Decision Breakdown Structure and Decision Networks

The central view of information in the Decision Driven Solutions Framework (DDSF) is called a Decision Breakdown Structure (DBS).  But the DBS is a lot more than just a way to display a decision model; it represents a way to break down any complex situation into manageable parts.

I came up with the concept of a DBS in the late 1980’s when I was an internal consultant and “process guy” at a defense contractor.  I had been teaching Problem Solving & Decision-Making workshops based on the Kepner-Tregoe thinking (“rational process”) methods.  They advocated a technique, Situation Appraisal, as a way to break down any situation into manageable issues and to build a plan of attack toward resolving those issues.  This technique produces a flat list of prioritized issues that could then be attacked with either Problem Analysis, Decision Analysis or Potential Problem Analysis (3 basic human thinking patterns).

However, I was teaching these methods to engineers and technical professionals who were designing complex systems.  I quickly discovered that the flat list of issues wasn’t adequate.  Issues were seemingly popping up out of nowhere that everyone knew could have been identified sooner.  Most of the issues that were identified by these systems engineering teams were decisions.  It was obvious there was a richer underlying pattern of decisions that could be used to anticipate these decisions as a team.  “Haven’t we made this same decision before on other projects?” was a common question; followed by “Then, why are we doing it again from scratch?”

It didn’t take very long turn a list of decisions into a tree that made it easier to make sense of the whole design.   I was also doing a lot of project management at the time.  Project management uses a tool called a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) to decompose a project into a tree or hierarchy of tasks.   So I coined a new term, Decision Breakdown Structure, to represent the tree of decisions that represent the thinking to be done in any design or strategy situation that calls for lots of decisions.  Each decision in this structure represents a fundamental question that demands an answer or solution.

I recognized immediately that a tree was just simplified view of richer structure called a network.  Think about a tree; it has a trunk that splits into main branches, then smaller branches, eventually getting down to the twigs that hold the leaves.  Every branch has one only one parent, but it may have many children.

However, a tree is a very simple model that doesn’t explain a lot of things.  What if what happens on one branch affects what happens on another twig or branch?   To describe this richer set of interactions you need a model called a “network”.  It was obvious that a decision made concerning one part of a system, business (or life) could affect many other decisions on other branches in the model.  So I needed a richer model to represent these interactions.  The Decision Network was born. The Decision Network is simply a DBS in which the interactions between individual decisions have been captured with explicit traceability so that multi-decision cross-constraints and tradeoffs can be better understood.

There are a lot of fine points associated how to build a “good” DBS for any complex situation.  And even more on how to leverage decision-to-decision traceability to manage the impact of one decision on others. However, most of my readers don’t want to become decision consultants; they just want to get some quick wins, make better decisions, gain or regain control of their lives, etc.  So it’s enough to know that the decision patterns that we provide with the Decision Driven® Solutions Framework (DDSF) have been refined through 20+ years of use across hundreds of situations.

I believe you will find them to be a powerful tools that are ready for use by everyday folks. In order to get started, please contact the Decision Driven® Solutions team at or to begin your DDSF trial today.

About decisiondriven

Innovator in Decision Management, Systems Thinking and System Engineering methods and tools
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