Virtual Teams

Augmented decision-making tools – a great place to start

I have been talking to a number of people recently about the risks and opportunities of automation and augmentation. If automation gets rid of jobs, augmentation should help us become more successful by automating the routine part of our job and providing us with tools to be more productive. One area of interest in many organisations is decision support.

I was talking to a client who were attracted by this idea and optimistic about new technology improving the decision processes.

To temper their enthusiasm, I asked them “what is your experience with existing decision support technology?” When they told me they didn’t have any I asked if they used Excel?

Excel has tremendous functionality to support decision-making. As well as the traditional spreadsheet we can also perform sophisticated statistical analyses and display information in a range of different ways. The trouble is that 90% of people don’t know how to use it properly and many find it difficult to ask the right question or understand the outputs of analysis.

One of my colleagues found significant errors in a business planning spreadsheet and when he tried to point out the problem to its users many people just didn’t understand the concepts – including one who struggled to understand an average.

The vast majority of people have never been trained to use this very fundamental tool that they probably use every week. So my number one tip for preparing for augmented working tools is to get training the ones you already have – your word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and virtual meetings technologies.

We run a program called compelling virtual facilitation to show people how to design re-engaging and participative WebEx or Skype for business sessions. It’s evident that the vast majority of people have never used a small sample of the engagement tools. A significant proportion don’t even know how to login successfully.

If we expect more sophisticated tools, and I’m sure they’re coming, we need to start building the behaviours and skills in three critical areas

  1. having the business acumen and understanding to be able to ask the right questions
  2. training people in the skills to use the tools
  3. building the ability to understand information that is presented as a result and to ask the right questions and understand the limits of accuracy of the data

Without these abilities we will simply be generating more data and people will be increasingly swamped with information they don’t understand. Longer term perhaps artificial intelligence will develop the ability to ask the right questions and understand the answers but I think that will be a long time coming.

For a good start right now, why not get people trained in the tools they use every day.

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