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It's Decision-Making - Don't Blow It

Native_american_fluteThis summer, I've sought a few relaxation techniques to add balance and equilibrium to the life of this dad/husband/project manager/writer/speaker/college professor/other duties as assigned.  One such pursuit has been the Native American flute.  Keep in mind, I'm not very musically inclined.  With the Native American flute, I don't really have to be.  It works on a pentatonic scale (i.e., 5 notes) as opposed to the 7-note scale of other traditional instruments (not to mention all the requisite sharps and flats which add complexity).  Five notes.  That's it.  Hit any one of the five, and it sounds hauntingly beautiful.  The concert tour will be scheduled any day now.  OK, maybe not.

The Native American flute can teach us some lessons about decision-making when selecting a solution for our project.  Often, we encourage our teams to brainstorm and believe the sky is the limit.  However, when it comes to presenting solutions to the decision-makers, one is never enough, but it is also possible to have too many solutions.  Why not use the approach of the Native Americans?  A maximum of five alternatives.  Any one (or any combination) of those five will sound good.  Providing only one alternative gives decision-makers (usually attention-deprived executives) the chance to dislike it and send you back to the drawing board (and who would want to listen to only one note?).  Provide them with too many alternatives and their eyes glaze over (along with more chances to get it wrong).

I found a blog post with some good pointers on brainstorming and problem-solving techniques.  Their eight steps are in about every management 101 textbook you'll find:

  1. Look for the reason. Specify the problem and identify the reason, why it must be solved.
  2. Look for all available information relating to the problem and list them.
  3. Define the judgment criteria. What principles or standards should be met for one of the alternative solutions to emerge as the best solution?
  4. List as many possible choices as possible through discussions and brainstorming sessions. The more ideas you generate, the closer you move to the optimal solution.
  5. Examine each choice on the yardstick of standards and judgment criteria that you have defined. Determine the pros and cons of each alternative.
  6. Identify the best alternative. This is relatively an easy step, once you have sequentially followed the above steps.
  7. Initiate the plan of action. The decision you have just taken must be transformed into action. In absence of the execution of plan, the very reason for making decision will be nullified.
  8. Finally the consequences of your decision and the steps leading to it must be examined and evaluated so as to learn the valuable lessons. This hones up your decision making skills further.

However, there are probably a couple of steps missing in the 5-6 range.  My additions would be as follows:

  • (5.1) Narrow down the alternatives to no more than five possible ones.  Just like the notes at either end of the scale are the hardes to hit, put the least favorable alternatives at the start and finish.  (Working from the middle is a great rhetoric technique.)
  • (5.2) Present to the decision-makers and get their commitment to your solution, securing you resources and support as you prepare for steps 6 and 7.

Any project solution you present should then be a lot easier if you just ensure your project is solving the right problem.  Then you'll be making beautiful music for your organization!

Carpe Factum!


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The Native American flute is a beautiful instrument, I agree.

And one of the steps to make your plans turn out beautiful is to think about the best case and worst case scenario, the steps you'd take in both of those cases, and then incorporate that thinking into the initial plan!


Mark - great point. Best and worst case (critical in PERT estimating) are excellent selling points in communicating that - regardless of the solution chosen - things may not go as planned and then demonstrating what you will do about it.

Thanks for stopping in.

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