Business decision mapping helps IT managers and executives make better business decisions when confronted with multiple options, arguments and decisions. Business decision mapping assists in the weighing up of diverse, usually qualitative considerations, improving decision-making and collaboration. Knowledge Center contributor Tim van Gelder explains how business decision mapping keeps the complexity of decision-making under control by laying all the options out in a special kind of diagram called a decision map.
Franklin offered famous advice on decision-making to his scientific
colleague, Joseph Priestley. His counsel was take a sheet of paper,
divide it into two columns, and write down all the advantages of a
certain path of action in one column and the disadvantages in the
other. Then, by "cancelling out" items in one column with items in the
other, assess which column is weightier.
Simple but powerful, Franklin's Moral Algebra
continues to be relevant today, when critical business and IT decisions
must be made under conditions of great uncertainty and time pressure.
Research has shown that such methods reliably produce better decisions
than ordinary, unstructured deliberation. The basic principles of
Franklin's Moral Algebra, combined with today's decision-mapping
software, can improve and accelerate organization decisions.
We must also acknowledge that in its classic form, Franklin's advice
can't do justice to many business decisions. Most obviously, the Moral
Algebra frames the problem as whether to undertake a particular action.
But most decisions are not yes/no or go/no go. Rather, most decisions
involve choosing from a range of possible actions.
For example, in a hiring situation, the decision problem is not
likely to be whether or not to hire Jones but, rather, which of Jones,
Jiminez or Jagonski to hire? Complicating matters further, the options
may form a kind of hierarchy. At one level, the decision is whether or
not to hire an accountant or a tax lawyer. At the next level, if an
accountant is to be hired, which one?
Another problem is that the method focuses on only one part of the
decision problem, which is how to do the overall "weighing up" of the
various considerations. But in business decisions, much of the work
goes into determining the validity or strength of those considerations
in the first place. A claimed advantage of hiring a tax lawyer is that
she can manage certain difficult issues having to do with complex tax
structures. But is this really true? Perhaps the issues are too complex
for any one lawyer, and external advice would have to be obtained
Recognizing that we need something more than a simple pro/con
approach, many textbooks, professors and consultants will prescribe
moving to some technical, usually quantitative methodology, such as
multi-attribute utility theory or decision analysis. These certainly
have their uses, but the reality is that most decision makers do not
use these technical methods for the bulk of their decisions-even if
they were taught how to use them in business school. And they are not
just being lazy. Often, these sorts of complex analytical tools just
don't get a grip on the distinctive texture of business decisions. Real
problems often can't be reduced to numbers, algorithms and decision
Tim van Gelder, PhD, is Founder, Director and Chief Visionary Officer of Austhink Software. Tim is a cognitive scientist, consultant and software entrepreneur specializing in improving human thinking. Educated at the University of Melbourne (BA, 1984) and University of Pittsburgh (PhD, 1989), Tim held academic positions at Indiana University and the Australian National University before returning to Melbourne as an Australian Research Council QEII Research Fellow. Tim has conducted decades of research on how to improve thinking, particularly reasoning and critical thinking skills. In 1998, Tim set up The Reason Project at the University of Melbourne, which developed a software-supported method for improving critical thinking. Extensive empirical studies showed that this method reliably produces substantial gains in reasoning skills. Tim is recognized as a pioneer in argument visualization and critical thinking training. He has over 60 publications in cognitive science, and was winner of the 2001 Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Critical Thinking. Tim's company, Austhink, has clients that include major organizations in the United States intelligence community, which have adopted Austhink techniques in their analytical training. He can be reached at email@example.com.