If you have lived on planet Earth more than a few years, you have participated in most of the methods of group decision-making and it likely began on the playground or in the backyard with your childhood friends. According to the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) Guide, Fifth Edition, group decision-making techniques are an assessment process having multiple alternatives with an expected outcome in the form of future actions. (Did your eyes glaze over, Marci?, mine did). They are described in the guide as of one of the tools and techniques to use in collecting requirements for project scope management.
These techniques can be used to generate, classify, and prioritize product requirements. There are four methods of reaching a group decision, that we need to know for the exam:
Unanimity. A decision that is reached whereby everyone agrees on a single course of action. One way to reach unanimity is the Delphi technique, in which a selected group of experts answers questionnaires and provides feedback regarding the responses from each round of requirements gathering. The responses are only available to the facilitator to maintain anonymity.
Majority. A decision that is reached with support obtained for more than 50% of the members of the group. Having a group size with an uneven number of participants can ensure that a decision will be reached, rather than resulting in a tie. Think of boards or councils when thinking how the majority decision-making technique is often seen in action.
Plurality. A decision that is reached whereby the largest block in a group decides, even if a majority is not achieved. This method is generally used when the number of options is more than two. Watch House of Cards to see how the character, Frank Underwood, wickedly maneuvers to get just enough votes to pass a bill or law. Have any of you finished the second season on Netflix?
Dictatorship. In this method, one individual makes the decision for the group. Hence the word DICTATOR in the name.
Let’s try to apply what we learned above to a situation. We have a group of 7th grade students planning a summer enrichment trip to study marine life at some undefined location in Texas. There are 25 students in the class planning to participate. As the facilitator of the group you have to decide which group decision- making technique to apply.
For unanimity method, each student would answer a questionnaire, developed by the teacher and the students as they conducted research on Texas marine life, and they selected locations and prepared questions as related to the research. The questionnaires are answered by the student, the facilitator removes unrelated data each time the questionnaire is completed and provides back to the students a more refined list of locations. The students are never identified as to their preferences for trip location to the group. This process is continued multiple times until everyone agrees on a single course of action. In this case, they all agree to go to Corpus Christi to explore marine life hands on at the beach and at the city aquarium. You can see that this method would take considerable time and effort by the facilitator as well as class time for the students but the expectation is that everyone is in agreement about the location of the summer trip and that the decision is aligned to the expected outcome of the project and on research.
For the majority method, the teacher could present a list of locations to visit and the class would vote (maybe multiple times) until it was agreed by 13 or more (50%) of the students. This method doesn’t always leave the other 12 students feeling great about the decision but through multiple voting options, they were able to vote, hopefully more than just one time before a majority was reached and more input was received. This method takes less time than unanimity method and may work if all of the locations listed were of similar size, distance, offerings, cost, etc. In this case, they decided on San Antonio with a visit to Sea World.
For the plurality method, the facilitator presents a list of locations and everyone votes. The location that receives the most votes is the winner. This method often leaves many in the group questioning the quality and the equity of the decision for a variety of reasons. The kids voted in a block of ten in the first round of voting and the class is headed to Lubbock to see the Red Raider stadium and take a trip to the marina at Buffalo Springs Lake. The families were Red Raider fans and the kids always wanted to go to Lubbock.
The dictatorship method is where the facilitator decides what is best location for the students based on her experiences and picks the place for the trip. At times this is a required method. Think of Mom or Dad using the dictatorship method often when dealing with a two-year old. The facilitator may have picked Corpus Christi like the kids did in the unanimity method but then again, she may have picked, Houston, just as easily. What is problematic about dictatorship is the lack of collaboration and buy in to the process that students experience in this method.
Which method would you choose?