Making Evidence-Based Decisions
This quality management principle can help you achieve organizational success.
Decisions are required all the time, both small and large. How to run a business? What to do about customer complaints? What should you have for lunch?
As you may have guessed, with the exception of lunch, gut feelings are not the way forward. Rather, data is king. Of course, this should be no surprise to the quality professional. Organizations should make sure data is accessible, accurate, and reliable. It should be gathered, analyzed and then of course, used. Decisions should be made based on it.
As ISO states, “Decisions based on the analysis and evaluation of data and information are more likely to produce desired results.”
There are many benefits to making decisions this way. In addition to having a more ordered and logical process, the results are likely to be better. And the post-decision malaise can be avoided. Rather than second-guessing your previous decisions, you can feel comfortable knowing that they were made with the best possible information. The goal is to make decisions objectively, and to feel confident about those decisions after the fact.
If you’re looking to up your decision making game, there a few ways to go about it.
- According to ISO, here are ways to make decisions the evidence-based way:
- Determine, measure and monitor key indicators to demonstrate the organization’s performance.
- Make all data needed available to the relevant people.
- Ensure that data and information are sufficiently accurate, reliable and secure.
- Analyse and evaluate data and information using suitable methods.
- Ensure people are competent to analyze and evaluate data as needed.
- Make decisions and take actions based on evidence, balanced with experience and intuition.”
This last point is worth noting: data analysis should be balanced with practical experience. The numbers tell the story, but it is important not to discount experience. In other words, intuition can provide some guidance but make sure the data backs it up.
If you have a big decision to make, some tools may help you navigate the fog. One helpful decision-making tool is the decision matrix. As explained by ASQ, it’s also called a “Pugh matrix, decision grid, selection matrix or grid, problem matrix, problem selection matrix, opportunity analysis, solution matrix, criteria rating form, criteria-based matrix.”
“A decision matrix evaluates and prioritizes a list of options,” according to ASQ. “The team first establishes a list of weighted criteria and then evaluates each option against those criteria. This is a variation of the L-shaped matrix.”
Lest you think this is too difficult to implement, know that the time it takes to familiarize yourself with it will pay off once you streamline your decision making process.
It can be used for a variety of decisions, and not just in manufacturing. In fact, in one recent New York Times article (“The Best Way to Pick an Apartment? Try a Decision Matrix”), a data-driven couple found an apartment using this scientific method. This allowed them to rank their criteria and consider how important certain factors—location, laundry, square feet—were overall. (And the gentleman involved says he even used it to decide if they should be a couple at all.) Clearly it has a range of uses.
Try it for your next difficult decision. It may be the help you need in considering all the options available.
But of course that’s not the only decision-making tool. Another option is multivoting, which, as described by ASQ, “narrows a large list of possibilities to a smaller list of the top priorities or to a final selection. Multivoting is preferable to straight voting because it allows an item that is favored by all, but not the top choice of any, to rise to the top.”
Though these decision-making tools are useful, sometimes it’s more important to back up and consider the information needed before you can move ahead in the process.
Before making a decision, it is often necessary to gather data from a variety of sources. But how to go about this process? Like Goldilocks, you need it to be just right. Too much information wastes time and resources. Too little means you may be missing some important piece of the puzzle. Determining just what information you need is the best approach—before you begin hunting down stats.
Though it is tempting and a common fallacy, gathering all the possible data is not useful. A surplus of data only makes for more information to wade through before getting to the critical part.
As Bernard Marr writes in Forbes, the goal is to identify unanswered business questions. “By working out exactly what you need to know, you can focus on the data that you really need,” he writes. “Your data requirements, cost and stress levels are massively reduced when you move from ‘collect everything just in case’ to ‘collect and measure x and y to answer question z’.”
From there, it’s time to find the answers to those questions. This involves working out if costs are justified, collecting and analyzing the data, presenting and distributing that information, and at last, using the data to make decisions. The process should be done carefully so as to arrive at the optimal solution.
Instead of wrestling over a decision, it’s time to rest easy knowing you made the best choice with the information you had.