Anecdotal evidence suggests you make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions every day. But how do you know you’re making the right decisions?
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 career 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.
For a thorough breakdown on the basics of decision making, check out this video.
Six simple steps for better decision-making skills
If it really all comes down to making good decisions, let’s take a look at six simple steps for better decision-making.
1. Start with the desired outcome
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.
2. Rely on data and insights to spot patterns
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.
3. Use 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.
4. Simulate the 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 the most part, it is plain old common sense.
5. Trust your 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.”
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 every day but underestimate when it comes to making decisions.
6. Identify your cognitive biases
We are, more often than not, the product of our cognitive biases. It’s prevalent even in the simplest of decisions we make, such as the people we like to surround ourselves with—it’s a result of our confirmation bias that drives us closer to individuals who don’t challenge our beliefs.
As a business professional, you’ll have to contend with many biases that can negatively affect your decisions. One example is the role that bias plays in the hiring decisions of companies, where HR executives can make erroneous decisions by judging a new candidate based on the attributes of the candidate’s predecessor.
Likewise, designers might create a website with terrible UX blinded by their knowledge bias—a consequence of not examining their decisions that stem from their prior knowledge of the features and benefits of products or services offered by their company.
Becoming aware of your own biases is a big step toward making better decisions about your career or business.
Decisions, decisions …
Those are my steps for developing good decision-making skills—what are yours? Please share them in the comments.
For more on how to make better decisions, read through these articles on our project management blog: