Corona virus: An opportunity for better collaboration

Written by Stuart Easton


 corona image

I'm scared that someone I care about will get ill. I'm fascinated to see how fast it's spread. I'm frustrated at people panic-buying toilet paper. I'm terrified of being stuck at home with the kids for 2 months. I'm simply fed up of the whole thing.

Whatever your reaction to the novel corona virus, COVID 19, relatively few people are looking at it and saying, "I'm excited - this is a real opportunity for us to improve some core processes!"

But that's just what it is.

Right now, in the heart of this crisis, we have the opportunity to find new, better ways to collaborate effectively and efficiently. This is especially true (and impactful) when it comes to making the decisions that matter most to the business.

The problem with remote decision-making

Most significant decisions in an organization are collaborative. Yes, there's usually one ultimate decision-maker, but that person is surrounded by a constellation of stakeholders and subject matter experts.

To keep business going during this Covid crisis, we have to somehow connect all these people together in the right way and at the right time, all while working remotely.... yet this "problem" is exactly where the opportunity lies.

The research - why it's an opportunity

Research into corporate decision-making shows that decision-making is a rather hit-and-miss affair. In his book, Why Decisions Fail, leading decision-science researcher Prof. Paul Nutt describes how around half of decisions turn out to be "bad".

This is usually not about a lack of "data". All those reports, data marts and big data algorithms can provide phenomenal insight and the bottleneck has shifted.

The bottle-neck is now the process of group decision-making. It's all about people, people working together, actually making the decision.

Coming back to Paul Nutt's research, half of decisions end in failure. In extreme situations, poor decisions can lead to a complete train-wreck and the wrecking of careers or even the loss of a whole company (yes, really - sounds like a blog for another day!)

decision making matters

Here's the real insight. Practically every decision failure is preventable.

And collaboration is key.

Decisions made using high quality participation - a.k.a good collaboration - succeed 80% of the time.

So, if we can use this disruption to "business as usual" to implement new ways to make decisions, we could improve our "decision success rates" from 50% to 80% -- that's a pretty huge opportunity.

And if we can embed this way of working over the next couple of months, during the time when remote collaboration tools are seen as necessary, there's no reason to lose this improvement in decision quality when your team is released from captivity!

How can we take advantage of this opportunity​?

The answer is pretty simple. Leverage the decision science to improve the way we collaborate on decisions.

There are a number interesting methods that have been developed by really clever academics for collaborative decision-making. For example, in the area of project prioritization, two methods (AHP and DEA) were recently found to be the ONLY suitable methods for making project prioritization decisions (*Danesh et all, 2017). All those spreadsheets...? They are not really effective!

AHP - the Analytic Hierarchy Process - in particular has been shown to be effective way beyond project prioritization. It's been shown (by independent academic researchers, for the most part) to work in decision-making in areas such as;

  • Project prioritization
  • Vendor selection
  • Technology selection
  • Design selection
  • Site / route selection
  • The development of government policy
  • Budgeting
  • Strategic planning
  • Infrastructure maintenance
  • Investment management

The list goes on.

Now, "the Analytic Hierarchy Process" sounds scary, but isn't. Basically, it's a structured collaboration process that helps align your stakeholders around the criteria you should use to make a decision, to structure the evaluation of alternatives and then to structure the decision-making itself. You can click here if you'd like to learn about how AHP works.

It's designed to be collaborative and tools like TransparentChoice and Expert Choice move the whole process online.

Free TCH Software - AHP-1

So, the need to be able to work online, remotely, on decisions could trigger you to try AHP... and that could transform the quality of decision-making right across your organization.

So how do you feel about COVID-19 now?

Excited about the opportunity?

I am.

* Danesh, D., Ryan, M.J. and Abbasi, A. (2017) ‘A systematic comparison of multi-criteria decision making methods for the improvement of project portfolio management in complex organisations’, Int. J. Management and Decision Making, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp.280–320. 

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