Ten Minutes to Faster Decisions – Part 2

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on November 03, 2010 in: Tips in 10, Tools & Resources

As a business owner, I’m sure that you face decisions, choices, and even problems every single day. If the choice is clear, it’s easy to take action. But sometimes the choice is not clear and sometimes the problem has choices buried in it that you need to identify first.

In the last article of Tips In Ten I started talking about how to make faster decisions and I gave you 2 tools to help: I introduced you to a mindset that will empower you to make faster decisions and I showed you how you can restate decisions (or problems) in order to crystallize your thinking and explore the decision more fully before you move forward.

In this article of Tips In Ten, I’m giving you one more tool that is really useful to take the things that you thought about in the last tool and to help you sort them down into what is likely going to be the best decision.

Again, I offer up the same disclaimer that I gave you in the last issue: Make sure that the time you spend on decisions is relative to the importance of the decision. These tools can make decision-making faster (and it often can be sped up) but that doesn’t mean that every decision should take ten minutes. Some will take ten seconds, some will take ten minutes, and some need to take ten days… or more. Ideally, these tools will help you speed up the time it takes to reach a good decision, but they will never accelerate all decision-making to ten minutes.
Here is the third tool to help you make better decisions:

Tool #3: Table of Elements

When you are faced with a decision and you’re trying to weigh between 2 or more choices (especially after you’ve restated them and come up with even more choices!) this tool will help.

Start by creating several columns. The number of columns you create will depend on the type of decision you have to make and I’ve used as many as 10 or 12 columns and you might end up needing more.

In the left-most column, write down each of your choices (which you created in tool #2). I’ll work through an example to demonstrate. Let’s say that I’m trying to decide between 3 products that I’d like to develop to sell. So I write down my 3 product ideas in the left column.

Then, in the columns to the right, write down different elements that make up or influence the action if you were to act on that choice. You’re just trying to come up with factors that might sway your decision one way or the other. Sometimes it will include the amount of effort involved or the convenience it offers or the potential return.

For example, if you were exploring the creation of a few different products to sell, you might have columns for:

  • Up-front development cost
  • Time to completion
  • Size of market

… just to name a few. (I’ll just use these 3 factors as an example, but you’ll probably want to think of more. Price of product, profitability of product, and relevance to current clientele come to mind as additional factors to include).

To give you another example, if you were thinking about buying a house but couldn’t decide between 10 different houses, you’d write down each house in the left column and then write down elements that would influence the decision in the right columns. For example, you might include:

  • Proximity to schools for the kids
  • •Ease of access to route to work
  • Amount of work required to fix house
  • Price of house

… and so on.

Makes sense so far? You’ve got a chart with your choices in one column and influencing factors along the top row.

Now, here’s where the tool becomes really useful: For each influencing factor, reverse rank all of your choices in that column. If you have 10 choices, rank them 10 (the best) to 1 (the worst). If you have 19 choices, rank them 19 (the best) to 1 (the worst).

Back to our example: We reverse rank each product idea based on the up-front development time. Since there are 3 products, our ranking is 3-1, with 3 being the best and 1 being worst. We decide that product one will be really affordable to development, product three will be average, and product two will be expensive to develop. So we reverse rank our choices like this:

Now do the same for each column.

In our example, we reverse rank the time to completion. Product two will be really slow. Product one and three are going to be fairly quick but we decide that product three would be the quickest. So we rank them like this:

See how easy this is? Last, we rank the size of the market. It turns out, product two has the biggest market, product one has a medium-sized market, and product three has a tiny market. So we reverse rank them like this…

Now that we’ve done all the ranking, we simply add up the columns. The highest numbered choice will be the most likely choice while the lowest-numbered column will be the least likely choice.

In our chart, we add up the three columns in the product one row to get 7, we add up the three columns in the product two row to get 5, and we add up the three columns in the product three row to get six.

So, we’ll likely go ahead with product one since it has the highest score.

“But Heather…”

Now, there are a few “buts” that some of you might have, so let me address them below:

“But Heather, one influencing factor might be far more important than another influencing factor.”

That is true but my purpose here isn’t to give you a tool that gives you THE answer. That’s your job. The purpose of these tools is to help you think through your decisions quickly and easily so that you’ll feel fully informed (or, as informed as possible) so you can act. You’re still the one making the decision and maybe (using the example above) you might decide that product two’s market size is the most compelling and important factor and therefore you choose product two based on that decision. The tool didn’t fail; it still worked to help you sort through what you feel are the most important and least important factors and it forced you to consider at the very end what was the most critical factor in your mind.

“But Heather, I have a hundred different choices and I’ll be at this all day.”

That does happen. I’ve found it easier to handle up to about 20 to 25 choices maximum. To solve an over-abundance of choice, you might want to consider grouping a few of them. Or, you might consider performing this chart tool in a two stage format with some really simple influencing factors to quickly sort down from 100 to 25 and then once you have a more manageable number, you can apply a more complex version with a full set of influencing factors.

“But Heather, I have several choices and when I added up the rows, a few of them were tied.”

This happens sometimes. I don’t mind it when it does because it means that I’m not making a decision for nothing: I have to really think through something if several choices seem equal to me. When that happens, I introduce more influencing factors and/or, I put it aside for the day and come back to it tomorrow. Both of those help me to think a little deeper about the decisions.

What comes next?

I’ve shown you how to adopt a decisive mindset that realizes you can’t be perfect but you still need to take action. And, I’ve shown you how to crystallize your thinking when it comes to stating your decisions and understanding what they are really about. And then, I gave you a tool so you can rank your choices based on important factors.

These are going to be useless if they don’t compel you to action. Using the things you’ve learned here, adopt a “get it done” policy where you make a decision in as short a time as possible, trust yourself to have made a good decision, and then move forward in confidence.

At this point, you can use any number of great project management and time management tools to act on the decision you’ve made.

Decisions can be easier, faster, and more enjoyable to make when we trust ourselves and have the right tools at our disposal.

Heather Recommends:

Running a business can be busy, challenging work. I can help you become more productive and successful. Find out how.