By Ellen Domb, John L. Morris and Michael S. Slocum
David Ullman's new book Making Robust Decisions: Decision Management for Technical, Business, and Service Teams will be valuable to TRIZ practioners in many environments. The techniques and systems in Making Robust Decisions grew out of Dr. Ullman's experiences as an engineer and engineering professor, deciding whether a new system or component was better than the original, with incomplete information about the manufacturing and use of the system. This beginning triggered many years of research on the management of uncertainty in decision-making, and development of ways to make it easy for people to apply the findings of the research.
Ullman is also the author of Accord™ software, which automates calculations and provides visual outputs at various stages of decision making. But the book is not a sales pitch for the software – readers will learn valuable methods and approaches and develop a greatly enhanced understanding of the process of making decisions, both personally and in teams, whether they are interested in the software or not.
TRIZ practitioners are not the only people who can benefit from Making Robust Decisions. Anyone who has multiple options for solving a problem, multiple sources of uncertainty about the impact or outcome of the decision, and multiple sources of information with varying degrees of expertise will learn useful techniques from Ullman's work. TRIZ practitioners historically have complained that their creative ideas are not implemented – robust decisions will help them make decisions that incorporate buy-in to the results, not just superficial agreement that goes along with one of the book's basic principles: "Decision making is a process that commits resources to resolving an issue." A short section on TRIZ in the chapter on developing alternatives will be useful to people who want to give colleagues an introduction to the subject.
Many people will find immediate value in the first chapter with a list of criteria to for determining if you need to make a robust decision – do not waste your time if the problem does not need the process but do not do something less than robust if your problem does.
The discussions of information, uncertainty and the iterative development of criteria for decision-making are clear, useful and fascinating. Ullman points out that processes that require development and "freezing" of criteria before the development of alternatives may sound scientific, but they neglect the learning that takes place as alternatives are developed. For complex problems, researchers often redefine the success criteria during the development of alternative solutions. Robust decision making does not impose artificial constraints. Bayesian statistics are hidden inside the method so that people get the benefit of using them without the need to address them directly.
One of the three case studies tells the story of a group of people developing a desktop video learning system. Two of us participated in that session – one as project leader and one as an observer. Ullman's description of the meeting and the role of the robust decision process is comprehensive and illustrates the flow of the meeting from clarifying the issues, understanding and quantifying criteria, using new understanding to change the definition of the problem and reaching conclusions that the team could act on with commitment to the action plan.
There has been a question about whether the Shewhart Cycle (PDSA) needs a methodology to amplify the completion of the intra-cycle phases. The OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) methodology Dr. Ullman describes could provide the necessary structure to ensure that the decisions being made at each phase of PDSA are optimized and timely. This amplification would enhance the ability of PDSA to produce high quality actions that are robust to environmental noises. This is probably the greatest strength presented in the book and will further the science of making robust decisions in our knowledge-based world.
Ellen Domb is the founder and principal TRIZ consultant of the PQR Group. She is also the founding editor of The TRIZ Journal and a commentator for Real Innovation. Contact Ellen Domb at ellendomb (at) trizpqrgroup.com or visit http://www.trizpqrgroup.com.
John Morris is a learning program manager for the Center of Expertise for Technical Content Development at Hewlett-Packard Company (HP). He has worked at HP for 11 years and is currently responsible for a portfolio of learning solutions addressing innovation, problem solving, decision making, knowledge management, business process management and quality. Contact John L. Morris at john.l.morris (at) hp.com.
Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) inventioneeringco.com or visit http://www.inventioneeringco.com.