Decision-making models in Web development

20 August 2010 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

Unlike in the medical and the aerospace sectors, erroneous decisions in the Web development domain do not cost lives. However, poorly made decisions in all these sectors can lead to serious financial consequences. Good decisions can save both time, money and lives but the difference between bad and good decisions is not always clear until the project team gets into the last stages of the development process. In order to avoid making bad decisions in the Web domain, the Smashing Magazine provides an overview of the most efficient decision-making models that can help Web developers structure and ultimately make more informed and better decision during the design of their online systems.

The most useful decision-making models for the Web and other domains include:

  1. SHEL, which stands for Software, Hardware, Environment, Liveware, is used as a brainstorming and planning tool to assess the interactions in various situations. This model is normally drawn out as a cross and it places Liveware (i.e. the end user) in the middle, which reinforces the point that the end user should be the main focus of the planning process. Going clock-wise, the top of the model allows decision-makers to consider Software (e.g. browsers, operating systems, Flash, JavaScript), the right arm of the model focuses on second type of Liveware (e.g. social media, support), the bottom of the model aims to capture Environment (e.g the whereabouts of the users and the context in which they are using the end product), and finally the left arm of the model considers Hardware (e.g. monitor, PC/MAC, mobile device).
  2. DODAR, which is an acronym for Diagnose, Options, Decide, Assign, Review, captures the five key areas of any decision-making process in the form of a circular flow. The Diagnose stage is concerned with using all available resources to find out what the problem is and what causes it. The Options stage helps to assess whether the problem is urgent or can be left for a while. The next stage, Decide, focuses on deciding what course of action is sensible and whether it should be pursued. The Assign stage concentrates on allocating appropriate tasks to people who are capable of performing them. The last stage, Review, is of the highest importance as it helps to assess whether everything is going as planned and if the expected results are achieved. If things are not going according to plan, then it is necessary to find out why and run through the DODAR cycle again until all the problems are rectified.
  3. NITS Brief is a quick communication framework, which can be of assistance when a task needs to be communicated to colleagues or clients. It stands for Nature, Intentions, Time and Specials. Nature is concerned with the nature of the problem or task (e.g. what is it and why did it happen?). Intentions relate to the actions that are hoped to be taken to solve the task. Time refers to the length of time that is needed or expected to carry out the actions. Specials are concerned with anything unusual or unexpected, for example, if a particular colleague would normally be expected to do something else?
  4. Swiss Cheese Model was developed by arguably the biggest expert on human errors, James Reason. This model is widely used in different industries (e.g. medical and aerospace) and it is based on the assumption that if errors in separate system layers are not caught out on time, collectively they can align and lead to more serious problems. Therefore, it is necessary to address errors in individual layers when they do not pose serious problems.

I hope that, on the consideration of the aforementioned models, you will be persuaded to check them out and in general focus more time and resources on ensuring that you make well-informed and correct choices in your designs.

Swiss Cheese Model