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Most Choosing By Advantages blog posts, presentations and classes I’ve experienced largely cover the part of CBA of making the decision itself. If I were to speculate, that’s probably because that is the part of CBA that is most unfamiliar to people. However, did you know Choosing by Advantages contains five phases for moderately complex decisions? And that “the decisionmaking phase” is only one of those five? Unfortunately all too often, the other phases get altered or even missed altogether, which can make a big mess out of a group or team decision.

The Five Phases of Choosing By Advantages

Phase I: The Stage-Setting Phase
Phase II: The Innovation Phase
Phase III: The Decisionmaking Phase (Mentally Choosing)
Phase IV: The Reconsideration Phase (Emotionally Choosing)
Phase V: the Implementation Phase (Physically Choosing)

Phase 1: The Stage-Setting Phase

Just like creating a well-defined problem is key in solving a problem, defining the purpose and circumstances are key in making a decision. For a moderately complex decision to be made with a team, this can take significant prework. If the decision is designed to overcome a problem, the starting point is to define the problem and then dig deep to identify it’s root cause. This allows you to make sure the decision being made is appropriate for the situation.

During this phase you also want to identify the participants you’ll include in this decision. As part of this make sure to identify all of the customers and all of the stakeholders in this decision. Be strategic and intentional making sure that all of the right voices will be included in the decision. This does not necessarily mean every single person will be included, but every voice should be. Once participants are identified, provide basic CBA language training to the participants. It is important they understand the meanings of Alternative, Attribute, Advantage, Criteria and Factor, as well as the context from above, before jumping into the decision.

Lastly, begin work on the criteria of the decision. This includes identifying any laws, policies, regulations, etc that will guide the decision. It also includes identifying the needs and preferences of the customers and stakeholders that will shape the decision. Make sure all participants are aligned around the background and the criteria. Taking the time to do this prevents potential miscommunications and misunderstandings that can often add to the messiness of group decisionmaking.

Phase II: The Innovation Phase

This phase is about identifying the alternatives to be considered. Create a list with an adequate range of alternatives. Now get creative and imaginative and identify any additional alternatives that belong on the list! Remember, it’s impossible to select the best alternative if you haven’t thought of the best alternative. Within this list, determine the attributes of the alternatives that reveal differences amongst the alternatives, particularly differences that correlate back to the established criteria. Depending on the complexity of the decision, it may be helpful to create a detailed comparison display to make the attributes of the alternatives fully transparent to the group.

Phase III: The Decisionmaking Phase (Mentally Choosing)

Now is the part of the decision that many people associate with “CBA” in our industry, the part where a team goes through the below steps and selects an alternative.

  1. Summarize the attributes of each alternative.
  2. List the advantages of each alternative.
  3. Decide the importance of each advantage.
  4. Choose the alternative with the greatest TOTAL IMPORTANCE of advantages.

That seems pretty cut and dry, right? In actuality, it is not cut and dry at all when you are doing this with a group. CBA is both subjective and objective. It’s not a magic process that collects information and spits out an answer. This takes real skill in team listening, collaboration and negotiation. More to come on this in an upcoming post, right now we’ll get back to the phases.

Phase IV: The Reconsideration Phase (Emotionally Choosing)

All too often teams make decisions, leave the room, and then second guess the decision. Sometimes participants can be heard saying things that undermine the decision, showing they aren’t on board with the outcome. Phase IV is here to help avoid those things. Now that the team has a decision on paper, it’s time to do a gut check. Does the decision feel right? If not, why not? If the decision should be changed, revisit the work, understand what should be changed, and change it. Form a clear, accurate, sensory-rich, motivational perception of each advantage of the selected alternative. Then the team needs to make a commitment to successfully implement the final decision, as well as removing barriers to implementation. Depending on the size or scope of the decision, you may want to put some space in between Phase III and Phase IV, let people rest with it for a day or two before coming together to reconsider in Phase IV.

Phase V: the Implementation Phase (Physically Choosing)

Now it’s time to implement the decision. As implementation is happening, make sure the team is clear on the expected outcome of that decision. This allows for any adjustments or tweaks needed during implementation. After the decision has been implemented, evaluate the process and the results, and like all things in the lean world, make improvements!

Why use all five phases?

These phases probably feel familiar to you. As you were reading through them, you might be thinking “yes, these things should always be done when making complex group decisions!” But now think about decisions you’ve been part of in the past. Think about the times you’ve experienced these phases and times some of them may have been skipped. Most of the bad experiences I’ve had missed something. The good experiences generally hit all of them. While many of the specifics from phases I, II, IV and V may feel intuitive, I’ve found it very helpful to intentionally follow all of the phases (and really understand how to do Phase III!) that Jim Suhr identified as part of the CBA Decisionmaking System.

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Rebecca Snelling coaches people, teams and organizations on Leadership and Lean Transformation with an emphasis on advancing culture. She started in the construction industry in 1996, and began coaching companies and teams in 2006 with a focus on applying Lean principles in various organizations and project types. She works with owners, architects, contractors, engineers and trade partners, as well as full project delivery teams. She coaches Leaders at all levels to integrate Lean thinking into their organization and develops Lean Coaches to effectively facilitate, train and coach others implementing Lean practices and behaviors.