Non-trivial decisions – by their very definition, are crucial. Crucial by demanding the asking of the right questions. Crucial to requiring the implementation of the right actions.
Simple – day to day – decisions generally require simple approaches. As problems become more wicked and are characterised by greater uncertainty, decision-making requires clear approaches. Approaches which have a rich appreciation of context. Approaches with built-in ways to help focus on what matters – on vulnerabilities. Approaches which seek to be as informed as possible under the circumstances.
An early pioneer in supporting such good decision-making processes – through what he called “crucial” decisions was Irving Janis. His work still stands up to scrutiny today when tested against the criteria we outline below. His book “Crucial Decisions: Leadership in policymaking and crisis management” has been on my bookshelf since it was first published – indeed, I am now on my third or fourth copy because mates keep borrowing it – and putting it on their bookshelves! He became an icon because of his groundbreaking work on countering “groupthink” – but it is his “vigilant decision making” I love most. A proactive contribution.
In the very recently published – and excellent – book “Deciding: a guide to even better decision making”, the authors – Grant Purdy and Roger Estall – highlight that “most organisations’ Business Continuity Plans … have proved useless because they focused on specific events and not generally the organisation’s vulnerability and how that can be reduced, and how decision making can be enhanced when a disruption occurs. Mostly, they’ve been cast aside by decision-makers as totally irrelevant!“
With AgileBCP we address precisely these “Business Continuity Plan” problems – by focusing on vulnerability and how it can be reduced before impact. By addressing isolated and siloed plans (as documents) with well-informed conversations supporting both sense-making and criteria-based decisions.
As noted in the International Crisis Management Standard, “crises through a combination of their novelty, inherent uncertainty and potential scale and duration of impact, are rarely resolvable through the application of predefined procedures and plans. They demand a flexible, creative, strategic and sustained response“. There is always a tension, nicely expressed by Louise Comfort whereby “… structure, introduced into operations by design, is both a means of limiting error and of clarifying choices for action by multiple participants over time in complex environments. The challenge lies in designing this structure in ways that achieve the stability desired for effective performance of the management system, without restricting the flexibility required for adaptation to changing conditions.” (Comfort, L.K. (ed.) (1988) Managing Disaster: Strategies and Policy Perspectives. p. 18. London: Duke Press.]) The workflows we have built into AgileBCP both recognise and address this tension.
We make the assumption that ‘agility’, ‘flexibility’ and ‘adaptability’ will be key concepts that should be part of all decision making. In addressing this assumption, we emphasise that both BEFORE and AFTER IMPACT, Top Management should focus on five primary decision points:
(1) What is the current condition? (context)
(2) What are the vulnerabilities? (detection)
(3) What do the vulnerabilities mean? (recognition and interpretation)
(4) Who needs to know what? (communication to multiple stakeholders)
(5) Who needs to do what? (organization of a collaborative system)