Monday 31 July 2023

The decision log as a KM tool

A decision log can be a useful tool in learning, and as part of a KM system, provided to you log the right things.

Dia 91: Decisiones Many projects and many non-project bodies maintain a decision log, to keep track of and record the major decisions which have been made. This allows them to revisit the decisions later, and to understand the basis behind them in the light of later knowledge. This sort of review enables them to make better decisions in future. 

Some public bodies require these logs be kept. The Sussex Police, for example, require a decision log for major , saying that "the primary objective of the policy file or decision log is to record investigative direction, instruction, parameters and priorities for major crime investigations and other complex investigations whilst complying with the requirements of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act (CPIA) 1996".

Similarly the UK government HSE site requires a decision log for major investigations saying that "A key decision log (KDL) is a contemporaneous record of the key decisions that affect the course of an investigation and the reasons for those decisions.

But how helpful are these logs for learning purposes? 

That very much depends on the template of the log and therefore the items recorded. Some logs are very simple, and end up being diaries of what happened rather than reasons for decisions. The &nbsp Washington DNR site has a good decision log template including a column for decision rationale and one for the alternatives considered, but even that one does not have a column to record assumptions, and often one of the major causes of learning is that our assumptions were incorrect.

I think it helps to start from the review end, and work backwards. Once we understand how a decision log can be reviewed,  we can understand what should be logged.

The critical decision method is an established way to review, and draw knowledge and learning from, decisions in hindsight. As explained here, it involves 4 steps:
  1. Creating a timeline of the incident under review;
  2. Identifying the main decisions and decision points;
  3. Analysing why these decisions were made at the time, and also alternatives that were considered; and
  4. Asking "what-if" questions and other hypotheticals, to explore the decision process more deeply.
This study by Harenčárová, published in Human Affairs 25 in 2015, used the critical decision method to explore decisions made by paramedics, and created a template for retrospectively logging the decisions during the third step, using the following categories:
  • Cues (what was seen at the time)
  • Situation Assessment
  • Decision
  • Why? (Decision rationale)
  • What for? (intended outcome).
I think we can include "Assumptions" under "Situation assessment", in which case this becomes a pretty good template. Harenčárová goes on to further analysis, identifying the thinking strategies and heuristics the paramedics were using.

The critical decision method is great, allows for some really deep analysis, but faces the challenges that it is frequently applied long after the event, when memories have faced and the human brain has already post-rationalised many of the decisions. That's where the decision log would be very useful - allowing people to revisit the event based on notes taken at the time - which is of course difficult when the decisions were made under time pressure or in matters of life and death.

In engineering, the Toyota A3 report acts as a decision log for product design, and is a simple and visual way to keep track of engineering decisions, recording
  • The problem
  • the details of the current situation
  • root cause analysis
  • the "target state" 
  • the alternative countermeasures to address root causes
  • the chosen implementation plan with accountable actions and costs
  •  a follow-up plan, including preparation of a follow-up report 
These reports are used to communicate decisions in review meetings to build a knowledge base about good practices in product development, and to develop a final Basis of Design document.  The great thing about the A3 report is that it is completed in real time, and the rationale for all decisions is clearly made. That's why A3 reports are such a useful KM component.

If a decision log is to be useful as a part of KM, then it needs to cover some of the same ground as the A3 report and Harenčárová's log, and to record.
  • The problem that needed to be addressed (in terms of the information and cues which were available at the time)
  • An assessment of the situation, including what was assumed
  • The decision that was made
  • The alternatives that were rejected
  • Why the decision was made, i.e. the deciding factors that resulted in choosing that particular option
  • The intended outcome of the decision
On a large project, or one that is exploring new ground, or one that has big impact, then consider the use of the decision log as a KM tool.

However decide how you will review that log later, so you make sure you include all necessary columns in the log template. 

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