Friday, 15 August 2008

A Visual Language for Business Decision Making

image Earlier this week I spoke to Tim Van Gelder of Austhink to understand more about business decision mapping and the bCisive tool.  Tim is a cognitive scientist, an Associate Professor (Principal Fellow) in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, Australia and CEO of Austhink, the software developers of bCisive (You can read more about Tim on Wikipedia here).

For many years, Tim  has been developing and evaluating an approach to improving reasoning and critical thinking skills, known variously as The Reason Method, and LAMP ("Lots of Argument Mapping Practice").  Out of this has developed a specific application for business called business decision mapping.

image The philosophy of business decision mapping is based on study of the way in which people make decisions. Either as individuals or in groups we prefer to deliberate, debate and weigh arguments.

Most people will be familiar with the matrix method supporting business decisions. A list of criteria are weighted and scored, often using a spreadsheet. The totals are compared to identify a winner.  Yet this doesn't always end the process. What often follows is a discussion as people express their surprise at the result and begin to debate its pros and cons. This can lead to the options being reviewed again, outside of the matrix, and it is this conversation that benefits from direction, capture and subsequent communication. Instead of providing the basis for the decision, the spreadsheet and other data are relegated to a supporting role for specific points of argument.

As will be familiar to readers of this blog, mapping decisions using a visual language takes advantage of our ability to grasp and make sense of information faster and more easily when it is graphically presented.

bCisive BeesbCisive can be used to direct people down a formal yet flexible path. As a software tool that focuses on the specific activity of decision making, it removes the clutter encountered when using generic tools and provides direct support for decision mapping.

Business decision mapping provides a common notation or language with which to capture the considerations and the conversation that flows around a decision. bCisive presents this notation and an environment in which to use it.

For more on business decision mapping see the bCisive introduction to the topic here. Also have a look at the slide show here.

BCisive can be explored using a free download trial and can be purchased at a hugely discounted price of USD$149 (normal price USD$349) until Monday 18th August. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Progress, not perfection, is the goal ......

A post by Chuck Frey this week really struck a chord.  Often progress on a project is difficult.  There is much uncertainty at the beginning and many involved are reluctant to get stuck in because the final product is not defined completely.  However those charged with defining the product are struggling to do so because they just don't know enough or are not sufficiently confident to commit themselves.  Perfection becomes the enemy of the good.

A way of breaking through this impasse is "successive approximation" or iterative development if you prefer.  Chuck quotes the author of a new book, Dave Gray:

“If you wait until your plan is complete – till every contingency is covered – you will never get anywhere. Progress, not perfection, is the goal… Build feedback loops into your execution mechanisms, so you can improve as you move… (Use) feedback… to enrich your thinking and improve your understanding of the situation.  Feedback is the most important and often neglected piece of the puzzle. When you first contextualize, you are guessing. When you incorporate feedback and use it to re-contextualize, you are improving… Success does not come from perfect execution, but from a fast-moving cycle of continuous improvement. The faster you go, the more you learn. The more you learn, the stronger you get.”

This is where visual mapping can really score.  Put the ideas down on paper, get people talking about them, capture the feedback and revise the map.  Keep going this way until clarity and definition take shape.

Chuck explains this very well - check out his post How to use successive approximation to improve your visual maps.

And also check out Dave Gray's book, Marks and Meaning.