STRAD: PROGRAM DESIGN
To help you in developing an agreed view of the shape of the "problem space" ahead of you, STRAD invites you to build up a list of your current issues of concern, classifying each of them as either a decision area, an uncertainty area, or a comparison area (that is, a criterion for choice).
The current status of your project can then be viewed at any time through an overview window, on which all elements of these three types are listed. Any further details which are stored on any of the areas entered - including a fuller description - can be called up by double-clicking on its label.
The central circle of the overview window displays the labels of all decision areas which are currently in focus (see below), while the surrounding space displays the set of uncertainty areas which impinge on these decisions, classified into three broad sectors:
Using the show menu of the overview window, you can call up a subsidiary issue list window in which new issues of concern can be entered, classifying them as decision areas, uncertainty areas or comparison areas as you go. Any issue which is hard to classify can be stored temporarily in an issue bank. A blank issue list appears automatically whenever you start building up a new project file.
Once enough decision areas have been entered to represent some at least of the important choices ahead of you, you can develop further your picture of the shape of your "problem space" by opening the focus window. This enables you to build up a map of the interconnections among your decision areas, known as a decision graph.
If there are so many interconnected decision areas that they become hard to explore in depth at the same time, you can then choose a more limited problem focus, taking into account not only the pattern of links but also the relative importance and urgency of the decision areas. STRAD offers you various procedures to help you in this, while leaving the final choice of focus to your own judgement.
Decision areas can be dragged to new positions at any time, or dragged into or out of the "ex graph" list to the left. Other mouse operations enable new links to be added simply - using thinner lines if they are doubtful - and existing links to be removed.
Once you have agreed on a focus for the next stage of your work, and you have also identified two or more options to represent the range of choice in each decision area within this focus, you are in a position to move to the designing mode, to start exploring the overall range of choice within this focus. You are recommended at this stage to work with a focus of five decision areas or fewer.
When you open the compatibility window, you will see a triangular array of small rectangular blocks. In this you can examine the decision areas within your focus taking one pair at a time, checking whether or not you judge each option in the first decision area of the pair to be compatible with each option in the second.
Wherever you believe a pair of options to be incompatible, you can enter a cross - or a question mark if you are doubtful. Every time you enter a new incompatibility assumption - or option bar - the number of solutions available to the problem defined by your focus is likely to be reduced; an estimate of this number appears in a small box to the right of the window.
If you wish, you can keep a record of your reasons for excluding combinations as you go. You can then relax some of these constraints later if you wish to open up a wider range of solutions.
To see a display of the actual range of solutions available - or decision schemes in the strategic choice language - you can then open the schemes window. This displays the full range of paths available through your problem in branching format - with an option of displaying as a list if preferred.
There are menu options which enable you at this stage to alter the sequence in which the decision areas appear; to show or hide any uncertain schemes; to call up a count of the number of appearances of each option; or, when you are ready, to start making decisions, by selecting a preferred option within the first one or more decision areas in your sequence.
You may sometimes wish to take this step of "locking" a selected option in one or more of the earlier decision areas if it clearly offers much greater flexibility of future choice than the others. However, it is more usual to defer any choice until some time has been spent working in the comparing mode, so as to identify which paths seem preferable to the others in the light of some of your more important criteria or comparison areas.
Your work in comparing possible courses of action is supported first by the assess window - which enables you to enter assessments of the differences between options in each decision area from the perspective of any of your comparison areas, and then to combine these assessments to generate a shortlist of promising solutions - and secondly by the balance window, which enables you to compare promising solutions from your shortlist in more depth, taking sources of uncertainty more fully into account.
The main Assess window - not shown here - helps you to make quick initial judgements about which of your comparison areas are most significant for which of your decision areas, so that you can consider these combinations first when assessing option differences. This process involves opening successive option assessment windows, each of which enables you to assess the differences between options within a selected decision area from the perspective of a selected comparison area.
The option differences are assessed by using your mouse to position a marker for each option along a scale. You can use also use a pair of symmetrical "range markers" to indicate a range of uncertainty. You can if you wish calibrate your scale in terms of numerical units where these can be easily defined. However, the procedures of STRAD are designed to encourage you to work visually, without defining numerical units, for all comparison areas where no recognised scale of measurement exists. There are procedures which enable you to adjust the relative weightings of your comparison areas, and to adjust the various scaling factors used in the display.
Once you have made all the option assessments that are important to you, you can combine all this information across multiple decision areas, across multiple comparison areas or both. STRAD uses simple aggregation methods to display a set of multi-criterion assessments of all the feasible "decision schemes". You can then make adjustments if desired; you can sort the schemes into a preference order; and you can select a shortlist of those which seem worth comparing in more depth.
You can now open the balance window and proceed to examine pairs of decision schemes near the top of the preference order in more depth. At this stage you are encouraged to take into account any comparison areas not yet considered, and review systematically all the sources of uncertainty which get in the way of choice, logging any newly-revealed uncertainty areas as you go.
Wherever it is judged that one decision scheme in a pair is clearly overshadowed by the other, that scheme can be discarded. STRAD offers you some simple yet adjustable rules which you can use to guide you in this judgement.
To support you in choosing how to move forward in your current situation, STRAD offers first an uncertainty window, which helps you in judging what to do about those areas of uncertainty that stand in the way of decisions, and secondly a progress window, which helps you to assemble a balanced strategy for making decisions and managing uncertainty, both now and in the future.
The uncertainty window displays a list of all the uncertainty areas that have been entered so far. It enables you to review their relative prominence in relation to the set of choices on which you are focusing at this time - whether this be the full set of decision schemes available within your present project focus, or a closer comparison of two promising alternatives resulting from your work in the balance window.
The window then enables you to select your more prominent uncertainty areas one by one and, though calling up an uncertainty area detail window, to start considering what forms of exploratory action you might consider as a means of reducing the prevailing level of uncertainty - and thereby of increasing the level of confidence with which decisions can be made.
Such actions may take the form of various proposals for investigation, consultation or negotiation - depending on the way in which the current uncertainty area has been classified. Before deciding whether to adopt any such action, you can if you wish identify two or more different exploratory options which you might pursue. The uncertainty area detail window then enables you to make quick comparisons between these options in terms of three key criteria: cost, delay and expected gain in the confidence with which decisions can be made. It is not unusual for such comparisons to lead to agreement on quick and informal steps to reduce uncertainty - for example, telephone calls - in preference to more formal and time-consuming procedures.
Finally, the progress window presents a synoptic view of the progress which you have made so far. It takes the form of a grid divided vertically into NOW and FUTURE sections, each of them further subdivided into a column for decisions and a column for uncertainties. The grid may also be divided horizontally into user-defined sectors of responsibility to which the various decision areas and uncertainty areas may be assigned.
If a preferred option has already been agreed within a decision area, that area will automatically appear in the NOW section - with the selected option indicated. This will be the case if a preferred option has been selected through the schemes window - a step which is not normally taken until some comparison and shortlisting has been carried out using the assess window. An uncertainty area will appear in the NOW section in any case where a preferred exploratory option has been selected.
Alternatively, decision areas and uncertainty areas can be moved directly between the FUTURE and NOW sections of the progress window, by pointing and dragging operations in the progress window itself - in which case, the available choice of options will be displayed. Decision areas or uncertainty areas can also be dragged from one sector of responsibility to another at this stage.
Once there is sufficient agreement, the resulting "progress package" can be adopted in any of three forms: as a basis for commitment; as a basis for recommendation to others; or as a strategic option to be presented to interested parties alongside others.
STRAD offers a range of print options which you can use to generate hard copy, at any desired level of detail, as a record of the progress that has been achieved so far. You are encouraged to save your work on a project at key points in your process, as a record of how your thinking or your discussions have evolved through time.
The demo disk which is available from Stradspan enables you to get hands-on experience in using all eight STRAD process windows. A set of eight demonstration project files are supplied with the demo, spanning various contexts of public and private decision-making, and various levels of organizational and inter-organizational concern. You can choose whichever of these project files is of most direct interest to you, then follow the various basic operations using an on-screen tutorial as a guide.