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Most Wanted: Taposh Bhattacharya

A very insightful talk! viewing decision making with a creative lens, changing the way we think about approaching decisions and an update from Singapore about their current circumstances.

 "The number of effective options requires creative thinking. Problem solving research shows that creativity is critical to solving problems effectively. Most PM methodologies emphasise process. But few encourage creativity." 


How are you? I hope you are well during these times?

I am very well thank you. We live during strange and difficult times, which really do make you think about all the good things one should be grateful for. I am looking forward to the day that we can go to a beach or a bar and enjoy the company of friends again!

How are you?

Good to hear! We are well here in Potsdam. I remember Singapore was getting good results at the beginning of COVID-19, how has the journey been for Singapore since the beginning of “the new normal" to now?

Having learned from their previous experience with SARS, the Singaporean authorities took decisive and early action. Initially as a resident I thought they were overreacting but now, as tiresome as the restrictions are, I am glad the authorities took strong steps to stay on top of the situation and are communicating openly to residents. But we are not out the woods yet. We see the poorest communities being disproportionately affected.

We are all still trying to work out what ‘the new normal’ will be. I suspect those who actively try to adapt will fare better than those who are putting life and work on hold until ‘normal service’ can resume.

Have you felt much of a change in the types of decisions you are facing during these times?

We are all in it together. No matter where you are, the problems affect us all. So, if there is even a small way we can help, more people are feeling motivated to do so and are going the extra mile:

At the beginning of the outbreak we had products which were in the pipeline for certain markets which were waiting for approval by the authorities. We have started highlighting back to local authorities where we think the presence of products on the ground will help local markets. Working more closely with them to get the right product on the ground to help, while not wasting their time with products that can wait.

Suddenly, there are so many things we can no longer just take for granted. Our health, safety, access to health care, access to goods and services, going out and freedom of movement to mention a few. It has been a wakeup call and certainly changed my consumer behaviour.

Last month I wanted to purchase gifts for a family member’s birthday. This year I must do this in a completely different way. Rushing to the department store at the last minute is simply not possible. So, this year, I’ve had to act earlier, purchase items that had the highest probability of on-time delivery and that can be enjoyed at home. These are all factors which I never had to consider before. 

I can resonate with the last point! It certainly calls for a shift in the the tools you use; criteria and what you're placing value on when deciding which present to buy are a great example.  

From a work perspective, I know you are working in project management - do you have any tricks/tools for getting through decisions? Maybe a certain approach? Or, maybe I should be asking whether you have tricks for enhancing others decision making!

Project managers are decision enablers rather than decision makers. We help the project board / owners decide the direction of the project. Our job is to facilitate decisions during the project that effect the project outcomes.

  • We present the context within which the decision needs to be made. Within this the impact of the issue arising if nothing is done.

  • The options available, bringing the available options into relief for the project board to decide by outlining the overall final impact of each option and the resources required for each option.

  • Identifying the people involved in the decision and its execution.

  • Keeping a record what decision was made; why it was made; who made it; who and how we are following through.

  • Tracking to make sure we get the expected outcomes. A lot of times we must be ready to fail, adapt and iterate a new solution. This can be problematic for some since each iteration can be viewed as a failure.

Your last bulletpoint there is very interesting, resonating with our interview with Hester Hilbrecht, Founder of Mermaid studios. Hester also highlighted the need to rethink how we perceive failure, treating such moments as learnings which can be measured and used to enhance future outcomes. 

Obviously decision making is a very big topic. We are currently in the process of putting together a curriculum which contributes to “unboxing” decision making. What do you feel are the big pain points people face in general when getting through decisions?

Having a method that allows me to consistently structure the information I’ve outlined above.

The number of effective options requires creative thinking. Problem solving research shows that creativity is critical to solving problems effectively. Most PM methodologies emphasise process. But few encourage creativity.

Track activity around it, automatically keeping an audit trail around the decision.

Exactly what we believe to and hope our decision process in the app, as well as the decision library will help with.

Piggybacking off that, I know you haven’t used ODE, but I wonder if you’d find a decision-making app beneficial for a workplace to help make groups decisions?

PMs traditionally maintain a structured set of tables that allow them to track the events and information during the project. Availability bias effects people’s interpretation of how well decisions are made:

  • If things went well, we assume the decision making was sound and don’t look at all.

  • If thing do not go well, we assume the decision making was poor and typically look closer.

As a result, PM methodologies provide tools that help you ‘fight the battle’ if people look closer, but do not necessarily help in making better decisions in the first place.

I think there is an unmet need to support a PM to put his effort into better decision making rather than structuring historical data to defend a position retrospectively.

I think when it comes to decision making, having a solution that:

  • Enables users to structure information about a situation.

  • Prompts users to find out as much as possible about the situation

  • Facilitates creative generation of potential options for users.

  • Helps the user to evaluate each option in a structured manner.

  • Presents the overview of the situation, options and evaluations to key decision makers.

  • Minimises the effort required to trace the history around a decision

This would focus the PM’s effort to supporting good decision making, while providing data and traceability to review the decisions effectively and learn from past iterations.

Thank you Taposh! A truly interesting insight and reflection in the eyes of a project manager. On the note of Singapore, it's very interesting to see that even assertive decisions, such as in the case of Singapore, still require time to reflect on the results and change if needed; a theme in our talk it seems! For us here at ODE, that truly resonates with our research showing that lifelong learning and feedback are critical. 

Another very interesting topic here is the battle between meritocratic organisational cultures which pursue results-driven assessment; a slightly convoluted sentence, I know! But, what I’m saying here is that efficiency to reach a satisfyingly effective goal is often valued, and so entering into a good decision is about finding a solution, fast; which isn't entirely negative as we can reassess at a later stage. However, if we can enhance that process from the start, we can possibly avoid lost time in post-decision assessment as well as lost resources in undertaking change based on the failures from a decision. Importantly, Taposh discusses methodology. That discussion put this into perspective for both personal and professional decisions, highlighting the importance of understanding how and why you got to a decision. Often pen and paper can help with this, and it is our intention that soon the app will too. 

As always, all the best from Potsdam. Until next time,

The Team at ODE ❤️ 

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