Decision-making, like problem-solving, is a group sport, not a solo one. While adding more people to the team creates more ideas and options, it does not automatically help the process of identifying the best decision out of all the options.
As a senior project manager, after facing this challenge for years, I came up with a system that allows quick decision making or at least identifies key options for action.
I have recently come across a great HBR (Harvard Business Review) article , “7 Strategies for Better Group Decision-Making” by Torben Emmerling and Duncan Rooders. This article presents some of the same principles that I arrived at, and I want to share how those are aligned with the tool I use for decision making.
By “experts”, I primarily mean two things. First, keep the group small. Second, Not everyone is an expert, and you don’t need everyone. It is best to have people who not only have an opinion (as everyone has one) but those who have the courage to share their, who can develop from existing ideas and adjust them as needed.
Are Managers experts? They usually are but provide a different angle to the problem the answer questions such as “Can I convince others to support that solution?”, “Can we sell it?”, “What are the trade-offs?”, “Is this aligned with strategy?”. If those are some of the things that need to be included, make sure the right managers are there as well; else, it is better to provide them with a shortlist of options
Include opposing ideas holders
In order to have good options, you need to be able to see the problem (and the solutions) from multiple angles. If you start the decision-making process with a solution in mind, why bring the group in the first place? Make sure to include people whose opinions and options are not aligned with each other. Each alternative should be clear to the entire group. It is hard to prioritize unclear options.
Focus on comparing ideas and options
Comparing options is the best way to see the key differences. While it might be hard to compare multiple options as a whole, it is easier and more straightforward to compare only two. Instead of focusing on individual variables for comparison (a process that can be time demanding without too much benefits), taking all variables into consideration and forcing a favorite helps making progress towards a decision.
Disconnecting politics, personalities, ownership, and ego from the available options by not defending or explaining them helps to focus on what matters the most.
Create a safe environment for everyone to sound their voice
If you bring experts to the table, make sure you hear their voices. They are valuable. Create an environment where everyone can safely express their opinion and choices. Make sure that the focus is on the options and the decisions, not on individuals. If necessary, make idea-sharing anonymous.
With these principles in mind, I created a simple but effective tool to help me choose between competing priorities with a group of stakeholders. The tool has a long history: first it was implemented in Excel, then as a desktop application and now, over 20 years since first used, it is available online, for everyone, at NextDecision.io. It allows decision-makers to vote by choosing their preferences from pairs of options on each step of the decision-making process, instead of getting stuck from analysis paralysis trying to prioritize between a multitude of options without a system.
It also helps in bringing the focus of the group to the options, protects the anonymity of the individual votes, and provides a faster, cleaner and more transparent way for making decisions and reaching a consensus in a team.