Tools

How to Make EPICS Decisions

Uncertainty, politics, timing, resources—making the right call is rarely easy. And when we talk about decision making, we often ignore critical aspects of the decision making process in favor of speed or own biases.

In the workplace, few activities are as stress-inducing—and common!—as decision-making. From the politics involved in getting the right people onboard, to the risk of making the wrong choice, decision-making is fraught with potential pitfalls. Using a framework can reduce the uncertainty inherent in the process, and over time, lead to more consistent, better-informed decisions.

We’ve developed the EPICS Decision-Making Framework to address the five key aspects of decision making:

  • Engaging people
  • Problem Framing
  • Identifying Options
  • Choosing
  • Sizing Up

Engaging people
If there’s no clear rationale for who is involved in a decision, and at what point, teams will feel lost, misinformed, and upset over their involvement (or lack thereof). Establish a standard upfront to determine who is involved in the decision.

Tools

  • Stakeholder Analysis. A good starting point to determine who will be affected by the decision, and what their needs are.
  • The Decider. NOBL’s free Slackbot identifies key factors in the decision-making process to help you decide who should be involved in the decision.
  • RACI. A matrix used to clarify who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed.
  • RAPID. Bain and Company’s tool for determining who should Recommend, Agree, Perform, Input, and Decide.
  • Charrette Protocol. A method for getting others involved in providing feedback and contributing to a project.
  • Stepladder. A tool for avoiding groupthink, decision-makers are added to a discussion one by one and to present potential solutions.

Problem Framing
The way you frame the problem constrains the choices you can make about it. The original framing of the problem is rarely the best one, so beat it up a bit to find one that you have both the resources and the will to work on. Each framing moves you toward different solutions. For instance, if your bank account is getting low, you could frame the problem as:

  • “How do we cut expenses?”
  • “How do we get more clients?”
  • “How do we get existing clients to pay more?”

Tools

  • The Five Whys. Identify underlying issues and unspoken assumptions through focused, repetitive questioning.
  • Root Cause Analysis. A process for getting to the origin of the problem.
  • Total Question Workout. A practice for breaking down big questions into more specific questions in order to get better answers.
  • CATWOE. Part of Peter Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology, it breaks down problems into Customers, Actors, Transformation Process, Worldview, Owners, Operational Constraints.

Identifying Options
Once you are working on the right problem, organize what you know about the situation into a set of options. This will allow you to compare choices of action. None of the options will be perfect, but it will allow you to compare apples to apples instead of endlessly debating.

Tools

  • Brainstorming. Explore a variety of options without judgment before winnowing down to favorites.
  • Empathy Maps. A tool for understanding the state of the customer and their emerging needs.

Choosing
Once you have options, you will need to analyze outcomes to see which is the best. Remember, none will be perfect.

Tools

  • Scenario Planning. A “pre-mortem” (in other words, a hypothetical post-mortem) can help you address before they occur.
  • Risk Analysis. A process for identifying, evaluating, and managing risk.
  • Risk Impact and Probability. A matrix for assessing how a risk will affect the organization.
  • Cost/Benefit Analysis. A technique that assigns a monetary value to potential options.
  • Starbursting. A brainstorming technique that focuses on question generation.
  • Decision Matrix. A tool for rating options based on a variety of criteria.

Sizing Up
Finally, check to make sure your decision meets your goals and isn’t the product of groupthink or cognitive bias—tricks our mind plays that lead us to inaccurate conclusions.

Tools

  • Cognitive bias check. A quick check on common biases.
  • Blindspot analysis. A three-step approach to avoiding shortcuts.
  • Ladder of Inference. An illustration of how we draw from data to reach a conclusion, good for checking assumptions and biases at each step.
  • Even overs. An exercise to align on the trade-offs that you’re making for a given decision.
Published April 15, 2019

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