the managerial level (Cross and Gray 2013; Maruping and Magni 2015)
Experts and structurally exposed individuals (e.g. boundary spanners) easily get overburdened with requests (Cross et al. 2016; Cross and Gray 2013).

Behavioral traits (‘givers’) may push employees close burn-outs (Grant 2013; Grant and Rebele 2017)
Diminishing ‘perceived control’ over one’s own schedule (Cross and Gray 2013)

Overall, managers and employees do not have enough uninterrupted time (Cross et al. 2016; Mankins and Garton 2017)

Resources

  • Atchley, P. 2010. “You Can’t Multitask, So Stop Trying,” Harvard Business Review
  • Barley, S. R., Meyerson, D. E., and Grodal, S. 2011. “E-mail as a Source and Symbol of Stress,” Organization Science (22:4), pp. 887–906.
  • Breu, K., Hemingway, C., and Ashurst, C. 2005. “The impact of mobile and wireless technology on knowledge workers: An exploratory study,” in Proceedings of the 13th European Conference on Information Systems, Regensburg, Germany.
  • Bughin, J., Chui, M., Harrysson, M., and Lijek, S. 2017. “Advanced social technologies and the future of collaboration,” McKinsey Global Institute.
  • CEB. 2013. “Driving the Strategic Agenda in the New Work Environment
  • Cross, R., Ernst, C., Assimakopoulos, D., and Ranta, D. 2015. “Investing in boundary-spanning collaboration to drive efficiency and innovation,” Organizational Dynamics (44:3), pp. 204–216.
  • Cross, R., and Gray, P. 2013. “Where Has the Time Gone? Addressing Collaboration Overload in a Networked Economy,” California Management Review (56:1), pp. 1–17.
  • Cross, R., Kase, R., Kilduff, M., and King, Z. 2013. “Bridging the gap between research and practice in organizational network analysis: A conversation between Rob Cross and Martin Kilduff,” Human Resource Management (52:4), pp. 627–644.
  • Cross, R., Rebele, R., and Grant, A. 2016. “Collaborative Overload,” Harvard Business Review (94:1), pp. 74–79.
  • Cross, R., Taylor, S.N., Zehner, D. 2018. “Collaboration without burnout“. Harvard Business Review. (96:4), pp. 134-137.
  • Dewar, C., Keller, S., Lavoie, J., and Weiss, L. M. 2009. “How do I drive effective collaboration to deliver real business impact?,” McKinsey & Company.
  • Duhigg, C. 2016. Smarter, Faster, Better – The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, New York, USA: Penguin Random House.
  • Eppler, M. J., and Mengis, J. 2004. “The Concept of Information Overload: A Review of Literature from Organization Science, Accounting, Marketing, MIS, and Related Disciplines,” The Information Society (20:5), pp. 325–344.
  • Farzan, R., DiMicco, J. M., Millen, D. R., Brownholtz, B., Geyer, W., and Dugan, C. 2008. “Results from Deploying a Participation Incentive Mechanism within the Enterprise,” in Proceedings of the 26th SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Florence, Italy.
  • Feintzeig, R. 2016. “So Busy at Work, No Time to Do the Job,” The Wall Street Journal
  • Fried, J. 2016. “Restoring Sanity to the Office,” Harvard Business Review .
  • Gardner, H. K. 2017. Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos, Boston, USA: Harvard Business Review Press.
  • Grant, A. 2013. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, New York, USA: Penguin Group.
  • Grant, A., and Rebele, R. 2017. “Generosity Burnout,” Harvard Business Review
  • Greene, J. 2017. “Beware Collaboration-Tool Overload,” The Wall Street Journal
  • Griffith, T. L. 2014. “Are Companies Ready to Finally Kill Email?,” MIT Sloan Management Review
  • Lock Lee, L. 2017. “Enterprise Social Networking Benchmarking Report 2017,” SWOOP Analytics
  • Mankins, M. 2017. “Collaboration Overload Is a Symptom of a Deeper Organizational Problem,” Harvard Business Review
  • Mankins, M., and Garton, E. 2017. Time, Talent, Energy, Boston, USA: Harvard Business Review Press
  • Maruping, L. M., and Magni, M. 2015. “Motivating Employees to Explore Collaboration Technology in Team Contexts,” MIS Quarterly (39:1), pp. 1–16.
  • O’Leary, M. B., Mortensen, M., and Woolley, A. W. 2011. “Multiple Team Membership: a Theoretical Model of Its Effects on Productivity and,” Academy of Management Review (36:3), pp. 461–478.
  • Ophir, E., Nass, C., and Wagner, A. D. 2009. “Cognitive control in media multitaskers,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (106:37), pp. 15583–15587.
  • Perlow, L. A. 1999. “The time famine: Toward a sociology of work time,” Administrative Science Quarterly (44:1), pp. 57–81.
  • Perlow, L. A. 2012. Sleeping With Your Smartphone, Boston, USA: Harvard Business Review Press.
  • Perlow, L. A. 2014. “Manage Your Team’s Collective Time,” Harvard Business Review (92:6), pp. 23–25.
  • Perlow, L. A., and Porter, J. L. 2009. “Making time off predictable–and required,” Harvard Business Review (87:10), pp. 102–109.
  • Randle, C. 2017. “24/7: Managing Constant Connectivity,” in Work Pressures: New Agendas in Communication, D. I. Ballard and M. S. McGlone (eds.), New York, USA: Routledge, pp. 20–26.
  • Stephens, K. K. 2017. “Understanding Overload in a Contemporary World,” in Work Pressures: New Agendas in Communication, D. I. Ballard and M. S. McGlone (eds.), New York, USA: Routledge.
  • Stephens, K. K., Mandhana, D. M., Kim, J. J., and Li, X. 2017. “Reconceptualizing Communication Overload and Building a Theoretical Foundation,” Communication Theory (27:3), pp. 269–289.
  • Stewart, J. B. 2017. “Facebook Has 50 Minutes of Your Time Each Day. It Wants More.” The New York Times
  • Treem, J. W., and Leonardi, P. M. 2013. “Social Media Use in Organizations: Exploring the Affordances of Visibility, Editability, Persistence, and Association,” Annals of the International Communication Association (36:1), pp. 143–189.
  • Turkle, S. 2015. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, New York, USA: Pinguin Press.
  • Wajcman, J., and Rose, E. 2011. “Constant Connectivity: Rethinking Interruptions at Work,” Organization Studies (32:7), pp. 941–961.
  • Zika-Viktorsson, A., Sundström, P., and Engwall, M. 2006. “Project overload: An exploratory study of work and management in multi-project settings,” International Journal of Project Management (24:5), pp. 385–394.