DSS News 
                    D. J. Power, Editor 
               May 23, 2004 -- Vol. 5, No. 11
         A Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM 


         Check the case by Databeacon Staff on the
      East of England Observatory at DSSResources.COM


* Ask Dan! - How does planning differ from decision-making?
* What's New? at DSSResources.COM
* DSS News Releases


  2004 Crystal Ball User Conference, June 17-18, Denver, CO


Ask Dan!
by Dan Power

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 (DSS) 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. Harrison's 
book "The Managerial Decision-Making Process" still resides in my 
library. At the time, the book cost me USD $11.95 for a course that I 
was taking from Prof. Gerald Rose at the University of Iowa. Jerry was 
my first mentor in the intersecting realm of computers and 
decision-making. Harrison reviews various definitions of the term 
decision-making.  Reviewing the book today, I am impressed with the 
broad multi-disciplinary perspective that Harrison used to try to frame 
the complex process of decision-making.  In subsequent years I've 
quickly scanned later editions, but his perspective seems to have 
remained fixed.

In his overview chapter, Harrison quotes from a book co-authored by two 
of my professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Andre Delbecq 
and Larry Cummings.  That book "Organizational Decision Making" by 
Shull, Delbecq and Cummings (1970) has also had a major impact on my 
thinking.  A quick scan of the indexes of both Harrison and Shull et al. 
shows however a major disconnect in resolving this Ask Dan! question.  
Neither book includes planning as a topic or key term in the index. 
Planning seems to have been excluded from the scope of decision making 
in the 1970s. The logic and structure of Shull et al. is credited in the 
preface as owing much to both Herbert Simon and Victor Thompson.  
Reading both Simon and Thompson is important in gaining a behavioral and 
a more macro organizational perspective on decision making, but again 
neither author resolves the current question.

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 
Wisconsin in the late 1970's, George Huber introduced me to another 
variant perspective.  For a year, I worked as Huber's graduate assistant 
helping with his book (1980) "Managerial Decision Making". Huber took 
much more of a decision analytical and group process perspective on 
decision making.  That research experience only emphasized for me the 
conceptual limitations imposed on decision-making and planning research. 
 In retrospect, the compartments identified by Harrison stemming from 
psychological, sociological and quantitative decision making research 
have not been integrated, resolved or completely understood.  From my 
vantage point and review of the literature, a conceptual "black hole" 
remains. Decision making attracts our attention, but we can not seem to 
escape with a sense of understanding or even satiation. 

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 

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.

On a related note, my Web publishing venture is branching out to include 
a new website, PlanningSkills.COM.  This "sister" site to 
DSSResources.COM is under development, but the skeleton of the site is 
online.  The ontology to support the knowledge repository is almost 
finalized.  We are currently developing seven content channels with that 
content categorized on three dimensions: application domain, planning 
situation, and planning topic. We would appreciate any feedback on the 
categorization scheme.  The plan is to store categorized content in a 
MySQL database with some file pointers and then to use PHP to generate 
dynamic web content that is reponsive and targeted to user requests. 
This is a major new project for us.  As always visit our Web sites, send 
your complements and constructive suggestions and please tell your 
friends about us.  If you are a subscriber to DSSResources.COM, thanks.



Harrison, E. F., The Managerial Decision-Making Process, Boston, MA: 
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975.

Huber, G. P., Managerial Decision Making, Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman 
and Co., 1980.

Shull, F. A., jr., A. L. Delbecq, and L. L. Cummings, Organizational 
Decision Making, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1970.

Simon, H. A., Administrative Behavior, New York, NY: The Macmillan 
Company, 1947. 

Simon, H. A., The New Science of Management Decision, New York, NY: 
Harper and Row, 1960.


What's New? at DSSResources.COM

05/14/2004 Posted case by Databeacon Staff, "East of England Observatory 
adopts hosted services decision support solution". Check the cases page.


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DSS News - May 10 to May 21, 2004
Read them at DSSResources.COM and search the DSS News Archive

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05/13/2004 SIG DSS pre-ICIS Workshop Call for Participation.

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05/11/2004 Documentum delivers new standards-based portlet development 
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05/10/2004 Loram formalizes business processes and gains competitive 
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05/10/2004 TIBCO Software Inc. launches new government solutions 
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05/10/2004 NexPrise introduces two new applications: Cost Estimation and 
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05/10/2004 Geac integrates its performance management offerings with 
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