Structured Decision Management (SDM) and the Decision Driven® Approach

We make decisions continuously throughout our lives and making decisions is a core capability of the human species. How many times a day do you make a decision? There are many internet references to 35,000 Decisions a day (for example). Many of our decisions are made unconsciously (step first with the right foot). Many are low impact (tea or coffee). Our decisions scale up to company and life critical, some are reusable or actually repetitive. Some decisions have long-term and interacting effects. When there are a substantial number of interacting decisions that require substantial information from multiple sources sometimes requiring research (in the R&D sense) and possibly the experience and input from a diverse set of decision-makers that need to become supporters. Often, problems are solved tactically rather than strategically. Those decisions can generate preferred alternatives that conflict with previous choices or overly constrain later choices and precipitate downstream adjustment that can have significant impacts to resources or schedules. Even if a more realistic number for significant decisions a day is 1/100 or even 1/1000 of the 35,000, a transparent, scalable, reviewable method that can be baselined and iterated is needed.

The Decision Driven® Approach
The Decision Driven® Approach advocates a holistic view of the problem to be solved which reveals the interacting consequences of the set of selected alternatives. The Decision Driven® Approach primarily resides in the “knowledge work” part of product development, operational management, process development/management or business strategy and even life planning.

The Decision Driven® Approach recognizes that:
    ▪   decisions can be managed proactively
    ▪   each decisions can impact other decisions
    ▪   decisions can change over time (because of incorrect assumptions, changes in
        technology, changes in goals)
    ▪   decisions can result in single answers, multiple answers or multi-part answers
    ▪   decisions bring risks and opportunities
    ▪   addressing decisions in an appropriate order can substantially decrease the total
        time needed to complete a project or execute a process

The Decision Driven® Approach harnesses the natural human tendency and core human skill to make decisions and employs methods and processes to support systematic decision making, enabling decision management.

Additional context for the the Decision Driven® Approach

Structured Decision Management (SDM)
Once the scope or impact of decision making expands beyond a single, or a few sequential decisions, there can be enough impact to require a more formal effort. Structured Decision Management (SDM) systematically addresses sets of decisions that are needed to successfully solve an undesired situation (including new opportunities) that have greater impact (in time, resources, returns). The core methods of SDM are:
    ▪   plan decisions
    ▪   analyze decisions
    ▪   protect decisions
    ▪   manage decisions

These core concepts are simple, but the application of these methods can range from simple to quite complicated depending on the problem being addressed.

Process Flow
In a company environment, we would start with a goal, whether that be at the business or product level. Using Situation Appraisal boundaries are set on that goal and to formalize a top-level set of requirements (that is within our scope of control). As needed we apply problem analysis techniques to help with our understanding of the situation. Where we have options to address the “situation”, there are decisions to be made.

A decision network is developed to understand the interactions among the decisions. A plan is developed addressing the sequencing of the decision-making to minimize rework as alternates are selected and to gather/create the data for that decision making. This ‘development of data’ is the marketing data acquisition or R&D that we typically find in a project plan. The Decision Driven® Approach makes the decisions the driver for the ‘work’ rather than the decisions being cast-offs from the work and encourages recognizing the impact of the decisions and the amount of effort required to make them.

When we have addressed the decision network, we have completed the project. In the large picture, the business decisions are one area of a encompassing decision network that also includes engineering, production, logistics, maintenance and retirement. These areas of the large decision network can be broken into sub-projects after the high level interactions are captured to allow the correct resources to focus on their areas.

Green field, Brown field Projects
The previous process flow described a green field project where something new was called for with little previously existing options. In reality, green field projects are rare. There is a wealth of existing history of similar projects and processes which results in a brown field development. Here, if a Structured Decision process has been used, we can start with the pattern that was created in the previous project and use that as a base to determine what needs to change, and the impact those changes will produce. If a Structure Decision process has not been used we can ‘reverse engineer’ the decision network that had been applied and then work back through it, as if it had existed. This can be thought of as a Decision Pattern for a product line which has captured the knowledge developed on the previous project.

Additional activities that are Decision Driven®

  1. Project Management
    As “the work” is driven by the decisions we make, there is an obvious tie between the decision plan and the project plan.
  2. Technology Planning
    A way to plan technology availability and life cycle from the development perspective as an input to product planning
  3. Composite Timelines
    A way of visualizing business goals by displaying technology availability and marketing goals in a single view.
  4. Innovation
    Re-evaluating the decisions made in an existing product drives the thought process for disruptive ideas that lead to cost reduction, product enhancement and product extension to different market points or different markets.

Decision Driven® is a registered trademark of John Fitch. Used with permission.


The Decision Management Institute is an organization purposed to foster  the definition, awareness and application of Decision Management for society, science, business and life.

Specifically, the Decision Management Institute exists to:

  • Promote Decision Management as a first-order discipline and capability that enables innovation, collaboration and success in society, science, business and life.
  • Educate organizations and individuals on Decision Management best practices and the power of decisions to shape their future.
  • Promote the awareness, growth and use of decision patterns for business and life to improve decision speed/quality and accelerate learning.

We will accomplish this vision by creating a community, training and tools to promote the awareness and application of structured decisions,  decision patterns and best practices for their application.