Now that you have created some viable alternatives, it’s time to analyse and evaluate them so that you can choose which you will take forward to the implementation stage.
This may mean that, given your Criteria for the Ideal Solution and resource limitations, you select one clearly superior solution. It may also mean that you move to a test or pilot stage with a small number of potential solutions, because the final choice must be based on feedback taken from a real working environment.
Evaluating Alternative Solutions
You are now ready to begin evaluating your solutions. The method described below is intended to reduce the amount of time required for evaluation by first eliminating solutions which do not meet the constraints:
- Update Criteria of an Ideal Solution.
- Eliminate any non-viable alternatives which do not meet your criteria.
- Evaluate the remaining alternatives against the desired end result.
- Assess the risks.
- Make the decision.
1) Update Criteria Of An Ideal Solution
The Criteria of an Ideal Solution that you defined at the beginning of the project needs to be reviewed and amended to suit the insight and knowledge you have gained in your journey. The following questions provide guidance:
- What are the results required?
- What are the benefits desired?
- Any there obstacles or causes that need addressing?
- If the solution will be acceptable to the relevant stakeholders?
- What are the constraints that exist?
- What resources are available?
- What is the minimum acceptable result?
- What is the maximum level of disadvantages that are acceptable?
- Are there any other factors that must be considered?
Once you have updated the criteria for an ideal solution, review and categorise them into the following:
- Absolutely non-negotiable.
- Key, but could be negotiated.
- Nice to have.
2) Eliminate Non-Viable Solutions
At this stage you examine each solution in turn and reject those which do not meet all the non-negotiable constraints and criteria.
3) Evaluate The Remaining Solutions
Each of the remaining solutions is now examined. You can use the following questions to evaluate your solutions:
- Is it an accurate reflection of what would be ideal under the circumstances?
- Does it take account of the needs of all the people involved?
- Are there any conflicting or inconsistent results?
- Are the relative values free from bias or other distortions?
- Do they conform to departmental and organisational policies?
Keep in mind when reviewing the alternatives that:
- The solution is often a compromise between conflicting needs and between the advantages and disadvantages of the various alternatives, so a reliable decision strategy is to weigh up multiple criteria rather than look for black and white answers.
- Solutions which don’t meet the non-negotiable constraints and criteria are rejected, no matter how attached to them you may be.
- You may find that the relative priorities of your criteria change, for example cost or safety become more important as you get closer to a solution.
4) Assess the Risks
We’ve already discussed risk assessment in some depth during Step 5: Analyse the Risks. It is important to have those risks at hand as you make your final decision, because they will most likely form part of your business or implementation plan. Before accepting a solution, you must understand and document any associated risks.
5) Choose the Best Solution
Once you have a number of feasible solutions to your problem, it’s time to select the best one. At this stage in the process, the best solution may be obvious, yet a good problem solver will go the extra mile to ensure that:
- A particular alternative will solve the problem without causing other unanticipated problems.
- All the primary stakeholders will accept the alternative.
- Implementation of the alternative is possible and likely.
- The alternative fits within the organizational constraints.
Decisions are not always made by choosing the optimum mix of all the criteria of effectiveness. Instead the following strategies may be used in certain situations:
- Satisficing – refers to the selection of any solution which achieves a minimum set of requirements. It could be used when there is insufficient time for a detailed evaluation of all the options or insufficient information for a full evaluation.
- Maximising – refers to giving preference to one particular evaluation criterion e.g. employ the individual with the best telephone manner. This could be used when one criterion has a particular significance and when there is insufficient time or information for a full evaluation.
- Minimising – refers to giving preference to solutions with minimal disadvantage on a particular criterion e.g. buy the make of popular car which shows minimum depreciation.
Tools for comparing alternatives
If you have many alternatives to compare and relatively few criteria, then a useful tool is Thomas Saaty’s Analytical Hierarchy Matrix. This tool is valuable because it allows you to assess each alternative relative to the others, rather than having to assign quantitative ratings to each alternative.
The downside of this tool is that you can only compare against one criteria in each table, and it doesn’t help you to work out which criteria will have the ‘casting vote’.
DIAGRAM TO BE INSERTED SHORTLY
List your alternatives in columns and rows as in the table above. Starting with Alternative A, work across the columns in the table and rate each alternative against the others.
When the alternative under consideration has more value than the others then give the more valuable alternative a score of 1.
When the alternative has less value than the others then give the less valuable alternative a score of 0.
Add the scores for each row, and the highest score is the highest rated alternative according to your criteria.
Other decision analysis tools are available, many of which are best suited to a specific situation. Here are a few examples that you can use.
- Blindspot Analysis
- Decision tree analysis
- Grid Analysis
- Multi Voting
- Paired comparison analysis
- Six Thinking hats
The more you involve your primary stakeholders in the problem solving process, the more they will expect to have a say in the chosen solution. If your primary stakeholders represent a cross section of your organization, you can expect conflict, because their needs are different and they may therefore favour different solutions.
As the project manager, you should never hide behind a committee when making a decision. As valuable as consensus may be at times, it can also give the illusion of progress, just because there is harmony within the group.
Many personality and psychometric tests exist to reveal our habitual behaviours within groups, and one of the ways in which people differ is on their focus on the task versus the well-being of the group. Some people would focus on the task at hand and ignore conflict. Others would be so uncomfortable with conflict that they would happily lose sight of the task in order to maintain a pleasant working atmosphere.
In fact, conflict is healthy and productive when handled correctly. There are some simple guidelines that you can follow to achieve this:
- Everyone has a right to form and voice their own opinion
- Individual opinions are incomplete because the individuals that hold them are incomplete
- A person is always valuable, even if their understanding of the situation is incomplete
- No opinion or fact is sacred; everything can be questioned
- By rationally presenting and critiquing opinions and facts, a more complete understanding of the situation can be gained
- Debate is more valuable than consensus
- The aim is not to prove one opinion right; the aim is to form a more complete understanding of the situation
The danger of consensus is that it can hide the conflict that could arise from a valid difference of opinion. When one person gives in to the weight of opinion in the group, the result is known as ‘GroupThink’, and when that lone voice is lost, your team loses it objectivity. As project manager, one of your most important tasks at this stage is to manage different opinions, encouraging and developing them without trying to get everyone to agree and without resolving the conflict by creating a neutral compromise which in the end gives no-one what they need.
A compromise solution is generally not a good outcome, because it is the solution that the fewest people object to rather than the solution that meets the Criteria of an Ideal Solution most effectively.
Barriers to effective decision-making
The following details the most common reasons for making poor decisions:
- Acting impulsively
- Blind acceptance of subjective data
- Failure to clearly define the problem or decision
- Failure to consider all the alternatives
- Failure to consider external influences
- Failure to use evaluation techniques
- Half measures: Muddling through. Making the safest decision to avoid controversy but not dealing with the whole problem
- Inaccurate prediction of outcomes or effects
- Indecision: Avoiding decisions to escape the unpleasant aspects of risk, fear, and anxiety
- Lack of information
- Lack of method or process
- Lack of time
- Not having sufficient alternatives from which to choose from
- Overreacting: Letting a situation spin out of control; letting emotions take control
- Stalling: Refusing to face the issue; obsessive gathering of endless facts. Refusal to accept responsibility
- Unclear objectives
- Vacillating: Reversing decisions; half-heartedly committing to a course of action