Focusing on learning various methods or processes for decisions gives us a “toolbox” of options we can apply to specific situations yielding better results in reasonable time frames with more consistent outcomes.

  • Formal methods are systematic approaches with rigorous processes
  • Quicker “rule of thumb models” are called heuristics

Formal Methods

Formal processes and approaches are systematic and take time and discipline to practice and learn. In addition, they are designed to get positive results despite the large complex, dynamic and nuanced issues. Most noteworthy, there are lots of case studies, community knowledge/support, and research behind these formal methods.

Often times the process can be prescriptive from an agency or legal standpoint.  Example:

  • Operational Risk Analysis for safety using the GAR model
  • NEPA for planning large projects with potential environmental, legal, financial- and community impacts,
  • Choosing by advantage/ value analysis for line item construction project review

Formal methods for decision making not mandated include:


Psychology today describes some of these in an article Major Choice Strategies, based on the seminal book by Reid Hastie and Robyn M. Dawes Rational Choice in an Uncertain World. Simple decision making and problem solving methods include:

  • Abstraction: attempting to solve the problem in a model of the system before applying it to the real system
  • Analogy: using a solution that solves an analogous problem
  • Divide and conquer: breaking down a large, complex problem into smaller, solvable problems
  • Means-ends analysis: choosing an action at each step to move closer to the goal
  • Reduction: proceeding to transform the problem into another problem for which solutions exist
  • Research: employing existing ideas or adapting existing solutions to similar problems
  • Root cause analysis: identifying the cause of a problem
  • Trial-and-error: testing possible solutions until the right one is found
  • More formal models for decision making are much more rigorous and systematic

Write a Review

Arrow pointing upwards. Click this icon to go back to the top of the page.