Dealing with Difficult Decisions

Dagmar   Cole
Dagmar Cole Business Analyst / Project Manager, Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Dagmar Cole

We have all been there — that moment in the meeting when a problem is encountered and the stakeholders tell the BA, This is too difficult to us to decide; let's avoid this and move on.  But is that the correct course, or could this end up as a missed requirement?

The BA needs to be adept at identifying a decision task and follow a decision process by analyzing different alternatives to identify the best option.  The key point here is analyzing different alternatives.  If there is no alternative, there is no decision.  The trick is determining that no alternative exists rather than allowing stakeholders to evade addressing the problem.   

My process for managing decision tasks are:

  1. Define the problem.  The problem must be business-related and linked to a process currently under analysis.

  2. Identify the objective  There must be a specific business goal the problem is related to.

  3. Identify the alternatives.  The alternative must be associated with both the problem and objective.  If the alternative does not apply to both the problem and objective, then reject it.

  4. Identify the decision-maker(s).  The alternatives need at least one decision maker who may or may not be a stakeholder.  An example of a decision-maker who may not be a stakeholder is an attorney who needs to determine the legality of the alternative.

  5.  Review the alternatives.  Discuss each alternative in context of the problem, objective, and other business-related impacts, criteria, and policies.

  6. Select the outcome.  Consensus is arrived on a single alternative; a decision has been made. 

Identify if the problem is fixable; sometimes, the issue is truly so difficult it cannot be resolved.  If it is attainable, frame the problem in business terms and identify the business factors needed to both solve the problem and achieve the objective. 

As soon as the alternatives are drafted, begin to review with the decision makers and stakeholders.  Review is an iterative process as these discussions will eliminate some options and may identify new options.  Once the alternatives are narrowed, perform "what – if" analysis.   Decision tables are critical to documenting the decision and business rules, limitations and exceptions.   In my requirements document, I include a section to briefly identify the alternatives reviewed, why alternatives were discarded, and the reasons the outcome was selected.  What may have been an obstacle at the present may not exist in the future.  Two years from now, when the new business sponsor wants to know why such a stupid decision was made, the answer can be provided!

The outcome must be achievable — fit with the organization's strategy, policies, and legal environments.  The result is the selection of the 'best-fit', not the 'optimal'.  The stakeholders may not all agree on the outcome, but they will know due diligence was performed and the 'best' decision made based on the current environment. 

In the words of Elia Kazan:

"What's called a difficult decision is a difficult decision because either way you go there are penalties."

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Standard citation for this article:

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Dagmar Cole, "Dealing with Difficult Decisions" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 18, No. 10, (Oct. 2017)

About our Contributor:

Dagmar   Cole
Dagmar Cole Business Analyst / Project Manager,

Dagmar Cole has over twenty years of experience working in all facets of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Her interest in applying quantitative management techniques to software began at George Mason University. While majoring in Decision Science, she published a paper on Software Quality Assurance. Later, she published her master's thesis in strategic information systems planning at Marymount University.

As a business analyst and project manager, Dagmar continues her quest to apply quantitative techniques to the SDLC. She is an active member of the Fort Worth Chapter of IIBA and was a speaker at the IIBA BBC 2015 conference. She also has extensive training in conflict resolution and is returning to the IIBA BBC conference in 2016 to discuss conflict resolution.

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