Project Decision Making – Simpler Is Not Always Better

Decisions Image 1Some years ago I bought my first scanner. In trying it out for the first time I used a document master that included text, a sketch and a signature. When I selected the “Scan” button, I was prompted to select either “Black & White”, or “Gray-scale”. Since my master was in black and white, I selected “Black & White” and the document was scanned then printed. The result was an incomplete reproduction of the master. The text and some the sketch and signature features were reproduced clearly, but the fine details of the sketch and signature were blurry or missing. My first thought was that I needed to increase the resolution and changed from 300 dpi to 3000 dpi, and although that helped, it increased the memory of the file to a very inconvenient size. As a final try before calling for help, I went back to 300 dpi and selected “Gray-scale” this time. I was rewarded with an excellent electronic reproduction of the master, including all of the subtle details in the sketch and the signature. I realized that my natural instinct was to assume that the simpler, binary, “Black & White” scanning option was “best”, and that I had missed the fact that the task was more complex than I had appreciated, and needed a complex response.

This over-simplified, binary thinking pervades our business and personal lives and causes us to miss the real contributing causes of problems, and to neglect potentially more effective decision options. It’s usually prompted by real or feared schedule and cost consequences. It’s also a perfectly natural human behavior, because our brains are wired to look

So, how can we avoid over-simplifying situations and putting our problem solving and decision-making at risk? Here are a few thoughts:
Take the time to thoroughly appreciate the context of the situation. Not only what it is, but also what it is not. Collect the facts and the feelings, they are both important, but be sure to keep them separate in your assessment.
Everything is connected to everything else. Use systems thinking and be ready to expand your definition of the system boundaries when looking and problems and making decisions.
Recognize biases and assumptions and keep them out of the decision-making. Everyone has biases and assumptions, that’s reality. By being self-reflective and honest, and listing these biases and assumptions you can avoid their improper influence.
Look cause networks, not root causes. The more complex the problem the less likely there is to be a singular root cause. In fact, the “relentless” pursuit of root cause often results in insufficient intervention and corrective action.
Watch out for the pursuit of data to fit a scenario. Too often, influential people with favorite theories, steer the investigation in the direction of finding and interpreting data to support their theory.
Intuition is OK, but it ultimately must be supported by fact. It’s OK for intuition to be part of the investigative and decision-making process, but it can’t be used exclusively, and real data is required to convert it into a credible scenario.
Engage knowledgeable, non-advocate people in the situation assessment for the problem or decision. Bringing in expert, and objective perspectives to the problem solving or decision-making process can avoid groupthink and enrich the pool of ideas and options.

Sometimes simpler is better, but in this increasingly complex world we live and work in, our problem-solving and decision-making thinking must be more sensitive, objective and inclusive.

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About donmcalister

I retired at the end of 2011, after a 39 year career in the Aerospace industry as an Propulsion Engineer, Engineering Manager and Program Manager. My professional interests and expertise is in the areas of Program, Risk and Knowledge Management. I'm passionate about life-long learning involving a wide variety of topics and I'm committed to sharing my knowledge and ideas with those who are interested. My primary hobby is performing jazz music. I'm a jazz keyboard player, and vocalist, and I'm on the Board of Directors of the non-profit Simi Valley Jazz Club, which is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of jazz music from the '20's through the 60's.
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