Transform your thinking

Really important changes start in our minds.  If you are attempting to transform your business, create disruptive innovations or make a significant difference in some grand challenge, you will most likely be limited by your fundamental thinking skills.  That’s not to trash passion or persistence, but even the most motivated among us need clear-eyed and integrative thinking to put together the pieces of the puzzle that creates our future.


There is nothing hidden about my beliefs in this area – your future is created by your decisions, so Decision Management skills are the real differentiators that will set you apart as an entrepreneur, executive, strategist, innovator or engineer.

As I have often noted (perhaps lamented or whined), the cross-cutting skills of Decision Management are not generally perceived as a single integrated process or first-tier business capability.  Strategic Planning is considered a first-order business process.  So is Portfolio Management.  Requirements Management rules the roost in most Engineering organizations. Design Thinking has attracted a large and passionate following. Project Management has its own discipline, certification regime and published Body of Knowledge. Risk Management is highly regarded as well.

But DECISIONS cut across all of these processes, provide the glue that ties them together and the engine that powers them all.  You can’t do any of these processes well without great Decision Management skills.  And you can improve your personal and organizational Decision Management capabilities by at least 10X (speed, quality, creativity, buy-in) with a commitment to become an eager and lifelong learner in this area.

At Decision Driven® Solutions, we understand that individuals have lots of ways to learn new skills.  To promote Decision Management understanding, we offer a University Plan in which we will provide our software tool suite, the Decision Driven® Solutions Framework (DDSF), at no charge as part of a business or engineering curriculum.  We’ll help you (the professor) apply one of our decision patterns to your course materials and co-design a hands-on exercise or team project that utilizes these patterns and builds leading-edge thinking skills into your students.

For corporate clients, we offer a free jump-start trial in which we do the heavy lifting:

  • Reverse engineer a part of your strategy or product design against our proven decision patterns.
  • Facilitate you through a current, high-priority decision
  • Build a roadmap of your strategy or product to plan your next set of chess moves.

This “learn-while-doing” approach creates both skills and immediate, tangible value for your organization.

We’re planning a set of outreach webinars to provide another venue for learning our Big Ideas and how to creatively apply them to your world.

Our Getting Started Guides provide a good summary of the key concepts and skills for those of you who are highly motivated and prefer to take the “self-taught” path.

Of course, I write this blog as an informal outreach on behalf of better thinking skills.

While I would love to sell you lots of software tools to help you scale up your Decision Management capabilities and integrate them into your future-creating business processes, I know that long-term lasting change starts in your brain.  I encourage you to plug into one of our educational tracks to accelerate your growth.

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Decisions = learning that lasts

This week I was reminded of the importance of lifelong learning and further convinced that a well-framed decision is one of the best ways to pass on skills to others.  I found myself on this train of thought after reading an intriguing post concerning the challenges that my grandsons face in today’s education system, “9 Elephants in the (Class)Room That Should Unsettle Us“.  I traveled farther down that track as I worked with my marketing team on a Content Management System (CMS) decision.

My conclusion: Nothing teaches practical skills more deeply or lastingly than a well-framed decision.

I’ll use a few of Will Richardson’s Classroom Elephants to illustrate.

We know that most of our students will forget most of the content that they “learn” in school … because the curriculum and classroom work they experience has little or no relevance to students’ real lives.

I saw just the opposite behavior when helping my marketing co-ops with the Content Management System (CMS) choice.  This is a real decision; important to us all.  I teed up the problem, i.e. framed the initial decision “question” and generated a list of criteria that define success from my perspective as a business owner.

By doing so, I taught them several important life lessons well-beyond the scope of this one decision:

The need for teamwork – that different folks play different roles that contribute to making a great decision.  Stakeholders “own” the problem, technologists conceive or deeply understand potential solutions and analysts/evaluators pull together the relevant knowledge from multiple sources (e.g. SME interviews, web research) to inform the decision. Success in business or life is rarely the result of individual heroics.

Completed staff work – I was exposed to this management principle in my first professional job as a result of a CEO memo sent to all employees. “In Completed staff work, the subordinate is responsible for identifying the problem or issue requiring decision by some higher authority. In written form such as a memorandum, the subordinate documents the research done, the facts gathered, and analysis made of alternative courses of action. The memo concludes with a specific recommendation for action by the superior.”

After my initial hand-off to the team, I quickly faded into a background role as a content source, but avoided day-to-day involvement in the decision analysis process.  I had identified an important criterion, SEO Effectiveness, but I left it up to the team to research the various metrics used to express this in quantitative terms.  I suggested some initial CMS alternatives, but left it to the team to elaborate them into fully-formed, creative solutions.  I’m dodging direct participation in scoring alternatives; I want the team to assess the relative effectiveness of the alternatives against each criterion, to summarize the differentiators between the competing solutions and to judge when they have sufficient data to pull the trigger and make a recommendation.

We know that deep, lasting learning requires conditions that schools and classrooms simply were not built for.

Richardson highlights the conditions that lead to great learning:

  • an interest and a passion for the topic,
  • a real, authentic purpose in learning it,
  • agency and choice,
  • fun learning it even if some of it was “hard fun.”,
  • impact beyond the classroom walls.

Turning a team loose to attack a challenging decision sets up most of these conditions for anyone with a pulse.

We know that grades, not learning, are the outcomes that students and parents are most interested in.

In business, there are no simple grades to give.  There are few clear-cut right-or-wrong answers – everything is a trade-off.  Answers can’t be generated at one sitting; most decisions require some level of experimentation or prototyping that stretches out the analysis timeline.  Even when a decision is made, it may take months or years to experience its outcomes.  There’s no teacher with a red pen waiting to assign a grade to your work at the end of the hour.

We know that separating learning into discrete subjects and time blocks is not the best way to prepare kids for the real world.

We live in an interdisciplinary world.  Decisions are the integrative mechanism through which knowledge from diverse disciplines is brought to bear on a shared problem.  In my Electrical Engineering and Physics courses at Rose-Hulman, I learned how to “plug-and-chug” my way through numerous equations, but didn’t realize at the time how those numbers were blended with other quantitative or qualitative judgments from other disciplines to make real-world decisions.

All of this reinforces my belief that the best thing you can do for an employee, co-worker or grandson is to give them responsibility for meaty decisions, challenge them to maintain a Top 10 Decisions List for their project(s) and help them see their job/life from the creative context of a set of decision patterns.

Do so and you will stimulate deep learning that lasts.


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Big Ideas: Decision Management

Because Decision Management (DM) is not widely recognized as a first-tier management or technical process, I often have to restate the Big Ideas on which DM is based.


For each idea (assertion of a truth that I’ve found useful), I’ve provided a “So what?” handle that shows the first step towards leveraging the idea to create new value in your world.  Here’s my current list:


    Manage them explicitly, holistically and proactively


    Expose this pattern and take control


    Start your project with a Decision Breakdown Structure


    Manage decision interactions and dependencies


    Manage decision-to-requirement traceability


    Manage decision-to-plan traceability


    Jump on them at the point of decision for maximum control


    Model wisely to improve decision quality and confidence


    Fast-forward to control your future


    Fix them forever; trace root cause to missing, poorly made or poorly implemented decisions


    Provide the tools to make your decision makers excel!

While I’ve written lots of posts that address these topics, I thought it would be useful for you to see them in one place.  Like any system, the real power of ideas comes with their combinations (the synergies among them) and their application.  I challenge you to take anyone one, pair or trio of these ideas and run an experiment to unlock their potential in your world.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help:

Look for follow-on posts as I delve more deeply into how to apply these principles.

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Ecosystem Design: Technical and Business Architectures

This week I’ve had ecosystems on the brain.  It started with an excellent discussion with a customer who is eagerly waiting for the release of our N-Squared tool so that he can model, better understand and communicate the business architecture of an industry that he is targeting.

It continued when I read Mani Vadari’s excellent summary of the disruptions that Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) are causing within the electric utility ecosystem.

The third strike was the walk I just finished down Fitch road, across Little Cedar Creek (picture background) on this blustery April day.  I draw inspiration from the natural ecosystem that surrounds me; enjoying the emerging green in the forest despite yesterday’s brief snow gale.

Ecosystem Design-creek

While my influence on the natural ecosystem is fairly limited, I am compelled to analyze and innovate almost daily in the technical and business ecosystems in which I participate.  My tool for doing so is to build mental models of the technical/solution architecture(s) within any domain and also the business architecture(s) that enable, deliver and sustain these solutions.  But a mental model stored in my head only creates personal value; making it visible and explicit within an Architecture and Interaction Management (N-Squared) software tool invites others to critique, add value and leverage these models for their own purposes.

I think of a Technical Architecture as a multi-layered model of a broad problem space, that includes:

  • Hierarchical decomposition of roles/functions/jobs-to-be-done, plus their interactions.
  • Solution elements, i.e. hierarchy of systems, subsystems and components that deliver these roles/functions/jobs, plus their real-world interactions/interfaces.

A Business Architecture follows a similar construct and represents the ecosystem players, their roles (e.g. Technology Developer, Solutions Integrator, Operator/End User) and interactions, i.e. the entire value chain for the problem domain.

A complete ecosystem model should capture both the Technical and Business Architectures.  Innovation can occur on either side of this model and trigger a disruption to the other side (see Mani’s discussion of how distributed energy technologies such as solar, wind and storage disrupt regulated electric utilities).  This puts a premium on explicitly understanding the interactions between the design decisions on either side of the model.

I think the ability to proactively manage decision interactions (before you pull the trigger on a new technical or business model innovation) is a critical new skill that will help companies survive and thrive in the face of rapid change.  This skill is easier caught than taught, so I’m happy to help you create your first complete ecosystem model and understand the ripple effects of your latest innovation.

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Strategic vs Operational Dashboards

It seems that management dashboards have been a popular business topic for well over a decade.  Senior managers are looking for any edge that will keep them ahead of the disruptive changes that their businesses face.

Strategic vs Operational Dashboards

Three of my more popular posts since 2008  address  aspects of the dashboard phenomenon:

Turn your business dashboard into a cockpit

Strategic vs operational excellence

Strategic Due Diligence – Decisions are the ultimate leading indicators

If you read these three posts in one setting, you’ll see they share some big ideas:

  • Your decisions create your future – you should manage them proactively.
  • Seeking continuous operational excellence through incremental improvements doesn’t guarantee strategic excellence. (or survival)
  • Strategic decisions call for a different management (and dashboard) paradigm than operational decisions / performance.

At a minimum, your management dashboard should expose the top 10 decisions for your business/project, communicate their current status and project the anticipated results of these decisions (estimated outcomes of the preferred alternatives) against key business and technical metrics.

We have created (and are refining with customer input) a Dashboard view for our Decision Driven® Solutions Framework that includes lots of typical business and project metrics (e.g. requirements traceability and compliance), hot-spot charts to identify changing information and stop-light charts to communicate problem/risk areas.  But our dashboard is unique; it can also highlight your future-creating decisions and share your best estimates of where these decisions will lead you.

It’s doubtful that you woke up this morning thinking, “I need a better decision management dashboard”, but it might be the leap ahead that makes all the difference for your business.

Look for our “official” Dashboard product announcement soon.

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Technology, Product and Strategy Roadmaps

Invariably, the highest rated posts on my Decision Driven® blog are those that address roadmaps.  Over the past 8 years, I’ve received thousands of hits on this topic. Recognizing that interest, we have developed a Roadmap video that highlights the unique concepts behind our Decision Driven® Roadmap tool.

Here’s a link to that video.


If you want to dive deeper, here are the most popular roadmapping posts.

Whether your roadmapping challenge concerns managing a portfolio of technologies, products or platforms or aligning your enterprise strategy, we believe our Decision Driven® Roadmap approach creates a unique framework for forecasting, planning and integrating all the moving parts (decisions and plans) that create the future of your business.

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Stretch the rules!

As a Hoosier, I’ve played, coached and watched my share of basketball.  Last weekend I attended 2 Big Ten tournament games and later watched two of my grandsons compete in 4 additional contests in one afternoon.  I won’t go so far as claiming that “Basketball is life”, but it certainly can be instructive in both life and business.  Here are few observations:

Practiced creativity: My grandsons are gym rats (literally the name of their league).  Gym rats look for every opportunity to get on the floor.  They rush onto court at time-outs and half-time of earlier games to get in as many shots as possible.  They are fun to watch because they often practice creative moves and shots without any fear or failure or embarrassment when they miss badly.  They just keep stretching their skills which then occasionally produce an in-game “Wow!” moment.

Innovators and business leaders can learn from this joyous experimentation.  As we age, the hard knocks of business and the peer pressure to always appear successful push us toward safer pathways.  We should carve out some “gym rat” time and space and attempt a few half-court spin-dribble hook shots within our carefully constructed strategies.

Initiate contact – be the aggressor: Whether playing offense or defense, successful teams are the decisive actors on the court.  They don’t shy away from contact with their opponents, knowing that most calls go against those who respond weakly, slowly or clumsily to the “take-charge” players.

When is the last time you put on a sustained “full court press” against your competitors or charged through their defensive positions with an explosive move?

Stretch the rules: We are taught throughout life to play by the rules.  My observation is that most successful basketball teams and players stretch those rules quite a bit.  I’m sure they were taught how to dribble without taking extra steps (traveling) or carrying/palming the ball when changing direction, but in game situations they often use these tactics to gain an edge.  And they get away with these actions more times than not.


I’m certainly not advocating doing anything illegal or immoral in business, but why accept the status quo (e.g. prevailing rules of the current business model or limits of current technology) as the only course of action?  Relentlessly challenge every industry-standard approach or purported best practice and stretch beyond them to create new value for your customers and your company.

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