DECISION MAKING and PROBLEM SOLVING -22 :Design Implementation Processes

Post 23 -by Gautam Shah


Decision Making for Projects : Project management involves Decision Making. Decisions are taken on factors that are essentially part of the project itself, and also on various presumptions, which may or may not become part of the project. In the first case the decisions are made on factors that are internal, through a process of selection, confirmation, elimination, etc. While in the later case, the decisions are made from external factors, where, not only the relevance, but the entire range of their effects needs to be forecast.

Problem Solving > Campus party Berlin Europe > Flickr image >

When are Decisions taken? Decisions are primarily taken when an action is required or when further decisions are due. Decisions are taken at: conscious level (intellectual) and subconscious level (intuitive). Decision making helps a designer with an analytical base to affirm a belief (intuitive or ‘gut-feeling’), and select a course of action from several nearly equal alternative possibilities.

How are Decisions taken?

Decisions are taken through:

  • Analysis:     Dissecting a whole into parts so to understand it better.
  • Synthesis:   Combining several things to form a whole to see if it is pertinent.
  • Holism:        Conceptualizing the whole thing.
For decision making it may be necessary to prioritize the information > Wikipedia Flickr image : Information overload by Jorge Franganillo

Quality of Decision : The Quality of Decision is governed by the decision makers’ state such as: physiological fitness, mental alertness, personality traits (daring, fear), information, training, experiences, opportunities, time, resources (human, equipment, finance, circumstances), etc. A decision is a subjective process that offers the best course for a given situation,

Efficiency of a decision is judged, on what it accomplishes. A reasonable decision always takes one closer to the goal, however, slightly. Decisions do not have mathematical sharpness or uniqueness. There is never a perfect decision. There usually are many different ways of achieving the same goal. A decision is the best course for a given situation, and the context within which it occurs are important clues of the process. Decision makers are fully aware of the process, and invariably have the capacity to improvise or correct the situation as decisions actualize. The course corrections are required because original conditions change by the time actualization occurs.

Decision makers ask questions like :

  • Is the objective defined ?
  • Is sufficient information available ?
  • How many options are available ?
  • Have these options been evaluated ?
  • Are all risks identified and provided for ?
  • Does this decision feel right, now that actions are being taken on it ?

Decision making comprises of :

1 Forecasting the most opportunity moment and the most obvious conditions, for consequences to occur or even not to occur.

2 Determination of probabilities of occurrence or follow up actions.

Decision making and consequences thereof (actions or further decisions) are often so interlaced that it is not possible to view them separately.

Problem Solving

Problem Solving : Decision making involves some degree of problem solving. Alternatively it can be said that problem solving itself is a decision making process. In decision making some intuitive and alogical processes are operative, but problem solving occurs in a more realistic situation. Problem solving can be defined as an exercise of observing situations, vis a vis change causing elements.

For solving a problem its subsections are recognized by identifying their dependencies > Wikipedia image : Decentralization.jpg by Adam Aladdin / Author Kes47 (?)

Solving a Problem : For solving a problem, it is necessary to, severe all the connections and dependencies, and deals with it as a unique entity or separate event. Problem solving leads to a solution or a course of action which may require solving new problems. Problem solving includes steps like: Defining the problem, searching and evaluating the alternatives and Implementing the solution. Problem solving is finding when products or processes may fail, and preparing for a preventive action.

‘Each problem that I solved became a rule, which served afterwards to solve other problems’ -Rene Descartes

Types of Problems

Mysteries : A mystery is an unexplained deviation from what is expected. It is necessary to understand as to what is a deviation (size, scale, measure, range etc.) and what forms a standard condition. A deviation is not necessarily a bad or foul thing, it may be an advantage or even a gain. Efforts should be directed in finding out, what has caused the deviation. Mysterious problems get tackled as soon as the deviation causing elements are identified.

Assignments : These are enforced exercises, or problems handed out as part of work or duty. An assignment is like a contract, where in goals or tasks must be properly defined, resources allocated, and delivery standards identified. Assignments deal with known things, but involve application of skill and management techniques. It may lack a creative effort but productivity and sincerity are important factors.

Maze at St. Louis botanical garden > Wikipedia image by Bachrach44

Difficulties : A difficulty occurs for two reasons, either, we do not know, how to manage a situation, or feel we lack the resources. Difficulties are subjective or objective. In the first case, the person has the capacity, but is unable to accomplish a task. In the second case, the person may not have the talent, know how, motivation, resources etc. Difficulties, if subjective require human resources, whereas objective ones need other physical inputs.

Difficult problems may get resolved with time, arrival of new technology but that is very costly as a process

Opportunities : Opportunities need to be perceived in the context of ‘time’ and as early as possible. There is a period of its manifestation, obsolescence or being irrelevant. Evaluation in terms of the potential benefit or loss leads to solution of a problem. Opportunities self presumed where a person or group perceives a condition as the problem, or situational offerings, where a larger environment (social, political, academic) seems worthy of a reassessment.

The Tower 18 (Lake-Wells) junction > Wikipedia image by Author R36

Puzzles : A Puzzle is a situation where one knows a correct solution exists, but sufficient efforts have not been made to discover it. Puzzles are of THREE types: soluble, currently insoluble and ever insoluble. Soluble puzzles can be tackled with current knowledge. Currently insoluble puzzles will be hopefully solved, when adequate resources and information are available. Puzzles, however, remain insoluble, when certain important sections are irretrievably lost. Puzzles have such inbuilt solution that in real sense, there is no need to solve any thing, but locate the solution and identify the ways to reach it. Puzzles are solved as soon as the end itself or the means to the end are in sight.

Chinese puzzle >

Dilemmas : Dilemmas offer two or more choices, each of which seems equally fitting. Dilemmas remain in-force only for a particular time span, situation or value judgment. When a dilemmatic situation is probed further, one of the solutions is likely to be just slightly more superior or less inferior. Dilemmas if handled by a different person, attended at another time, or dealt in another situation, may not be a problem at all.

Detective fiction character Parry Mason and Ms street solving puzzling problem

Problem Solving Strategies : Thesis, reports, and fictions have a strategic issue to be studied and postulated. The handling of the strategic issue reflects the methodologies of problem solving. Authors and fictional characters like Sherlock Homes, Agatha Christie, Perry Mason etc. raise and solve problems.

problem-solvingForecasting : Since the outcome of a decision is always in future, it needs to be forecast. For a better decision, one needs to forecast the inherent risks and consequences of all the competing alternatives. Forecasting involves determining the chances, frequency and intensity of occurrence or non occurrence of an action.


Most often a decision is valued on what it achieves, and how efficiently. However, when the quality of outcome or approximation to a goal with all the possible range of actions is nearly the same, one needs to bring in a value judgment.

Shuffle for averaging the possibilities > Wikipedia-Flickr image by Johnny Blood

Probability : Forecast-able situations are inherently probable. A human being cannot perceive a situation that is not probable. However, probabilities are either deterministic or in-deterministic.

Deterministic probability: A hill station is likely to be a cool place, because all our experiences have taught us that height and coolness of a place are correlated. Determinable probabilities have fewer operative factors, so chances of probability are much focussed.

Indeterminable probability: An oil well may spud oil, which however, may or may not occur. And, the oil, if it occurs may not have a commercially viable quantum. Such situations pose many uncertain factors.


22 DECISION MAKING and PROBLEM SOLVING -Design Implementation Processes –part of the lecture series DESIGN IMPLEMENTATION PROCESSES



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Gautam Shah

Former adjunct faculty, Faculty of Design CEPT University, Ahmedabad and Consultant Designer

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