5 Simple Steps to Develop Good Decision-Making Skills

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Anecdotal evidence suggests that the average adult makes hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions every single day.

While decisions at home can be relatively inconsequential—what to eat for breakfast, what to watch on TV—decisions at work add up to make or break a career.

When you think about it, a typical day at work is basically one decision after another, especially for project managers. In fact, a project manager’s competency is measured by the quality of decisions made and the outcomes achieved. As you go higher up the ladder, decision making is all you do and every decision is crucial.

I’ve read that successful businessmen such as Steve Jobs (black mock turtleneck and dad jeans), Mark Zuckerberg (gray T-shirt and hipster jeans), and Dilbert (white Sipowicz shirt and turnt-up tie) wear similar clothes every day so that they have one less decision to make and thereby use that mental capacity for making better decisions.

Five simple steps for better decision-making skills

If it really all comes down to making good decisions, let’s take a look at five simple steps for better decision making.

1. Start with the desired outcome

Steps for good decision making: Squad goals

Start with squad goals

The point of making a decision is to achieve a certain outcome. So that should be a good starting point: Start with the end in mind.

What does the optimum outcome look like? Your desired goal could be about enhancing metrics such as productivity, or business outcomes such as higher sales, or increasing your market share, or solving problems such as virus attacks or data leaks. When you know where you want to go, you align your efforts to getting there and it helps to minimize distractions.

 How you can do this:  At your project kickoff meeting, discuss with your team and document what project success will entail. That way every decision along the way can be made in service of that goal.

2. Rely on data and insights to spot patterns

Steps for good decision making: W. Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Deming (source: Wikimedia Commons)

W. Edwards Deming, engineer and creator of the Deming Cycle, famously said, “In God we trust; all others must bring data.”

Indeed, data is the new oil. We live in a digitally connected world where everything from watches to cars are generating volumes of data.

These data sources are rich in quality, available in volumes, and can be analyzed to derive valuable insights such as customer buying patterns, market behavior, employee performance drivers, and cost optimization avenues, just to name a few. With these insights at hand, the decision making becomes more scientific and provides more control on outcomes.

 How you can do this:  Use risk management software to leverage data when making critical decisions.

3. Use S.W.O.T. analysis

Steps for good decision making: S.W.O.T. analysis

An example of S.W.O.T. analysis

Once you look at your goals and find clear patterns, you are getting closer to arriving at the point of decision-making possibilities. It’s now time to put down the detailed scenarios on paper and list the pros and cons of each scenario.

S.W.O.T. analysis, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, is a great tool for doing this. This is a crucial step in the decision-making process because the work you put into a S.W.O.T. analysis can serve as a reference point for future decisions as well.

 How you can do this:  When approaching a decision, draw a square with four boxes, one each for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Fill out the boxes in relation to this decision, preferably as a team, and look for connections between strengths and opportunities, and weaknesses and threats. If there are strong connections between strengths and opportunities, it is a good sign that you should proceed. On the other hand, if your weaknesses line up with threats, you’ll want to look at other options.

4. Simulate the outcomes

Steps for good decision making: Never tell me the odds

There are many possible outcomes

Simulating the outcomes for different scenarios is a mix of art and science. The science part can come from methods such as issue trees, SCQA (situation, complexity, question, answer), and MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive), to name a few.

The art part is really one’s ability to visualize the scenario and the possible outcome. This may come from experience, business acumen, and an understanding of your customer base. But for most part it is plain old common sense.

 How you can do this:  Use tools such as project management software to determine whether you’re staying on schedule and budget. Use your project management instincts and techniques to visualize outcomes when making a decision.

5. Trust your instincts

Simple steps to good decision making skills: Do what The Fonz does

The Fonz always trusts his instincts

Henry Winkler, aka The Fonz, once wrote: “Your mind knows only some things. Your inner voice, your instinct, knows everything. If you listen to what you know instinctively, it will always lead you down the right path.”

As you can see, The Fonz had a lot more going on than just nudging juke boxes and jumping sharks on water skis.

Intuition, gut feeling, instinct… you can call it whatever you prefer, but it is one thing that software code will never be able to replicate. Some of the world’s greatest leaders rely on their intuition to make the final decision and they swear by it. I think it’s one of those things that people use everyday, but underestimate when it comes to making decisions.

 How you can do this:  As professionals, our growth depends on our ability to make a decision that drives outcomes. So every minute spent honing that skill is going to make the difference between being good and being the best. Keep on learning, keep on listening, and you’ll make better decisions.

Decisions, decisions…

Those are my steps for developing good decision making skills—what are yours? Please share them in the comments.

Also, to keep your decision-making skills sharp, be sure to subscribe to our project management blog.

Here are a few examples of posts that can help you make better decisions:

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About the Author

Sanket Pai

Sanket Pai is currently heading the Product & Customer Experience team at Celoxis, an all-in-one online project management software. He is an avid blogger and writer. His interests lie in Project Management, Leadership, Business Analysis, Innovation Management, Customer Insights, Research, and Experience through Design Thinking pedagogy and application of Business Design. When he is not writing about businesses and management, he is writing about personal transformation, excellence at work and life reflections. You can also follow him on his personal website or on Twitter or LinkedIn.


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