It is human nature to encounter a problem
and jump to a solution. That is how we make life manageable on a
daily basis. It even seems efficient.
Unfortunately, many inefficiencies are born from
this very reasoning, from our tendency to jump to the answer before
standing back and asking ourselves:
"What are the questions we need answered in order
to make a decision?"
That is what decision framing is all about -- posing
the right questions, and structuring any necessary evaluation to
address those questions.
Teams frame decisions when faced with complex problems,
ranging from field developments, to enhanced recovery projects,
to production sharing agreements, to exploration strategy. Framing
helps get clarity of action.
Why promote this behavior?
Because with a "bit of framing," unnecessary repetition
of both technical work and "marathon" meetings can be avoided. The
decision process will be more orderly.
Overall, decisions will turn out to be better.
The decision frame is the anatomy of a decision problem
-- the issues, focus, alternative solutions, key risks and uncertainties
associated with each solution. It is the bounded viewpoint of a
problem -- a function of both the decision-maker(s) and team of
experts assisting any necessary evaluation.
Just as a surgeon will never operate without understanding
the anatomy of his patient, a sound decision-maker will never make
a decision before understanding the anatomy of his problem. We see
this repeatedly, when a decision is not taken, even after numerous
evaluations and meetings -- the root dilemma is almost always unanswered
questions and nagging concerns.
Decision frames are constructed with teams and tools.
Just as a surgeon needs his team to develop his operating plan and
surgical instruments to perform his operation, likewise a decision-maker
needs his team to frame his problem, and tools to construct and
evaluate his choices. As a result, decision problems are often framed
in a meeting environment, using a series of facilitation, or efficiency,
tools and a team of people familiar with the opportunity.
This often causes a natural frustration amongst some
"technical folk," however, who feel "talking" is not "working,"
or getting started and tackling the problem "head on."
In decision framing, not all issues are created equal.
Some issues are within our control, while others are not.
Of those not within our control, some are facts --
nothing will change them -- while others are uncertainties: They
cause us concern (when we think about the various ways in which
they might eventually play out).
Hence, one of the most notable attributes of decision
framing is the way it encourages teams and decision-makers to consciously
separate aspects of their decision problem into those that can be
controlled (decisions) and those that cannot (uncertainties).
The goal is to eventually choose the best course
of action (things within our control -- decisions), given the range
of possible outcomes we face (due to things beyond our control --
So how should decision problems be framed?
- Begin by clarifying the decision problem
-- making sure that everyone is on the same page, before plunging
- Once the problem is clarified, raise
issues -- an issue is anything of concern about the decision problem.
The issues are then categorized as a "fact" (a known
piece of data), a "decision" (an action within our control) or an
"uncertainty" (a variable whose outcome is unknown).
the problem by further categorizing the decisions -- as decisions
already made, focus decisions, or later decisions.
This allows teams to begin to navigate the evaluation
of their decision problem, by becoming consciously aware of the
decisions behind them, those immediately in front of them and those
on the horizon.
At this point, the team should clearly understand
what is within their control, and be able to focus their effort
on evaluating alternatives within that space.
However, this begs the question: How do you best
consider a wide range of viable options, so as to avoid "tunnel-vision"
while defining the alternatives to evaluate? This is a real problem
in that the human mind is selective in what it normally allows itself
to choose from.
To promote the generation of a wide range of alternatives,
the "strategy table" framing tool is used.
1 -- Example Strategy Table
The strategy table is simply a "menu" of alternatives,
from which a team can define solutions to consider (figure 1). It
is developed by taking each "focus" decision and making it the top
of a column of the table. Alternatives are brainstormed beneath
each focus decision in the table to generate the "menu" of choices
from which to select.
Once the "menu" of choices is exhaustive, the team
is ready to define a few distinctly different strategies to consider.
In this context, the word "strategy" is defined as a coordinated
set of decisions, or actions, with a common intent, or approach,
to address the decision problem.
However, with a literal "matrix" of choices to choose
from, how can various options be combined to define just a few compelling
strategies for the team to evaluate?
The team members must stand back and ask themselves,
"what are the real questions we are trying to answer?" Those questions
are then listed, and strategies developed, that, when evaluated,
will answer those compelling questions.
The strategies themselves are developed by linking
one or more of the choices listed under each focus decision, in
each column of the strategy table.
The final step in framing is to identify and structure
the key uncertainties to be incorporated into the evaluation of
each strategy being considered.
Two different framing tools can be used to do this,
depending on the type of decision problem -- an "influence diagram"
and/or a "decision and risk timeline." Both tools relate and describe
the key uncertainties (variables beyond our control) with the different
strategies under consideration (actions we can take) to help the
team evaluate its best course of action.
2 -- Example Influence Diagram
The influence diagram (figure 2) is a "map" of the
economic model of the decision problem. For a given strategy, it
illustrates the relationship between each uncertain variable and
asset revenue, cost and the other important variables.
Alternatively, the decision and risk timeline (figure
3) lays out the order in which decisions will be made on the asset,
and uncertainties will be resolved. For valuing information decision
problems, it is the key framing tool.
Figure 3 -- Example Decision and Risk Timeline
Remember, teams consciously frame decisions so as
to "work smarter," not "harder," to answer key questions and make
quality decisions efficiently. Decision framing is a collective
tool that teams can use themselves to make their work together more