When have we made a good decision? On first examination, if we meet or exceed the desired or projected outcome, we might expect that we have made a good choice. However, what if the results have nothing to do with the decision that was made? We could be left with the false belief that our choice led to the desired outcome. In reality, our choice and supporting action may have had no influence, or possibly worked against the intended result.
An easy example would be that I choose heads in a coin flip and it lands as a heads. Most would agree that my choice had no influence on the outcome of the flip. If this happened a few times in a row, the added correlation might increase my belief that I can successfully choose the outcome of the coin flip. Sadly, a larger number of tosses would quickly demonstrate that my choice actually had no influence.
The coin toss problem points to just one of the difficulties in evaluating decision effectiveness. We expect good choices to lead to good results, forgetting that decisions are developing a projection of something that will happen in the future. Accurate future predictions would require perfect knowledge of all causes and all possible results. Here are some of the difficulties in evaluating the quality of a decision:
In light of the difficulties above, it is still important to define or choose what makes for a good decision. Since the goal of a decision is to generate a preferred outcome, quality could be defined in terms of the outcome as:
However, we must still contend with all the uncertainties indentified in the problems above. We know that despite our best efforts, the preferred outcome may not occur.
Here is where a decision making process can help. If a process is shown to deliver the desired outcome with a specified likelihood, we could now expect that the decision outcome will be realized at the success rate of the process, assuming it is reliably followed. The outcome is not guaranteed for a single decision, but the process will enable a defined success rate (hopefully better) over a large number of decisions.
In this case, quality can measured at the time a decision is made by measuring fulfillment of the process. Making good decisions means that an effective process was followed that has a higher likelihood of generating the desired results. Quality might be defined in terms of the process as:
When considering what makes for a good decision, it is easy to focus on the outcome. In reality every decision contains some amount of uncertainty. Outcomes are not guaranteed. Achieving a good or bad decision outcome may not reflect directly on the quality of the decision. However, if there is consistent failure to achieve projected results, it is probably time to improve the quality of the decision process.
Here are some ideas that can help increase decision quality:
Assessing quality can provide a number of advantages for group decision making. Here are some additional process tips that can support making good decisions.