How does planning differ from decision-making?
This frequently asked question seems straight forward and easy to answer, but it is one that I have grappled with for many years. Discriminating decision-making from planning can potentially assist in the design and implementation of Decision Support Systems. It seems useful to ask “Are the two concepts synonyms, or highly interrelated concepts or superordinate/subordinate concepts? Does planning involve decision-making? Does decision-making involve planning? Are both concepts part of a broader conceptual process called problem solving?”
This Ask Dan! summarizes some conclusions that I have reached over the past 30 years, some thoughts of others and more importantly it provides a departure point for designers of computerized DSS who need to grapple with the intended purpose of the systems they want to build.
At DSSResources.COM Decision Support Systems are defined as a class of computerized information systems that support decision-making activities. So decision-making is a central concept in building and studying DSS. The first book about decision-making that I recall reading was by Frank Harrison shortly after it was published in 1975.
In his overview chapter,
My first exposure to an academic perspective on planning came from George Strother at UW-Madison. George was a retired Navy officer and he approached business planning and strategy from a military perspective and he conceptualized planning as “anticipatory decision-making”. At
Intellectually, the late Herbert Simon has probably had more direct and indirect impact upon my thinking about decision making and decision support than has any one person, but his 1960 definition of decision making is too narrow a conceptualization for building Decision Support Systems. Simon wrote “Decision making comprises three principal phases: finding occasions for making a decision; finding possible courses of actions; and choosing among courses of action (p. 1).” Some authors expand or reinterpret Simon's concept to include implementation as part of decision making, but that is an inadequate reconceptualization. Decision making or decision-making is a much more complex concept and it subsumes planning. Planning is “anticipatory decision-making”. Plans are preliminary decisions that may be adjusted and changed by circumstances before an action is actually executed. A need for action termed a contingency is anticipated and various courses of action are then evaluated prior to the time when a final commitment to act must be made.
What differs in action-oriented decision making and in planning situations? One factor that seems salient is the time pressure to act. In a planning situation decision making proceeds without extreme time pressure and then on a continuum time pressure increases as crisis decision making is triggered. Planning assumes a decision maker has anticipated a relevant contingency. Action-oriented decision-making occurs in the context of a more pressing need for a decision. Also, the potential impact on future behavior of the relevant players differs, plans and anticipatory decision making can change emergent behavior even if the plan is not eventually enacted. Action-oriented decision-making may actually often be reactionary and because action closely follows decision, the time for reflection is limited.
Action-oriented decision-making is about action in the “here and now”, the present, and planning decision making is about anticipated action in the future. Action-oriented decision making often focuses on evaluating and approving a “single” course of action that may extend during implementation over a significant period of time. Then incremental adjustments in a decision may occur during implementation.
Anticipatory decision making, a.k.a. planning, often focuses on designing and evaluating a set or sequence of actions that may be implemented over a period of time at some point in the future either in response to a specific contingency or as part of a broader intended strategy.
Both planning and decision making can be conceptualized as skills for individuals and as processes completed by a single individual, a group, an organization, or by a collection of stakeholders. Some authors use planning and decision making as synonyms; some authors emphasize procedural and quantitative approaches when defining decision making; other authors emphasize behavioral and process elements of an ambiguous “decision making process”. The two concepts are highly interrelated and DSS researchers can use decision making as an umbrella term. I'll reserve a discussion of problem solving to another Ask Dan! column.
So ... a planning support system is a DSS. Planning models can be included in model-driven DSS. DSS can assist with a wide variety of planning tasks. All five categories of DSS are relevant for assisting with planning tasks and anticipatory decision making. DSS can support real-time, action-oriented decision making and DSS can assist in anticipatory contingency-oriented decision making.
According to Shull, Delbecq and Cummings (1970), “Man's life is an ongoing stream of decisions, a continuum of choice-making imperatives. ... A significant part of man's life reflects the decision process -- even some habitual behavior can be viewed as automatic responses to choices previously made. For this reason alone, decision making merits study and evaluation (pps. 3-4).” Thanks Andre and Larry.
Huber, G. P., Managerial Decision Making,
Shull, F. A., jr., A. L. Delbecq, and L. L. Cummings, Organizational Decision Making,
Simon, H. A., Administrative Behavior,
Simon, H. A., The New Science of Management Decision,
The above response is from Power, D., How does planning differ from decision-making? DSS News, Vol. 5, No. 11,
Last update: 2005-08-06 17:19
Author: Daniel Power
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