Management by Decisions

Many of my posts focus on Decision Management, a first-order business/technical process that includes the following elements:

  • Plan Decisions: Frame the problem to be solved as an explicit decision model.
  • Make Decisions: Synthesize alternatives, evaluate alternatives, assess risks/opportunities, capture rationale, etc.
  • Manage Decision Consequences: Proactively control the ripple effect of decisions on plans and requirements.
  • Manage Decisions Over Time: Roadmaps!
  • Manage Decisions Across Domains: Leverage decision patterns everywhere.

Today let’s flip that around and think about Management … by Decisions.

What’s the best way to effectively manage any significant business, project or organization?  I believe it’s by focusing everyone on the decisions that create the value within your world.


I have worked for and consulted with many organizations that used Management by Objectives (MBO) as their primary tool for keeping everyone focused on a set of common business goals and flowing those goals down the organizational hierarchy.  I certainly agree that it’s a great thing for every team or team member to understand the set of measurable goals that have been assigned to them.  These objectives form a N-dimensional box (a trade space in Systems Engineering terms) which guides the team toward their leaders’ definition of success.  But objectives/goals are not enough.

Each individual in an existing organization can only build on existing strategies, capabilities, systems, products or plans; few have the authority to do a “greenfield” design or re-architect 100% of an existing business to achieve a new set of objectives.  Therefore, along with the objectives/goals, leadership must communicate to their subordinates where they have full freedom of design and where they are constrained by prior decisions.  Management must bound the problem space for the team by identifying which decisions are out-of-bounds vs. in-play.

That fact demands that the goal hand-off be accompanied by some form of explicit decision model, e.g. a Top 10 Decisions List for the team or individual that provides a decision baseline upon which to create a strategy to achieve these goals. For each “open” decision the baseline should include:

  • A decision title and scope description, framed as a solution-independent question.
  • A clear statement of the incumbent (legacy, AS-IS) alternative that needs to be enhanced or replaced to achieve more demanding business objectives
  • Some sense of the decision’s priority/importance to guide subordinates time investments and focus them on the most critical issues to resolve.

Management may suggest certain courses of action (alternatives) that they have considered, but should do so in a way that doesn’t induce tunnel vision or bias on the team.  If not included in the goals, management should also communicate any constraints (budget, staffing, time, policy) that will limit the range of viable solutions.  Teams need to know how “frisky” they can get with the current business.

Armed with a decision baseline, each team has the data required to stimulate innovation, guide evaluation, communicate progress and bound enthusiasm with realism.  They have the best chance to achieve or exceed their objectives.

Whether you are using MBO or one of its cooler, modern derivatives (e.g. Balanced Scorecard) as your management framework, you’ll be more successful if both you and your subordinates share a common, visible, explicit decision model of your enterprise and use those decisions as your primary tool for strategic alignment.

About decisiondriven

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