TECHNIQUES OF DECISION MAKING

In the models of decision making, you must have observed that any systematic approach to decision making starts with a proper definition of the problem. You will often experience that a problem well defined is a problem half-solved because the proper definition helped you to search at relevant place for promising alternatives. You would also agree that a “fair” approach to decision-making demands that parameters (for judging alternatives which are sometimes referred to as “criteria”, “level of aspiration”, “decision rules”, etc.) should be explicitly developed before the alternatives are generated and not after. This imperative minimises the chances of unnecessary compromise which is the hall-mark of a low-quality decision. However, once you have developed the criteria, keep them aside and forget about them at the time of generation of the alternatives. This dissociation of criteria from the alternative-generation phase will improve your chance of coming up with a reasonably sufficient number of alternatives. You will understand the importance of generating a “reasonable” number of alternatives by the simple realisation that the quality of a decision can be no better than the quality of the alternatives that you identify. 

Identification of Alternatives

Generation of a reasonable number of good alternatives is usually no problem. Occasionally, however, developing a variety of good alternatives can be a complex matter requiring creativity, thought, and study. Three means for generating alternatives are particularly well-known. These are brainstorming, synectics, and nominal grouping. 

Brainstorming: Developed by Alex F. Osborn, brainstorming is the oldest and best known technique for stimulating creative thinking. It involves the use of a group whose members is presented with a problem and is asked to develop as many potential solutions as possible. Members of the group may all be employees of the same firm or outside experts in a particular field. Brainstorming is based on the premise that when people interact in a free and uninhibited atmosphere they will, generates creative ideas. That is, as one person generates an idea it serves to stimulate the thinking of others. This interchange of ideas is supposedly contagious

and creates an atmosphere of free discussion and spontaneous thinking. The objective is to produce as many ideas as possible in keeping with the belief that the larger the number of ideas produced, the greater the probability of identifying an acceptable solution.

Brainstorming is governed by four important rules:

1 Criticism is prohibited, Judgement of ideas must be withheld until all ideas have been generated. It is believed that criticism inhibits the free flow of ideas and group creativity.

2 Freewheeling is welcome. The wilder the idea the better. It is easier to ‘tame down’ than to ‘think up’ ideas.

3 Quantity is wanted. The greater the number of ideas, the greater the likelihood of an outstanding solution.

4 Combination and improvement are sought. In addition to contributing ideas of their own, group members suggest how ideas of others can be improved, or how two or more ideas can be combined into still another idea.

Brainstorming sessions usually involve six to eight participants and run from thirty minutes to an hour. A one-hour session is likely to produce anywhere from 50 to 150 ideas. Typically, most ideas will be impractical, but, a few will merit serious consideration. Brainstorming has given encouraging results in the field of advertising, in all branches of the Armed Forces, and in various Central, State, and local agencies.

Brainstorming, however, is not without limitations. It is usually most effective when a problem is simple and specific. In addition, brainstorming sessions are time consuming and, therefore, can be costly. Finally, brainstorming often produces superficial solutions. This latter limitation, of course, can be overcome by selecting group members who are familiar with at least one aspect of the problem being considered.

Synectics: Developed by William J.J. Gordon, synectics is a more recent and formalised creativity technique for the generation of alternative solutions. The term synectics is derived from a Greek word meaning “the fitting together of diverse elements.” The basic intent of synectics is to stimulate novel and even bizarre alternatives through the joining together of distinct and apparently irrelevant ideas. Members of a synectics group are typically selected to represent a variety of backgrounds and training. An experienced group leader plays a vital role in this approach. The leader states a problem for the group to consider. The group reacts by stating the problem as they understand it. Only after the nature of the problem is thoroughly reviewed and analysed does the group proceed to offer potential solutions. It is the task of the leader to structure the problem and lead the ensuing discussion in such a manner as to force group members to deviate from their traditional ways of thinking. Various methods are employed to “invoke the preconscious mind”. These may include role-playing, the use of analogies, paradoxes, metaphors, and other thought-provoking exercises. The intended purpose is to induce fantasies and novel ideas that will modify existing thought patterns in order to stimulate creative alternatives. It is from this complex set of interactions that a final solution hopefully emerges. A technical expert is ordinarily present to assist the group in evaluating the feasibility of their ideas. Thus, in contrast to brainstorming where the judgement of ideas is withheld until, all ideas have been generated, judicial evaluations of members’ suggestions do take place from time to time.

In general, available evidence suggests that synectics has been less widely used than brainstorming. While it suffers from some limitations as brainstorming (it can be time-consuming and costly), its sophisticated manner makes it much more appropriate for complex and technical problems. 

Nominal Grouping: Developed by Andre Dellbecq and Andrew-Van de Ven, nominal grouping differs from both brainstorming and synectics in two important ways. Nominal grouping does not rely on free association of ideas, and it purposely attempts to reduce verbal interaction. From this latter characteristic a nominal group derives its name; it is a group “in name only”. Nominal grouping has been found to be particularly effective in situations requiring a high degree of innovation and idea generation. It generally follows a highly structured procedure involving the following stages:

Stage 1: Seven to ten individuals ‘with different backgrounds and training are brought together and familiarized with a selected problem such as, “What alternatives are available for achieving a set of objectives?”

Stage 2: Each group member is asked to prepare a list of ideas in response to the identified problem, working silently and alone.

Stage 3: After a period of ten to fifteen minutes, group members share their ideas, one at a time, in a round-robin manner. A group facilitator records the ideas on a blackboard or flip chart for all to see. The round-robin process continues until all ideas are presented and recorded.

Stage 4: A period of structured interaction follows in which group members openly discuss and evaluate each recorded idea. At this point ideas may be reworded, combined, deleted, or added.

Stage 5: Each group member votes by privately ranking the presented ideas in order of their perceived importance. Following a brief discussion of the vote, a final secret ballot is conducted. The group’s preference is the arithmetical outcome of the individual votes. This concludes the meeting.

Nominal grouping has been used successfully in a wide variety of organisations. Its principal benefit is that it minimises the inhibiting effects of group interaction in the initial generation of alternative solutions. In this sense, the search process is proactive rather than reactive. That is, group members must generate their own original ideas rather than “hitch-hike” on the ideas of others. Additionally, the use of a round-robin recording procedure allows risk-inclined group members to state risky solutions early, making it easier for less secure participants to engage in similar disclosure. Nominal grouping, however, also has limitations. Like brainstorming and synectics, it can be time-consuming and, therefore, costly. 

Creative Thinking: There are many ways of searching for information and alternatives in problem solving. Effective managers use all of their capacities-analytic and creative, conscious and subconscious and seek both individual and group involvement in this stage of decision making process.

As you have seen, the basic requirement at the stage of identification of alternatives is to become more creative. Creativity involves novel combination of ideas which must have theoretical or social value or make an emotional impact on other people, Like the decision’ making process itself, the creative process also has three stages as shown in the following exhibit: STAGES IN CREATIVE PROCESS

Evaluation of Alternatives

Evaluation of various identified possible courses of action constitutes the second step of decision-making. Having identified a ‘reasonable’ number of alternatives as a manager you should now be in a position to judge the different courses of action which have been isolated. Each alternative must be evaluated in terms of its strengths and weaknesses, benefits and costs, advantages and disadvantages in achieving organisational goals. Since there are usually both positive and negative aspects of every alternative, most evaluations involve a balancing or trade-off of anticipated consequences. Needless to say, such assessments should be as objective as possible.

Evaluation of the relative merits of various alternatives may be performed by a single manager or by a group. An evaluation may be completely intuitive or it may be scientific, using analytical tools and procedures associated with what is known as operations research (OR). More than likely, it will employ a combination of both approaches. Whatever the basis of evaluation, the more systematic the assessment, the more likely it is that the resulting judgements will be accurate and complete.

Selection of an Alternative

Once appropriate alternatives have been identified and evaluated, you must select the one alternative with the greatest perceived probability of meeting organisational objectives. Of course, it is entirely possible that the decision maker may be made to go back and identify other alternatives if none are judged to be acceptable.

Theoretically, if the identification and evaluation of alternatives has been properly handled, making a choice should be an easy matter, The most desirable alternative will be obvious. In practice, however, selection of a course of action is often the result of a compromise. Enterprise objectives are multiple. As a consequence, choice of an alternative must be made in light of multiple and often conflicting objectives. Indeed, the quality of a decision may often have to be balanced against its acceptability. Resource constraints and political considerations are examples of confounding factors which must be carefully weighed. At this point, sound judgement and experience play important roles. 

Implementation of Decision

Once a plan (course of action) has been selected, appropriate actions must be taken to assure that it is implemented. Implementation is crucial to success of an enterprise. Indeed, it is considered by some to be the key to effective planning. The best plans in the world are absolutely worthless if they cannot be implemented. The activities necessary to put plans into operation must be skillfully initiated. In this respect, no plan is better than the actions taken to make it a reality.

With selection of a course of action, you must make detailed provisions for its execution. You must communicate the chosen course of action, gather support for it, and assign resources to see that it is carried out. Development of a sound means of implementation is every bit as important as the decision as to which course of action to pursue. All too often, even the best plans fail as a result of being improperly implemented.

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