THE SPECIALIST WITH A UNIVERSAL MINDANDREW VAZSONYI, Feature Editor, McLaren School of Business, University of San Francisco
HEURISTICS TO FACILITATE GROUP DECISION MAKING
by Andrew Vazsonyi, McLaren School of Business,
The emergence of client/server computing, Internet and Intranet is changing group decision making, and we need to take a fresh look at how we can help management in this process. Unfortunately, the traditional decision sciences literature gives little help and we need to turn to other sources.
Six months ago I would have used the title ``Applying Creativity Techniques to Facilitate Group Decision Making,'' but I have decided to eschew the word creativity.
In our last meeting in Boston there was a lot of discussion on creativity. While there was great interest in the subject, there was also a lot of skepticism. Can creativity be taught? Should it?
Advocates of creativity techniques have been around for at least fifty years, since Osborn published his influential book. But acceptance has been limited, I suspect, for reasons of semantic confusion. Consider, for example, the Interrogatories (5Ws/H) Technique from Couger's lists of Twenty-Two Creativity Techniques. It refers to the Who-What-Where-When-Why questions. Is this what creativity is all about?
Much before Couger, Rudyard Kipling referred to his six servants:
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
(Kipling was richer than Couger.)
I believe that much discussion and confusion can be avoided by deleting the word creativity. What is a better word? Various authors have tried many variations, but I like heuristics. The Interrogatories can be listed as one of the many heuristics to remind managers to ask good questions.
Using this style, I would like to take a stab at the problem of how to conduct effective meetings to make group decisions. Much of the ideas come from the book by Robert E. Levasseur, Breakthrough Business Meeting, Bob Adams, Inc., 1994.
Levasseur, based on his extensive experience, asserts that successful business meetings require agreement on five points.
The recorder's role is to write critical information on a flip chart which serves as the group's memory. To bring the approach into the world of new computers, I replace the recorder with the system operator and assign to the Sysop a vastly expanded role.
Before the face-to-face meeting the Sysop creates a database on critical information about the upcoming meeting, and requests feedback from the participants. The group starts a meta-meeting, clarifies and resolves many issues before the face-to-face meeting. This database replaces the manual flip charts and serves as the group's memory. The database contains tentative answers to the above five questions, and contains such information as:
The database relies heavily on a family of cluster (affinity) charts displayed on each participant's computer screen, and projected on a large screen during the face-to-face meeting. Exhibit 1 (prepared by using the software of Inspirations Software(TM), Inc.) shows a few of the applicable heuristics.
Force Field Analysis
Exhibit 2, the child of the symbol heuristics, lists a few applicable heuristics that may be used in the face-to-face meeting. Some of these techniques are to be upgraded for the world on new computers. Let me discuss my interpretation of just one: force field analysis.
I use the metaphor of controlling space vehicles. To apply a short burst of power to correct the motion of a space vehicle, the controller needs two sets of information: the location of the vehicle, and the velocity of the vehicle (direction and magnitude). Similarly, in controlling a production system, the manager needs to know the status of the firm and which direction the firm is moving.
Client/server systems are already in use, and will be used more to establish status. The direction of motion of the firm can be calculated by projections using WHAT-IF scenarios. You can look at linear programming and its extensions as a WHAT-IF scenario manager. IF such-and-such a model holds, then these will be the ``best'' outcomes. However, I have broader, non-optimizing scenario managers in mind.
For example, spreadsheets, in particular Excel with Visual Basic macros, can generate many projections and can facilitate managerial decision making. It is important to realize that client/server systems will be capable of accessing not only straight data but also programs, in particular, programs to generate WHAT-IF business scenarios. I believe this will lead to much more powerful techniques of scenario management.
Developing and teaching heuristics to facilitate decision making is not a traditional topic for decision sciences. We seem to be more biased toward algorithmic and normative decision-making techniques. However, many, including myself, believe that the scope of decision sciences can be greatly enhanced by taking a closer look at behavioral, ``soft'' aspects of management. The topic of effective meetings for group decision making is an example of such a technique.
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Dr. Andrew Vazsonyi