There are many forms of bias that we must be cognizant during problem solving and decision making.
That chart can be a little daunting. I’m just going to mention three of the more common biases.
Attribution bias: When we do something well, we tend to think it’s because of our own merit. When we do something poorly, we tend to believe it was due to external factors (e.g. other people’s actions). When it comes to other people, we tend to think the opposite – if they did something well, we consider them lucky, and if they did something poorly, we tend to think it’s due to their personality or lack of skills.
Confirmation bias: The tendency to seek out evidence that supports decisions and positions we’ve already embraced – regardless of whether the information is true – and putting less weight on facts that contradict them.
Hindsight bias: The tendency to believe an event was predictable or preventable when looking at the sequence of events in hindsight. This can result in oversimplification of cause and effect and an exaggerated view that a person involved with an event could’ve prevented it. They didn’t know the outcome like you do now and likely couldn’t have predicted it with the information available at the time.
A few ways to address our biases include:
Bouncing ideas off of others, especially those not involved in the discussion or decision.
Surround yourself with a diverse group of people and do not be afraid to consider dissenting views. Actively listen.
Imagine yourself in other’s shoes.
Be mindful of your internal environment. If you’re struggling with a decision, take a moment to breathe. Don’t make decisions tired, hungry or stressed.
Consider who is impacted by your decision (or lack of decision). Sometimes, looking at how others will be impacted by a given decision will help to clarify the decision for you.
The decisions we make are often complex and uncertain. A good decision-making process better is critical to success – knowing how we make decisions, and how to confirm we are making good decisions – allows us to bring quality to our decisions. To do this we need to understand what a quality decision 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 have the idea of decision-quality as the measurable destination.
Decisions do not come ready to be made. They must be shaped starting by declaring what the decision you 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
I didn’t make it to the key note. I had a work conference
call so I will never learn the quality secrets of Anheuser-Busch.
“A Fresh Approach to Risk Assessment & FMEA: It’s all
about severity” by Beverly Daniels.
After yesterday’s Quality 4.0 session I was not going to miss this as the presenter has a blunt, to the point attitutde, that could be interesting and fun to watch.
Very R&R driven mindset, which is a little far away for me but one I find fascinating. Her approach is to get rid of probability and detection on an FMEA. How does she do that?
Create a function diagram and process maps as applicable
Create an input:output matrix
List failure modes: how a failure presents itself
List the effects of the failure modes
Determine severity of the failure modes at the local level and system level
Develop V&V, mitigation and control plans for all high severity failures.
Which means she’s just not using the risk assessment as a consolidation of decisions (hopefully using some other form of matrix) and always uses testing data for occurrence.
The speaker made the point about static FMEA’s a lot, I’m a big fan of living risk assessments, and I think that is an approach that needs more attention.
Some interesting ideas on probability and testing here, but buried under some strong rhetoric. Luckily she posted a longer write-up which I’ll need to consider more.
“Using Decision Analysis to Improve, Make or Break Decisions” by Kurt Stuke
Someday I’ll write-up more on why I find long credential porn intros annoying. My favorite intro is “Jeremiah Genest works for Sanofi and has 20 years of experience in quality.” Post my damn CV if you want, but seriously my words, my presentation and my references should speak for themselves.
I like the flip sessions, prepping prior is always good. The conference needs to do a better job letting people know about the prep work. The amount of confusion in this session was telling. The app does not even link to the prep work, only way is an email.
There is no 100% tool, glad he stresses that at the beginning, as we sometimes forget to do that in the profession.
“Whim leads to advocacy approach which means data looses its voice.”
Used KT as a way for decision analysis. Talking about the “must haves” and “nice-to-haves” Maybe it’s because of the proprietary nature of KT, but I feel their methodology is either someone folks are really familiar with or surprised by.
So this is again basic stuff. I’m not sure if this is what I am deciding to go to or if just where I am in my journey. At my table I was the only one really familiar with these tools.
Good presenter. Love the workshop approach. It was great watching and participating with my table-mates and seeing lightbulbs go off. However, this is a basic workshop and not intermediate.