Every issue, the Harvard Business Review contains a “case”, a fictional situation in which a senior executive, usually a CEO, has to make some hard decision. The situation is presented in an entertaining narrative, and then the decision problem is posed in a succinct question. Then three or four expert commentators provide insights and recommendations.
HBR cases are excellent material for business decision mapping. They are realistic examples of the kind of decision problems for which decision mapping is well suited. Mapping out the problem can provide useful insight into the case. Conversely, working on HBR cases is a great way to build experience with and skills in decision mapping.
The case in the current issue is Who Can Help the CEO? “With pressure mounting for better results, the CEO of TrakVue needs help. But every avenue he tries turns out to be a dead end…Whom and how can Eliot ask for help?”
Here’s how I mapped the first half of the decision problem, i.e. the who part:
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In this case, there were lots of options to choose from. This made hierarchical grouping of the options particularly useful. Once the options are properly grouped, it is easy to see how some considerations bear at higher levels (on whole groups of options, e.g. colleagues at TrakVue) while others bear on sub-options at lower levels (e.g., Armory Essler). Thus this case usefully illustrates it how important it is to get good hierarchical structuring of options, and how a decision map can make this hierarchical structuring visually transparent.
More interestingly, in this case, the decision map reveals the answer. If you identify and organise all the options and all the considerations bearing upon them that were provided in the case and the commentaries – and restrict yourself to them – then it is clear where Eliot should be turning. He should be talking to experienced outsiders – “peer” CEOs in other industries, or experienced mentors. This is the only category of people for whom the “pros” clearly, and overwhelmingly, outweigh the “cons”. There are no “red flags” at all down this branch.
Rarely, in reality, would the answer be so obvious. Most of the time, any option would have at least some disadvantages. And, as things currently stand, rarely would decision makers have the benefit of decision maps to guide them.