“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traversed, and that has made all the difference.” ~Robert Frost
Unfortunately in a cut-throat business setting, decision-making is not that simple. You can’t just embark on a path and wait for the course to unravel itself. Although taking risks is necessary for growth, even more important is to take calculated risks.
Whether you’re managing a small team or you’re the head of a large corporation, your success will always depend on the decisions that you take. And how do you take the right ones? By making the wrong decisions and learning from them.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. As project managers, you’ll be forced to take spur-of-the-moment-decisions every now and then. Sometimes, soliciting help can empower you to come up with a viable decision. But even this is a two-edged sword; on one hand, involving other people can be fruitful, on the other, too many cooks do spoil the broth.
As you might have experienced, with so many voices buzzing in a room, it gets hard for project managers to make an industrious choice. To help you out, here are 6 decision-making techniques that can help you make educated decisions & worry less at your job.
1) Listen first; dump later
You can jump on this technique in the early stages of launching a product, or if you’re willing to solve an immediate problem. For instance, if you’re a product manager for an ecommerce website, you find your website sales plummeting down, and you have gathered your team to brainstorm a solution on how to increase your sales and channel traffic to your website. Start by handing everyone a stack of sticky notes.
Ask everyone to brainstorm as many ideas as they can in 10 minutes. Use one slip for each idea. Now, ask them to take their 5 best ideas and present them to the group. Some of the most mind-blowing solutions come from ordinary minds, spurred on by the urgency of the moment. But for that to happen, you need to heed every solution that you can get your hands on.
After you’ve listened to each proposal, quickly go over the pros and cons of each. After you eliminate all ideas that fail to spark your fancy, you will be left with one. Even if that solution doesn’t resonate well with you, go for the next technique below.
2) The 2×2 approach
The following technique will be your clutching straws when you are boxed in by multiple options to choose from. If you are done and dusted with the first practice and still find yourself floating in a sea of untapped ideas, just draw a 2×2 matrix on the whiteboard, and start your work from there. Now pick 3 people from your team who are known as fast decision-makers.
Next, pen down Urgent vs. Important on one axis, and Effort vs impact on the other. This method, also known as the Eisenhower Matrix, can help you take well-informed decisions built on the ideas that came from your team. Although, it might seem difficult sometimes to choose between two decisions contrasting for acceptance, with this method, you’ll be able to differentiate between Urgent Vs Important tasks. If your thinking process is clouded, this technique can help clear out the clutter and put things in perspective, helping you focus on that one big idea.
3) The Voting Dots
When you have a host of stellar solutions at your disposal, and you find yourself at a dead-end, unable to decide on the best one, use this technique to vote for the most feasible one.
The great thing about this technique is that you’ll be able to judge your product, your project, or even a new category, based on votes given by real people. For instance, when we designed Taskque – an online task management tool, this technique helped us derive the interface of the app.
We took all the features that we wanted in the app and allocated a dot for each. We assigned a scale ranging from 3 – 5 for each feature and asked our team to rate each dot based on the need for that feature in the app. When the voting was completed, the features with the most dots won, and were included in the app.
4) The stack rank
The following technique helps when you have a stack of items that need submission but you don’t know which one to do first. For instance, my friend who owns an ecommerce website, provides same-day delivery service. Now, there comes days when he is required to deliver more than 500 orders promptly. To make good on his commitments, managers gather around and write the name of each delivery area on a chit. He starts by stacking the orders of each area in the same heap. Once all the areas are categorized, the sticky notes are stacked together in an orderly manner. Sorting is done based on areas nearest to the company. After the sorting, everything becomes clear and riders can conduct deliveries in a systematic manner instead of running berserk throughout the city.
5) The rapid feedback round
This maneuver can work wonders when you are pressed for time and your team is unfamiliar with the ideas, but you need to take the right decision. A good example can be that of a mobile app. You have launched a successful app but have your doubts on how much marketing budget you should spare for the first quarter. In order to make the right decision, you need input from stakeholders and the experts who are already working in that niche. Select a facilitator who can lead the exercise and keep track of the time. A prudent way is to pen down a short description for each idea and collect feedback on that idea from all parties involved.
Keep the description as succinct and unambiguous as possible. It should answer all the basic questions, such “Why is the app important to the user?”, “What is the significance of colors that are used in the interface, & what are the specific features that set the idea apart from the competitors? Allocate only 60 seconds to each idea and rotate all the ideas among every participant.
The idea is to glean rapid feedback from the stakeholders involved, and see what they have in mind. Once you’re done with the feedback, you’ll be able to decide which idea is grabbing more attention and recognition. Move forward with that idea and leave the rest behind.
To wrap it all up
You now have a set of ideas that have been improved by leveraging internal expertise. Use one or a few of the other techniques described here to decide which ideas to move forward with and validate with real users.