The TDODAR Decision Model
Considering Your Options Under Pressure
Have you ever been pressured to make a crucial decision while the clock ticks away against you?
It's a scenario that most of us can relate to. IT systems crash hours before you're due to turn in a report. Faults get discovered with new products days before they're due to launch to market. Several team members ask for compassionate leave simultaneously, just when you need all hands on deck. Every now and then, situations like these arise, and you have to react and make a judgment call – fast.
Some people are naturally calm, clear thinkers who cope well with stressful situations. Others find that pressure "paralyzes" them or leads them into rushing decisions. It can be useful to have a structure in place that works as well in pressured situations as it does for regular, everyday decisions.
This article walks you through TDODAR* – a decision-making framework that can help you to make carefully considered, timely and effective decisions.
About the Tool
TDODAR is a popular decision-making tool in the aviation industry. Pilots often use its six sequential steps to help them solve problems in mid-flight. TDODAR stands for:
It's a simple and intuitive tool that you can use in any decision-making situation, whether you're flying an airplane or fixing a server bug. It's particularly useful for making well-considered decisions in emergencies and in pressured situations where there's a real element of uncertainty about what to do.
With TDODAR, you follow the steps in a structured manner to plot a way forward through the problem at hand, and this helps you to avoid panic and decision-making paralysis.
TDODAR is one of many decision-making tools. The Recognition-Primed Decision (RPD) Process, for example, is another tool designed to prepare you to make effective decisions in stressful, time-pressured situations. The 8D Problem-Solving Process and the Simplex Process are more general alternatives that can be handy when you have a little more time to form your decision.
How to Use TDODAR
Before you use the tool, it helps to know some general rules for getting the best results from it. Aviation instructor David Moriarty identified these hallmarks of a successful TDODAR:
- Carry out each step independently.
- State thoughts and facts succinctly. This keeps discussions focused and swift.
- Collaboration can aid the process. Asking direct questions of others, without revealing your analysis of the situation, can help you to get honest, "uncontaminated" views from them.
- If you're working with others, move on to each new stage after you reach agreements. If you disagree, select the most conservative opinion before moving forward.
The time to implement TDODAR is the moment when it becomes clear that a decision is needed. To start the process, work through the following six stages.
It's important to know at the outset how much time you have to make your decision. Being clear and certain about the amount of time available to you will affect how you carry out the following steps. It can stop you panicking if you have time to make a methodical decision and it can help you to prioritize if time is short.
Record the time available in a prominent place so that it remains clear to everyone.
This is where you call in your resources to work out precisely what the problem is, and where you explore a range of possible causes, from the obvious to the less apparent. Gather people who can help, any data you might need, and any industry aide-mémoire that can guide your diagnosis.
The 5 Whys technique can be useful here. It's a simple but powerful tool for quickly getting to the root of moderately difficult problems. If the situation is more complex, and if you have more time available, try Cause and Effect Analysis.
Thorough diagnosis is essential for avoiding confirmation bias, where you interpret the information available in a way that confirms your presumptions and make poorly informed decisions as a result. Fully evaluating a problem will enable you to be certain of the issues.
If you are working as part of a group, be vigilant for Groupthink. This is a phenomenon that occurs when people choose not to voice their true thoughts about one another's ideas in favor of group consensus. You can avoid this happening by looking out for the symptoms and by nurturing an environment where participants feel free to explore options and their alternatives without fear of criticism or reprisal.
Having established the nature of the problem and its causes, you can now think about what options are open to you to resolve it. Start by thinking these through in a structured way. It's important to consider as many different options as possible. Use brainstorming if you get blocked.
The decision may be obvious, and, if time is short, you'll have to make a decision based on training. If you have longer, see our Decision Making Techniques section for a wide range of approaches that suit different situations.
It's now time to make a decision. Consider each of the options; choose the best and most sensible one, and agree whether to proceed with it.
In pressured situations, it can be wise to consult others to avoid the risks of overconfidence and undue haste at this stage, but remember who the ultimate decision maker is. If it's not you, then it's usually the most senior person.
5. Act, or Assign
Stage 5 involves implementing your decision. Break it down into "action" tasks and allocate these to the people who are most qualified to do them. Think, for example, who will lead a recovery effort, who is best placed to motivate people, and who might handle the press releases.
The review stage of TDODAR is the most important. It's crucial to avoid the trap of thinking that you've now dealt with the problem. You need to assess that everything is going as you planned it to and that you're seeing the results you need or expect. If so, then the decision you made and the actions you've implemented are resolving the problem.
If the problem isn't being rectified, or if it's getting worse, you need to run through another cycle of TDODAR. As you do, challenge every assumption you made and each piece of information that you assessed, and reconsider options that you discarded.
Don't reserve this stage for the end of the TDODAR process. Repeat it at any opportunity that arises throughout the process. Doing so will help you to ensure that you don't miss anything and to keep an eye on the evolving situation. Circumstances can change, and you need to stay aware to respond quickly and flexibly.
Once you have successfully resolved the situation, do an After Action Review to learn lessons from the situation.
You're responsible for producing a new cookbook. It's been printed and you've heard that there are problems with it. The marketing campaign has already started, so any delay could be catastrophic. You assess that you have 48 hours to resolve the issues.
You gather your team to diagnose the problems: a) there is a critical error in Chapter 3, b) the dust cover's front picture wraps over the spine, and c) the spine text appears on the back cover.
You identify the causes of issues b) and c) as an incorrect spine width and poor positioning. You devise four options: reprinting the book, reprinting just the jacket and inserting an erratum slip, reprinting just the jacket, or fixing the problem in the next edition.
Choosing the second option, you assign the job of fixing the jacket to a new designer, of arranging an erratum slip to your typesetter, and of producing both to your printer. You put your project manager in overall charge.
When the jacket and erratum arrive, your team checks them to make sure that no issues remain. You also review your processes to make sure that these problems won't reoccur.
TDODAR is a quick, simple structure for making informed, considered and swift decisions, and is particularly useful in emergency and uncertain situations.
The six stages of TDODAR are:
- Act, or Assign
Organized as a circular sequence of steps, TDODAR allows you to adapt to changing circumstances and to disappointing results as you go, until you reach a good end result.
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