Abstract for: Helping executives with strategic decisions – building confidence

Many System Dynamics practitioners have learned (and added to) best practices in modeling, including tests that can be used to help evaluate the usefulness of a model and guide improvements. Many have spoken of these in prior conferences and publications (eg, Sterman, System Dynamics Review, Volume 18, Number 4, 2002) and these practices are essential parts of building confidence in insights derived from System Dynamics analysis. However, it is also helpful to turn the question around, and look from the eyes of a decision-maker. Decision-makers rarely rely on a System Dynamics analysis in making important decisions, and indeed it is rare for most senior managers to use any type of holistic, rigorous analysis to support critical decisions. In my experience working with many executives, most decisions are made with some form of ‘gut instinct’ applied on top of many different types of information, including narrow and limited quantitative analysis, qualitative information, opinions of others they trust or who wield power, and other even more ephemeral considerations (eg, wanting to be seen as a decisive leader). Against this messy backdrop of how many decisions are made, what can modelers do to better gain the confidence of senior decision-makers and thus have a greater impact on actions that affect important issues? I will share experiences from twenty five years of personal work using modeling and analysis helping senior executives with critical decisions, along with lessons from colleagues in our work beginning at Pugh-Roberts Associates and continuing since 1990 as part of PA Consulting Group. Some of these are positive lessons about what has worked well, and others from earlier work – lessons from what did not work well and drove us to improve.