Tools for Decision Making
 

What tools are available to assist teams in making decisions?
In addition to creating an environment for effective decision making and reaching consensus on methods for making decisions as a team, there are tools that can assist teams in formulating and reaching decisions. Many of these tools were developed in the 1990s as companies worked on improving quality and introducing self-managed teams into the workplace. Detailed descriptions of these tools can be found.6–8 Faculty members and students who would like to become proficient in the use of these tools are encouraged to consult these references. However, brief descriptions of frequently used tools may help introduce student teams to decision-making tools and help them to apply these tools:

• Brainstorming (for more information, please see [6–10])
• Affinity Grouping (for more information, please see [6, 7, 11])
• Multivoting (for more information, please see [6, 7, 12])
• Criteria Matrix (for more information, please see [6, 7, 13])

Many other tools are available to facilitate creativity, planning, and quality control. [14–17]

Brainstorming
The goal of the brainstorming process is to generate many options related to a specific purpose. Subsequent processing will allow the group to prioritize and/or group ideas. The focus of the brainstorming process is generating ideas. See [9 10] for details.

Keeping the End in Mind
In working through a process, visualizing the end result is helpful. For the brainstorming process, the end result is a large set of Post-It™ notes on a flat surface; written on each note is one response to the charge.

Idea 1: Verb-noun phrase
Idea 7: Verb-noun phrase
 
Idea 3: Verb-noun phrase Idea 4: Verb-noun phrase Idea 8: Verb-noun phrase
Idea 6: Verb-noun phrase Idea 2: Verb-noun phrase Idea 5: Verb-noun phrase

Ground Rules
• Make sure that all participants have a clear, shared understanding of the charge for which they are generating ideas.

• Every idea should be posted, and comments on any idea are not permitted. Remember that the goal is to generate many ideas at this stage. Processing ideas will come later.

• Strive for flexibility of ideas. Welcome wild ideas that can act as triggers to stimulate breakthroughs into new directions.

Affinity Grouping
The goal of the affinity grouping process is to categorize the ideas generated by the brainstorming process. Similar ideas can be grouped together to obtain a more organized picture of the ideas.

Keeping the End in Mind
In working through a process, visualizing the end result is helpful. For the affinity process, the end result is groups of Post-It™ notes with a header card for each group.

Header Card: Label for Group 1 Header Card: Label for Group 2 Header Card: Label for Group 3
Idea 8: Verb-noun phrase Idea 4: Verb-noun phrase Idea 1: Verb-noun phrase
Idea 5: Verb-noun phrase Idea 6: Verb-noun phrase Idea 7: Verb-noun phrase
Idea 2: Verb-noun phrase   Idea 3: Verb-noun phrase

Ground Rules
• Decide whether talking will be allowed as participants group idea notes into clusters. Results will be different if talking is allowed.

• Participants may take each idea note and put it with another idea note to form clusters of notes.

• Participants may move a note from one cluster to another.

• If an idea note is repeatedly moved from one cluster to another, make a duplicate, so that it may be placed in both clusters.

• After the clusters have stabilized, one member of the group will solicit suggested wording for a header card. Allow the team to reach consensus on the text for each header card.

Multivoting
The goal of the multivoting process is to allow a team to determine the higher priority and lower priority options from a set of alternatives. Multivoting is quick and easy. However, it does not provide for a detailed analysis of the different alternative. A team might want to use multivoting to determine higher priority options from a large list of alternatives. Then, the team might use more detailed and time-consuming analyses to select the highest priority alternative.

Keeping the End in Mind
In working through a process, visualizing the end result is helpful. For the multivoting process, the end result is a list of options, each with a number of votes (perhaps zero). If an option has more votes, then the team has assigned a higher priority to that option.

• Option 1
• Option 2
• Option 3
• Option 4
• Option 5

With this result, the team has chosen option 2 as the highest priority. Options 4 and 5 have tied for second highest priority. The team may want to analyze the priority of these three options in greater depth.

Ground Rules
• Assign each participant the same number of votes. A rough rule of thumb is that each participant may receive a number of votes equal to the number of options divided by three. For concreteness, each participant might vote with sticky dots or small Post-It™ notes.

• Participants vote simultaneously by placing their sticky dots (or notes) near or on their preferred options.

• In some versions, participants may cast, at most, one vote per option. In other versions, participants may cast multiple votes per option, although the maximum number of votes per option may be limited.

• Options receiving more votes are ranked as higher priority.

Prioritization Matrix

Purpose
To prioritize tasks, issues, alternatives, etc., to aid in selecting what tasks, issues, or alternatives to pursue.

Keeping the End in Mind
The purpose of the exercise is to construct a matrix like the one shown on the right. The criteria used to evaluate the quality of the options (tasks, issues, alternatives, etc.) are placed across the top while the options under consideration are placed down the left. The numbers in brackets are the weights for the different criteria. The value of the prioritization matrix is twofold. First, it shows the entire group the process of evaluating each option. Second, it focuses the group on each component of the decision process and then generates the overall results from the individual decision components.

Steps
1. Generate a set of criteria to be used in evaluating the quality of the decision. In the example shown above, the group generated three criteria.

2. Construct a matrix with options down the left and selection criteria across the top.

 

Criterion 1
[2.3]

Criterion 2
[1.2]
Criterion 3
[3.5]
Option
Totals
Option 1
1
5
3
18.8
Option 2
3
2
2
15.3
Option 3
2
0
1
8.1
Option 4
1
0
1
5.8

3. Each person allocates a weight (priority) to each criterion. The higher the weight, the more important the criterion is to the individual. The sum of the weights that each person allocates to the criteria must be 1.0.

4. The total weights for the criteria are obtained by summing the individual weights. Enter these weights in the matrix in brackets along with the criteria.

5. Going one criterion at a time, rank order all the options, etc., with respect to the criterion using the multivoting technique. Enter the vote totals for each option into the matrix.

6. Find the product of the vote totals and weight for each option and sum these products for each row.

7. The rows with the highest sums are the options of highest priority. Be sure to discuss any row which has a low total but seems like it should be retained.

How might I work with students to improve their group decision-making skills? Students can improve their decision-making skills through awareness that decision making is not a random act but rather a process involving effective thought, initiation, communication, and practice. Activities to improve individual and group decision making are shared below.

Example 1 (20–25 minutes)
Learning Objective: Students should be able to identify how they typically make decisions.

Classroom Activity Individually ask students to list the sequence of steps they use in approaching and solving problems. Next, ask teams to combine the individual problem-solving sequences into a consensus problem-solving sequence. Then, individually ask students if they use the problem-solving sequence with decision making or if decision making is more an emotional response for them. Have individual students identify what changes, if any, they want to make to their decision making methods. Ask teams to share individual insights from their reflection. Finally, present an open-ended problem (e.g., estimate the number of basketballs that would fit in the rooms) or a design problem; ask teams to use their problem-solving seqence to generate alternative solutions and choose an alternative. Compare results across teams in the class.

Example 2 (15 minutes)
Learning Objective: Increase the likelihood that students will act on their proposed changes to their decision-making methods.

Classroom Activity Students will create a personal action plan of what changes they want to make to their decision-making methods identified in Example 1. Students put the date and their names on paper and answer the following questions individually:

1. My current decision-making method is primarily _____________.

2. My decision-making method is effective in the following ways:

3. I need to improve/change my decision-making skill set in the following areas: __________________________.

4. My decision-making skills improvement goals are as follows (be sure your goals are specific, attainable, and measurable):

5. These people and these resources can help me accomplish my goals: _____________________________________________.

6. These are my action steps and time table to accomplish my goals:

A step in which team members share their responses may be added (would take another 20 minutes).

Example 3 (45 minutes)
Learning Objective: Students describe how involvement of more persons in the decision-making process affects the accuracy of the decision (adopted from Johnson and Johnson exercise4).

Classroom Activity Explain that the exercise focuses on the accuracy of estimates made by different combinations of individuals. Start with a large jar full of a known quantity of beans set before each group of 4–8 students. Students will be asked to estimate the number of beans.

1. Working individually, students need to estimate the number of beans and write their answers on pieces of paper.

2. Next, pair students. Each pair constructs an estimation scheme,

3. Now, each pair joins another pair and generates an estimate.

4. Finally, groups of four partner, and groups of eight construct estimates.

5. Have each group of eight present their decision of the number of beans. Compare the decisions made to the actual number of beans in the jar (this is the fun part).

6. Now, have the students in teams of four answer the following questions:
(a) How were the decisions made by each group?
(b) How did increasing the number of group members impact the decision-making process for the individual?
(c) How did increasing the number of group members impact the decision-making process for the group?
(d) Did groups become more efficient or less efficient in their decision making as group size increased? Do the teams think there is an “ideal” group size for effective decision making?

More activities can be found in Johnson and Johnson.5

 

References for Further Information

  1. Katzenbach, J.R., and Smith, D.K., 1992. Wisdom of Teams. Boston (Harvard Business School Press).
  2. Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., and Holubec, E.J., 1986. Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom, rev. ed. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co.
  3. Kline, N. (1999). Time to think: Listening to ignite the human mind. London, England: Ward Lock Wellington House.
  4. Block, P. (2002). The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Really Matters, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  5. Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, F.P. (2000). Joining together: Group theory and group skills, 7th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  6. Scholtes, P.R., Joiner, B.L., Streibel, B.J., and Mann, D. (1996). The Team Handbook, 2d ed., Oriel, Inc.
  7. Bellamy, L., et al. (1994). Team Training Workbook [On line], Arizona State University. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.eas.asu.edu/~asufc/teaminginfo/teamwkbk.pdf>.
  8. TQM (Total Quality Management) Toolkit [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://web.mit.edu/tqm/>.
  9. Brainstorming, Mindtools [Online]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCT_04.htm>.
  10. Brainstorming.co.uk. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.brainstorming.co.uk/>.
  11. IS/TQM: Affinity Diagrams (sometimes referred to as a "KJ," after the initials of the person who created this technique, Jiro Kawakita) [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://web.mit.edu/tqm/affinity.html>.
  12. Best Practices, Prioritizing as a Group, Office of Quality Improvement & Office of Human Resource Development [On line], University of Wisconsin Madison. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.ohrd.wisc.edu/meetings/prioritize.htm#voting>.
  13. Best Practices, Prioritizing as a Group, Office of Quality Improvement & Office of Human Resource Development [On line], University of Wisconsin Madison. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.ohrd.wisc.edu/meetings/prioritize.htm#criteria>.
  14. Shulyak, L., Introduction to TRIZ [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.triz.org/downloads/40Ptriz.pdf>.
  15. GOAL/QPC, Seven Creativity Tools [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.goalqpc.com/whatweteach/Research/7cr.html>.
  16. GOAL/QPC, Seven Management and Planning Tools [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.goalqpc.com/whatweteach/Research/7mp.html> (also found in Brassard, M., and Ritter, D. [1994]. The Memory Jogger™ II: A Pocket Guide of Tools for Continuous Improvement and Effective Planning, Salem, MA: Goal/QPC).
  17. GOAL/QPC, Seven Quality Control Tools [On line]. Available on the World Wide Web at <http://www.goalqpc.com/whatweteach/Research/7qc.html>.
  18. Algert, N.E. (2000). The Center for Change and Conflict Resolution. (979)775–5335, cccr@bigfoot.com.