Pockets, Islands

In my last blog, I asked a pointed question concerning the activity of communities of practice that promote good decision-making behaviours. As a fellow attendee to DAAG noted to me: there are pockets, islands of practitioners that probably see the Australian decision analysis community as I do – a bit disconnected. A meeting this week with a couple of local champions reinforced this view.

Two of those are fairly vocal about their use of DA in the E&P space (in Australia*): Chevron and the ASP at University of Adelaide.

Chevron was an early adopter and eventually had a very strong culture of applying it to their upstream business. Their downstream business has recently embraced it with gusto. When you’ve been doing DA as long and as completely as Chevron has, it’s easy to succumb to pitfalls along the journey – even with a well-trodden path. People come and go, the dynamics change, the community stagnates; it becomes a box-ticking exercise and a laborious one at that. As Apple is (was?) well aware, people avoid cumbersome things. DA/DQ makes their life harder, so managers of all stripes find workarounds, then ignore it all together. In truth, IPA exists for no other reason than to document the results of this kind of behaviour (though they might disagree) and the impact on the execution of major projects. The fact that so much success continues to come from the application of DA attests to the robustness of thought in the decision quality paradigm.

The issue is choosing the right scale to intervene at seems daunting. The HBR nailed it recently at the simple end of the spectrum. As I mentioned in my last post, real value exists for DA’s application at many scales. Like good active listening, the art lies with relating to (or aiding discovery of solutions for) the other party’s Perceived Problem, regardless of the Real Problem. In Chevron one “looks like help.” Those people who have deep management consulting expertise that comes with mastering the DA toolkit often don’t bring the ‘consulting presence‘ to the table; they do bring the needed thinking.

At the educational end of the spectrum, the curriculum of the ASP explicitly includes management focused subjects in this vein: economics, D&RA, project management etc. The best and brightest (at least that I witnessed) excel during the learning of the fundamentals. Do they get hired as DA’s into the E&P industry? Rarely as graduates in my experience, and definitely not in this price environment. Those with training tend to be technically minded – not least because analytics, valuations and a fluency with uncertainty tend to cluster there also. The ‘convince me’ approach often falls on its face when decision makers believe they already know how to make good decisions and/or need to retain obfuscation in the process (for whatever reason).

Not so much of an army then, as artisan(s). Little wonder only islands flourish.

Some companies value the skills but regard them as a small part of a much larger technical role. They see decision trees, or stochastic simulation, or framing as portions of a body of knowledge they can cherry pick to suit their needs…better than nothing. Experienced practitioners know: unless a 100% on every dimension mindset permeates your application(s), your process suffers from a weak link.While an improvement on advocacy, partial adoption only serves as weigh-station to a high-quality decision culture. As every student of Peter Drucker knows, culture eats strategy for breakfast.  Culture strong on all the dimensions of the decision quality paradigm has the highest probability of having good decision-making behaviors. Connected communities reinforce the sense of purpose and guard quality. The reputation of a knowledge practice probably eats its culture; poor practice erodes reputation in whole fields.

In the 1800’s productivity resided with artisans; in the early 1900’s  work-based hierarchies redefined human productivity enabling the modern economy; in the 2000’s information connectivity allowed network(ing) effects to begin the long process of eroding the power of hierarchical productivity [citation needed]. That very coarse grading of the stages of economic development notwithstanding, a move towards connected communities of influencers, now entirely global, practically defines the Knowledge Age. Moving from pockets & islands towards connected community (and maintaining them) ought to rate highly on the priority list of all knowledge practitioners.

The implications for the disparate nature of the Australian DA/DQ community and its sustained application of DA/DQ at persistent, expert and fluent organization levels seem far from clear.  I doubt that a “strong signal of excellent health” features as a high probability interpretation. A quick search this week on Seek.com for keyword “decision” would lead one to the conclusion only qualified accountants, selected financial professionals, ICT professionals with system architecture design experience or the odd commercial manager constitutes the entirety of the workforce in need of professional aptitude for decision making.

SDP’s efforts notwithstanding…that won’t do at all.



* In case it escaped your attention, the centre of knowledge for DA/DQ happens to be somewhere near northern California. A Pacific basin focus should come naturally.