7 Steps to Effective Decision Making — and Decision-Making Tools That Can Help

Woman explaining a decision


Profile Picture
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

We make decisions every day. Some are relatively simple (What should I have for breakfast? What should I wear today?) while others are far more complex — so complex that they can take days, weeks, months or even years to make. 

At work, you’re probably tasked with making decisions every day. As a professional, it’s important to be decisive. Sure, the choices you make may not always be popular, but if you’ve given them thought and care, then you’ll have the knowledge that you’ve made the right one.

This commonly used decision-making process includes seven steps for making solid, informed decisions that will benefit you and your company.

The 7 steps to the decision-making process

1. Identify the problem or decision you need to make.

The first step to making an important decision is to identify the decision itself. What’s the problem with which you’re grappling? What needs resolving? If you’re unable to narrow down a larger issue into a discrete concept or you can’t articulate what the problem is at all, then it will be more or less impossible to figure it out.

The good news is that if you know you have a decision to make, then you’re halfway there. You’ve recognized that you must take action — now you just need to hone in on what, exactly, that decision actually is. This will kick off your ability to take the next steps.

2. Gather the necessary information.

After you have successfully identified the decision, you’ll need to round up the data to inform it. For example, you might look at past decisions you or someone else at your organization could be tasked with making. Or, conduct a survey of your employees and review market trends. You might also hire an outside consultant to help you gather data to better inform your decision.

Where you look for information will depend on the nature of the problem you’re trying to solve. But the bottom line is that that data must be in place for you to take action.

3. Pinpoint alternatives.

Your decision might not go quite according to plan. That is why you should put a system into place for coming up with and evaluating alternatives. 

Take into account the many factors at play, including how the decision will impact your team and overall business, as well as the overarching goals and objectives to which this decision will contribute. 

There may be several courses of action to take, and you should make certain you give all the feasible alternatives the attention they deserve. Remember: your immediate, initial response might not be the best action to take.

4. Evaluate the evidence.

Now, it’s time to take a close look at all the information you have gathered. As you put the pieces together, the route you should take will probably become clearer. Envision how things might play out if you followed each path you’ve laid out when you brainstormed your alternatives. 

Consider the pros and cons of each one of the alternatives, identifying where the paths might lead you. You should be backing up each of the scenarios you’re imagining with the evidence you’ve gathered — it will inform you as to what the possible outcomes will be depending on which route you try.

5. Choose among the alternatives.

You’ve carefully considered each potential decision and the alternatives. Now, look a little closer. Examine each alternative in comparison to the others you’ve brainstormed. Once you’ve completed a careful review of each alternative against all the other possibilities, it’s time to choose.

This doesn’t have to be a single, discrete decision. You may elect to go with a combination of them. Either way, this is the point to which you’ve been building: making your informed decision using the evidence you’ve gathered and your own intuition.

6. Implement and execute.

So, you’ve made your decision. Now it’s time to put it into action.

Just as making the decision itself required a series of steps, so does executing it. You’ll need to carefully plan out the steps involved in making your decision a reality. This may be a team effort (probably more likely) or an individual effort. 

Your plan for putting your decision into action should be thorough. You should outline tasks and responsibilities, identifying the owner of each step and how you’ll put all the pieces together at the end. Make sure everyone involved understands what’s on their plate and how they will work together to achieve the goal.

7. Evaluate the results of your decision.

The decision-making process doesn’t end after you’ve made your choice and executed it. You still need to determine how well the plan played out. 

Put a system into place to evaluate the results of your decision. It will allow you to consider what went right and what went wrong. This will help inform future decisions, giving you a roadmap to follow. 

You should also consider the decision-making process itself. Perhaps the outcome was fine, but are there ways you could have handled the process better? Are there tweaks you could implement to make the process even better or smoother?

5 decision-making tools 

Need help following these steps or organizing your thoughts? Try these decision-making tools.

1. Decision matrix.


Also known as a Pugh matrix, decision grid or opportunity analysis,  along with several other names, a decision matrix is a tool that assists business professionals in evaluating decisions. In a grid-like layout, the decision matrix outlines the factors that go into your decision and prioritize them according to a set list of criteria. 

The goal is to streamline your decision-making process and make the overall system more objective by weighting each option and ranking them accordingly. Instead of making decisions subjectively, you’ll be able to use a measurable method with a numerical point system or scale.

2. Decision tree.


I like to think of a decision tree as a “choose your own adventure” layout. At the top of the chart, you’ll write the decision that you’re making in a box. Then, draw lines to boxes below it, each filled with a potential solution. Then, draw lines connecting these boxes to boxes below it, each with a consequence of that prospective solution. If outcomes and consequences are unclear, use a circle to represent the outcome. 

Ultimately, you should have a tree-like picture of decisions and possible outcomes. This will help you visualize your decisions more clearly.

3. SWOT analysis.


Businesses use the SWOT analysis to make big decisions that affect the larger picture. SWOT stands for:

• Strengths: What are the strengths and advantages of the business, organization or specific plan or decision?

• Weaknesses: What could you improve? What’s holding you back?

• Opportunities: How can you take advantage of trends or goings-on in the industry? What opportunities are on the horizon?

• Threats: What could get in the way of or undermine success at your organization?

4. Pro/con list.


Maybe this sounds too simple for this list, but often, simplicity lends itself to clear and capable decision-making. You probably have experience making and using pro/con lists already, but in case you need a refresher, here’s how it goes:

Make two columns on a piece of paper, dividing them with a line in between. At the top of one column, write “Pros.” At the top of the other (right-hand side), write “Cons.” Then, brainstorm the advantages and disadvantages of the route you’re considering. Do this several times with each alternative, and compare them to one another.

5. Futures wheel.

VisualParadigm Online
VisualParadigm Online

A futures wheel is another way to visually represent your decision and potential outcomes. Created by Jerome C. Glenn in 1971, the tool offers a way of predicting and evaluating the consequences of each path. 

As you can see from the picture, the decision or problem is placed at the center. Around it, you’ll see circles, each containing a consequence of that problem. This stems outward, with each consequence of each event representing a new level of the overall decision. The futures wheel is especially effective in brainstorming.

Decision-making is not an easy process. But equipped with these steps and tools, you should feel better prepared. Ready to make some decisions?