The Role of Monitoring

‘Monitoring’ involves active surveillance. For Deciders, it means checking that what was assumed when the decision was made, is what is occurring. Without monitoring, Deciders cannot have confidence that both implementation and outcomes will be as intended. 

Extract from Deciding

Monitoring provides the opportunity to re-visit and adjust the decision if variance is detected between what was intended or assumed and what later is observed. Quite often, monitoring allows  changes of outcome to be anticipated  before they have occurred or been experienced.

Reasons for Variance

The main reasons for the outcomes of decisions being other than as intended by the Decider are:

  1. the decision-making process was defective; 
  2. implementation does not proceed as assumed or intended;
  3. elements of the decision intended to respond to variance, fail over time; and
  4. over the life of a decision1, changes occur in the context in which the decision was made, invalidating the assumptions that underpin the decision


The book Deciding provides the following examples of each of the above reasons for variance, together with the changes in outcome that might result:

#1 Using incorrect wind measurements when calculating course changes during a sailing match race results in advantage to the other boat.

#2 Poorly translated instructions in furniture ‘flat packs’ results in home assembly being other than intended by the designers.

#3 Precautionary testing of biological counts for water used in a food manufacture process occurs. However, gradual drift in the calibration of the test instruments goes unnoticed resulting in inadvertent contamination and reputational problems.

#4 Structural defects occur in a building some years after construction because excavation of a neighbouring property causes changes to the water table affecting the stability of the foundations of the original building.

Examples taken from ‘Deciding‘.

Criteria for Successful Monitoring

The real value of monitoring is that it allows Deciders to respond to variance, so that there is still sufficient certainty that desired outcomes will result. Deciders should therefore consider:

  • What to monitor?
  • How to monitor?
  • Who is to receive the results?
  • How will variance be recognised?
  • How best to respond?
  • What lessons can be learned? 

These and many related issues are addressed in the book Decidingin a chapter of the main text and a supplementary appendix containing much practical advice.

1 The ‘life’ of a decision refers to the period (ranging from seconds to years) over which its outcomes will continue to be generated or experienced.