Practical Decision-Making Guide

Decision Making 101 & Practical Toolkits

We make dozens of decisions every day, some simple, some more complex. An adult makes roughly 35,000 conscious decisions each day. The purpose of this article is to provide a practical guideline to make solid decisions in professional and personal settings.

What is Decision Making?

  • Decision implies the end of deliberation and the beginning of an action
  • Decision-making involves the selection of a course of action from among two or more possible alternatives in order to arrive at a solution for a given problem
  • Decision ≠ Outcome Good decisions don’t always have a good outcome. Bad decisions don’t always have a bad outcome. We can’t predict the future and how decisions are executed.

Why is Decision Making important?

Smart People Make Terrible Decisions

  • NASA’s decision to ignore the O-ring issues on the Challenger
  • “Hey, let’s not sell a digital camera. We need to protect our film business” — Kodak
  • “Why worry about Apple’s cute phone? We are kings of the smartphone market and their cute phone can’t do a tenth of the things our phones can do” — Blackberry


  • We make mistakes unintentionally.
  • We have limited or wrong information.
  • We use the wrong mental model.
  • We fail to learn.
  • Looking over doing good.

What decisions do you need to make?

The Decision Matrix — How to prioritize

Not all decisions are important. Use this matrix to prioritize what decisions need to be made.

“Ok, I mark my emails as Urgent A, Urgent B, Urgent C, Urgent D. Urgent A is the most important. Urgent D you don’t even really have to worry about.” — Michael Scott

The Decision Matrix — How to allocate your time

One of the challenges for leaders is that there are many critical decisions that need to be made within a limited time. In order to further prioritize where to spend your time, we can look at the following two dimensions: Consequence vs. Reverse.

How to make decisions?

I summarized the decision-making process into the following five steps and provided practical toolkits to help you take action.


  1. Define the problem
  2. Identify stakeholders


3. Generate alternatives

4. Prioritize alternatives


5. Communicate the decision

1. Define The Problem

Before jumping into decision-making, it is critical to define the problem and the goal. When the WHY is clear, the HOW is easy.

Common Mistakes

  • Defining the problem in terms of a proposed solution
  • Missing a bigger problem
  • Diagnosing the problem in terms of its symptoms


2. Identify Stakeholders

On the occasion when we are not the sole decision-maker, understanding all players and their relationships become key. Stakeholder mapping and ecosystem mapping are great tools for this purpose.

a. List out all players

b. Categorization examples

  • Core, Direct, Indirect
  • Main decision-makers, Influencers, Executors
  • Customers, Partners, Internal

c. Prioritization

d. Create communication strategies

3. Generate Alternatives

Now that we’ve understood the problem space, goals and key players, it is time to practice divergent thinking. Using the following toolkits to brainstorm ideas.


  • Inversion — Otherwise known as thinking something through in reverse or thinking “backwards,” inversion is a problem-solving technique.
  • Second-Order Thinking — Ask yourself, “And then what?”
  • SCAMPER — Substitute. Combine. Adapt. Modify. Put to another use. Eliminate. Reverse.
  • 6 Thinking Hats
  • Others: Timeline, 5Ws+H, 5 WHYS, Read More

4. Prioritize Alternatives

Once we generate a great number of ideas, the next step is Convergent Thinking aka prioritization.


5. Communicate The Decision

Once decisions are made, we often need to communicate the rationale with others especially when there are multiple stakeholders involved. Here is a checklist to document the context, evidence and rationale.

  • What’s the problem
  • What is the expected outcome(s)
  • What are the second and third-order consequences
  • What is the worst-case scenario and why that’s ok
  • What emotions am I experiencing
  • What is the opportunity cost (by doing this what am I not doing)
  • What unique advantages or insights do I have in this situation
  • Who is the best person to make this decision
  • What does this look like in 5 weeks, 5 months, 5 years?

Thanks for reading! What the best and worst decisions you’ve made? I would love to hear your stories and thoughts. If you want to chat about design leadership, design strategy or just want to say hello, connect me via LinkedIn.

Design Strategist | Toronto