Decision mapping

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Decision mapping aims to cast light on patterns of real-world decision making in an organization. In an ideal world, a tool such as Sensemaker is deployed ways which provide a disintermediated journal reflecting the real time insight into what is driving decision making, what information sources are being drawn upon, how collaboration and communication works, what resources are perceived as of value and what catalysts and constraints are seen as open to modulation in ways which would make a difference.

As a method applied in isolation, decision mapping may be deployed to highlight gaps which inevitably arise between work-as-envisaged and work-as-done, but may also highlight manageable artefacts in ways which give reasons for change. The output might look like an extended network model: messy but at least vaguely coherent. Decision mapping may also be used in conjunction with other methods as part of a knowledge mapping exercise


List of methods / Knowledge management methods

Discovering decisions and their nature is part of creating a bottom up approach to knowledge management strategy. Decisions are at the heart of human activity and mapping gives you the basis for lots of other understanding and intervention design.

Decision mapping has high utility in its own right as, done properly, it reveals the true nature of activity in an organization. That can then be contrasted with the formal understanding of the organization, normally represented in a process map with supporting procedures. Contrasting what is with what is thought to be with a representation of reality is a key complexity technique. Presenting that contrast without evaluation is an essential aspect of changing attitudes by enabling descriptive self-awareness. This means allowing decision makers to come to conclusions for themselves by presenting evidence of dissonance; the role of the consultant being to enable this rather than to determine the answer.

This type of mapping is not just of value in knowledge management. It's a key element in complexity based strategy, scaling Agile development, etc.

Decision mapping produces two outputs (i) a series of actions or projects arising from contrasting it with the formal process map and (ii) a set of knowledge objects, things that can be managed, derived from the decision mapping using the ASHEN perspective question.

Name and history

Notes about the origin and subsequent developments of the method.

Prior knowledge needed

Key frameworks, concepts, and principles

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Related methods


Decision mapping is best derived from a mass narrative capture, but can be achieved through interviews or workshops. The key thing is to gather material without analytical questions or any form of judgement. We are after what decisions people make daily, weekly, monthly, annually, exceptionally. Stories give context that will be useful later but they are not critical.


The process can be done manually, or more effectively with a simple SenseMaker® deployment. It is described with SenseMaker® but the manual alternative is also indicated stage by stage in the commentary & tips.

All staff or a representative sample of staff are asked to record each decision they make, preferably as it is made, no matter how trivial. This can be done using text, voice, pictures or any combination thereof. Without SenseMaker® this is often done through workshops and interviews with a sample of staff focusing them on what decisions they make daily, weekly, monthly, annually or some other event based stimulus. SenseMaker supports this process through real-time journalling tools that allow users to capture decisions by typing, recording, taking a photograph or using a drawing/picture. Respondents are asked to download SenseMaker® to their smartphones and to make a note of every decision they make. Inputs to decision mapping or tools to capture decisions can be diverse, including SenseMaker, decision diaries / lessons learned journals, workshops, etc. NB: decision capture is best done at the time, in narrative or other rich form and in the wild ie in context. Decisions can also be captured by 'naive observers'.
For each decision, record the information received, information that got attention, the resources or artefacts used, social networks/advice used in making the decision, and how the decision is communicated and/or enacted. Record not only the actual but also the ideal - what would have made it better and how did they feel? Respondents have the opportunity to identify how the decision could better be communicated, to whom and with what improved information sources and resources. In SenseMaker, this process can use predetermined categories relevant to the organisation or can just be left open. Often it is worth capturing for a week or so, then creating a drop down set of options as the journaling continues. Capture is more limited manually, but does have the advantage of letting the interview start to construct an emergent taxonomy of information and resource use which will reduce the time in analysis.
Cluster the decisions and create a map with information flows. For each decision point cluster, three things are identified: (i) information currently used; (ii) information that, if it was available, would improve the decision; (iii) how the decision is communicated. If using SenseMaker®, each decision is mapped onto triads and stones. That allows us to look at underlying decision types and then cluster them for evaluation. Without SenseMaker® the process of clustering is workshop based and time-consuming and manual in nature; having a lot of junior analysts helps here.
Finally “information in” is matched to “information out” between the various decision clusters to create a map of information flows. In a workshop (with some preparation) the decision clusters with summarised information flows are presented and decisions are linked and connected: communication from one decision will be information input into another and so on. At the end of this you end up with a wall of hexagons with lots of links between them. This will also show up gaps that require investigation.
Compare decision-information map with organisational process map: the map is transcribed into concept mapping software which optimises the representation and you end up with something that looks like an extended network model. It's messy but it is coherent and on comparison, it typically it bears little relationship to the formal organisational process map. The gaps between the actual decision map and the theoretical process map then become specific change projects that will feed into the wider picture. Of course it would be better to start process mapping with a decision map and then modify it over time, but in most cases it is too late - so instead, we are forced to compare the idealised process map (often very neat and tidy, and created by consultants a few years back) with the reality of day to day work.

Ideally you would run this over a few months in background and then leave it in place for subsequent monitoring.

Do's and Don'ts

Simple bulleted list including common mistakes

Virtual running

Default is to state that it cannot be until we have developed and tested practice. If it can be run virtually then we describe it here.

It is acceptable to add a third column to the workflow if needed

Method card material

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Back of card summary

Decisions are captured ideally at the time they are made, in narrative or other rich forms, using tools such as SenseMaker® Genba, decision diaries/lessons learned journals, workshops, etc. The decisions are clustered and a map with information flows is created. For each decision point cluster, three things are identified: (i) information currently used; (ii) information that, if it was available, would improve the decision; (iii) how the decision is communicated. Finally, decision clusters are linked to create a map of information flows. The decision-information map may be compared with organisational process maps, and gaps between the actual and theoretical may become change projects.

How can it be used?

for diagnosis

for analysis/understanding

for intervention


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