Mastering the Decision-Making Process: A Practical Guide

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Our mastery of the decision-making process plays a big part in the outcome of our lives, as life could be easily defined as a series of decisions. Each step on life’s journey is taken after considering where to put your foot. It’s true that some just march forward without much thought, but even that is a decision.

While serendipitous discovery often follows those that accept a more organic, nonlinear path, that creative approach is the luxury of those with time to spare. Professionals rarely have such a privilege. Theirs is the way of constraints and accountability. Yet, even a more rigid structure of decision-making can lead to inspired ends. It’s just a matter of working within tighter boundaries.

So, what can you do if your options are narrowed by bottom-lines, costs and deadlines? You can learn a decision-making process that allows you to quickly assess the best choice and make it based on data that supports the objectives and goals you’ve been tasked to achieve.

7 Steps for an Effective Decision-Making Process

Having a plan is the first step, but then there are seven after that, so consider this the set up. Without a plan or a process in place, you’ll never be able to develop a method of decision-making that holds true. You plan your projects, so why shouldn’t you plan your decision-making process?

decision making process steps

1. Identify the Decision

You can’t make a decision until you decide that there’s a decision to be made. It sounds obvious, but so often teams will suffer indecision or, worse, ignorance of what the problem requiring their decisive attention is. This can cause a problem to fester, increasing its damage and influence on your organization.

So, once you realize you have to make a decision, then you’re already at step one. At this point in the decision-making process, it’s critical to define the issue and the decision that must be made. Make sure that you’re being as specific as possible, because if you’re too broad in your definition, then your decision is going to swing wide and likely miss its mark.

2. Collect Information

Now that you’ve got a decision to make, what’s the relevant data you need in order to make a well-informed decision? That includes establishing where to gather the best information. Seek out where you can get accurate data on the problem and, therefore, set you on the right course to making the correct decision.

Look at the decision from all angles. That means, both internally and externally. So, go through a process of self-assessment, and get input from your team and those who are interfacing with the issue that requires a decision. Also, seek guidance from outside sources, whether that be online, in the library or from other people who have experience and skill solving similar problems. Reporting tools can also be a huge help during this step.

3. Develop Options

As you research, you’ll likely have many avenues in which to address the problem. That’s good. You want to have as many alternatives as possible. Think of this as a fact-gathering mission. It’s not part of this step to decide. That will come later in the decision-making process. For now, list all the decisions that meet the criteria of the research you’ve done. Feel free to get creative when listing all of your possible options because you never know where the best decision will reveal itself. It may even come in the form of a combination of options.

4. Judge the Evidence

The jury is still out, but the courtroom drama has passed. Attorneys for all sides have presented their arguments, and now it’s time for you to weigh the various decisions and run them against your own metrics to see how they size up as the single, best decision to make.

This is not solely a cerebral process. In fact, it’s easy to get stuck in this step for too long if you continue to analyze data and evaluate options. In order to escape this trap of analysis paralysis, you must also trust your instincts.

Managers have experience and a history from which to turn to for guidance. What does your gut say? If there are several options that are so close that it’s hard to see the difference, think about what acting on that decision would look like for you, your team, the project and the organization. Run each alternative through your head. See how they play out. Then list them in order of priority to get a sense of which one you favor. The one scenario that comes the closest to achieving the goal you have is likely going to show itself, as you carefully work through this process.

5. Make a Choice

Okay, you’ve made it! It’s time for the decision. It’s not yet time for action though, as in enacting the decision, but before you can do that you have to make a choice. This is often the most difficult part. Prior to this you had a process to play with, but there was nothing at stake—now there is.

You could make this step more of a continuation of the previous step, if you need more time to process the alternatives to see which one rises to the top of your list. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with making sure you’ve done the due diligence, as long as you’re getting closer to making that decision.

6. Time for Action

No more procrastination. You could run through all the alternatives in your head until it’s time for you to retire, and then spend the rest of your life of leisure contemplating the best possible route. You could do that, but that’s not what you were hired to do. As a professional, you must act. Now is that time. You’ve done the work, and you have the data. The historical context and the compass of your gut are pointing towards one decision. Implement it.

Whatever you do, don’t implement your decision blindly. Watch what happens at the onset carefully, as you’ll want to collect data and results to review later.

7. Review

All decisions are teaching moments, if you take the time to see how the decision worked out (or not) and chart the consequences of your action. Look at the results of your decision. Did the decision go as you proposed it would? Evaluate whether or not you made the right choices throughout the previous decision-making steps. If your decision proved ineffectual, then maybe you didn’t clearly define the problem in step one.

Don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world. This, too, is a process. Use what you’ve learned from this decision-making process and, if the decision wasn’t the right one, explore why it didn’t serve the goal you had set for it and how you could approach the process differently. The process isn’t perfect—remember, it’s only as good as what you put into it.

If you’re going to make a decision, be sure that you have all the tools at your disposal to help you make the right one. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that gives you real-time date, offers a platform for better collaboration and helps you plan and track your decisions. This one’s a no-brainer. Try ProjectManager.com for free with this 30-day trial.

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