Decision Making and Problem Solving: Balancing Risk to Mission and Risk to Force


What is something that all of us do on a daily basis? We either make decisions or solve problems. The big question then: Are we making good decisions and effectively solving problems? Many of us make decisions or solve problems without giving it much thought, we just do it. It’s not good or bad, we typically have experience in the areas we deal with on a daily basis so the process comes naturally. Do we take the time to ask ourselves: Are the decisions made or problems solved just OK, or could they be better? What if we had a consistent repeatable process that would help us to make consistently better decisions and solve problems more effectively?

Focusing on the decision-making side, the first question is how much time do I have to make this decision? What we are really doing is assessing the situation. This is the first step in the process. The next thing to consider is, what are my resources and how can I balance them moving forward? Once we have assessed the situation and proceed to balance our resources we need to communicate the decision – sometimes that may just be walking it through in our head or at other times sharing it with others. After we assess, balance, and communicate the decision, we next need to just go ahead and do it and see how it works out. Most of us stop there, but in a high-velocity learning environment we can add an assessment or debrief to see how the decision worked out. Was it OK, good, really good, or was it phenomenally bad and determine what we have, or can be, learned from the decision. If you haven’t noticed yet, we have just walked through the ABCD of time-critical risk management; it is a consistent, repeatable process we can use to make decisions, day in and day out, on and off-duty. If we have more time we can incorporate deliberate or in-depth portions of operational risk management, but most of us live in the time-critical phase. The other thing to consider here is the iterations of the process to come to a decision. Many times, as is the case of the ABCD model you can make a number of iterations of the process to come to a decision. The more time you have, the more iterations you can make in walking through the steps of your process, the less time, the fewer iterations. Does it end there? Making decisions is just part of our day; we also have to problem-solve.

Just like with making decisions, solving problems will benefit from using a consistent, repeatable process. The nice thing about problem solving is you have more options or tools at your disposal, so that requires a decision on your part. They are applicable in different areas so it is important to get familiar with the tools that are available to you, again, another decision on your part. You see, you just can’t get away from decision making!

Some options that come to mind are:

The Scientific Method – which, for you bigger brained people out there, is an equation that you can walk through to create a hypothesis, determine the way you think it should work or probable outcome, gather some examples, test your process, did it work the way you thought or not, and why did it come out that way? If it worked out and you understand why, problem solved. If it didn’t work out or you didn’t understand why so it can replicate elsewhere, you go back to your assumptions or hypothesis.

Lean/Six Sigma – the idea that everything has a place and everything is in its place. Sort, set, shine, standardize, and sustain are the 5S of Lean; this also establishes processes where you can clearly see if there is a deviation from the norm.

5S of High Velocity Edge (Dr. Steven J. Spear) – See, swarm, solve, share, and spread. See the problem, swarm the experts on it, solve the problem, share it internally, and spread it externally to benefit the organization.

These are just three examples of tools you can use to solve problems, other tools to use in helping standardize your processes or functions to aid in problem solving are: plan, brief, execute, and debrief (PBED); plan, do, check, and act (PDCA); or define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC). Now that you have some resources to assist you in problem solving and decision making the next question is why?

The challenge we face every day is meeting our mission requirements while preserving our people and our resources. If you implemented the previously discussed process in your workspace or at home, it would go a long way in helping you and those around you find that balance of risk to mission and risk to force.

About michael.morris