Friday, October 17, 2014


A Checklist for Making Better Decisions

Use this tool to view your decisions from all perspectives.
© iStockphoto/tommasolizzul
How often have you seen people make a really bad decision?
Perhaps they evaluated it from a financial perspective, but didn't think about how people would react to it. Maybe they got excited about the potential of the idea, but had not considered the risks. 
Or, perhaps the decision was championed by the dominant member of a decision-making group, and other group members didn't feel confident enough to argue.
There are many factors to consider when you make a decision, and it's easy to miss something important. In this article, we'll look at a simple checklist we've created that helps you avoid this.

About the Tool

ORAPAPA is an acronym that highlights seven key things you should consider as part of making a significant decision. It stands for:
  • Opportunities.
  • Risks.
  • Alternatives and improvements.
  • Past experience.
  • Analysis.
  • People.
  • Alignment and ethics.
ORAPAPA helps to give you a well-rounded view of your decision, because it encourages you to look at it from various perspectives. This allows you to break out of your habitual thinking style and avoid common decision-making biases  , so that you don't overlook anything important.
It also gives people involved in making a group decision "permission" to voice their opinions, even when their views differ from that of the wider group. This reduces conflict and helps you avoid Groupthink  
For example, your team may have a resolutely upbeat culture, which discourages people from talking about risk. Or, team members may be so focused on the future that they don't take time to learn from past experience.


To use the tool, work through the elements below.


Your first step is to look at the positives of the decision. 
What opportunities could open up if you move ahead, and what benefits will they deliver for you or your organization? What are the favorable consequences?
This is a fun step because you explore all of the decision's positive consequences, without worrying about the risks; and it gives your optimists a forum to have their say, unconstrained by criticism.


Next, look at the negatives. What are the weaknesses and drawbacks of your decision? What are the unfavorable consequences? What could go wrong? 
Most decisions come with some amount of risk. Use tools such as Risk Analysis  and the Risk Impact/Probability Chart   to identify possible problems and how likely they are to happen. Then, think about how you can manage them – or whether you should reject the idea altogether.
Having risk as a formal discussion point helps you ensure that it is considered, and it gives more cautious people the chance to voice their doubts. 

Alternatives and Improvements

Now it's time to consider alternative options and ways that you could improve the original idea.
What other choices are available? How can you maximize your opportunities and minimize your risks? How can you improve your solution so that it deals with your problem more effectively? Use normal, structured thinking as well as creativity techniques like brainstorming   and DO IT   to generate new ideas.
Remember that doing nothing is one possible alternative. In fact, this may be the best option, if risks are unacceptably high.

Past Experience

Next, identify whether anyone, inside or outside the organization, has done anything like this before.
If so, did it work or did it fail, and what can you learn from this? And is there anyone whose expertise and experience you should draw on, before you make a final decision? 


Now, review the data that you're using to make the decision. 
What information supports your decision, and what argues against it? Are there any trends that could have an impact on it? Have you gathered   all the information that you need? 
Examine any gaps in your knowledge or experience, or in that of your team. How might they affect the quality of your decision?
Think carefully about any assumptions that you or your team have made about the information. Double-check your data, and make sure that you haven't jumped to conclusions about what it means. 
For particularly important decisions, you may want to use a tool such as the Ladder of Inference   to check the robustness of your decision-making process. You may also want to check for blind spots   or psychological bias  .
If appropriate, calculate the decision's NPV and IRR   to understand its financial impact. Is it worth moving forward? 


For this element, consider other people's points of view. What will stakeholders  say about the decision? How will they feel about it, perhaps on the basis of only a limited understanding of the situation?
Use Rolestorming   and the Perceptual Positions   technique to think about the decision from other people's perspectives. Better still, ask them what they think.
It's also important to consider how everyone involved in making the decision feels about it in general. What does your intuition tell you?

Alignment and Ethics

You also need to think about how well the decision fits with your organization's overall strategy and capabilities, and with its culture.
Does it align with your company's values and mission statement? Use VMOST Analysis   to think about this in detail.
Also, is it ethical  ? It's easy to think shallowly about this, particularly if the opportunity you're considering is valuable and you have a strong incentive to go ahead. Clearly, however, ethical lapses can be disastrous, for all sorts of reasons.
You may also want to think about whether the decision fits with your personal values   and those of your people. Do you and they feel that this is the right thing to do?

Key Points

The ORAPAPA checklist encourages you to look at decisions from various perspectives, so that you can identify factors that you may not have otherwise considered.
When you use it in a group decision-making situation, you can encourage people to talk about things that they may not otherwise discuss. This helps you improve the quality of the decision.
ORAPAPA stands for:
  • Opportunities.
  • Risks.
  • Alternatives and improvements.
  • Past experience.
  • Analysis.
  • People.
  • Alignment and ethics.
To use the tool, work through the checklist and think about your decision in relation to each element.

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