Paramount Decisions’ software adheres to and simplifies the eight steps of the Choosing by Advantages process, and it allows all of a project’s stakeholders to use it at the same time to reach decisions collaboratively. (Image courtesy of Paramount Decisions)
Major construction projects—veritable Gordian knots of competing interests for their stakeholders—are far from immune to analysis paralysis. Between their possible materials, their schedules, their various potential layouts, and the many individual preferences and needs of their designers, builders, subcontractors, and owners, among others, it’s no wonder that so many die at the planning stage. Paramount Decisions stands to help with this, though.
The start-up, founded in 2015, has created software meant to help with project decision-making using the Choosing by Advantages (CBA) process. It’s already garnered support from current CBA experts, and it’s designed to be much more user-friendly than the current Excel-based CBA process.
The idea of CBA was conceived by Jim Suhr, a member of the US Forest Service who more than once saw initiatives at the agency slowed down or ground to a halt thanks to indecision. His book, The Choosing by Advantages Decisionmaking System, released in 1999, was quickly picked up by the AEC industry as a potential roadmap for tackling complex construction work, and eventually project managers were attending week-long courses to learn how to implement the process using a template in Excel.
The problem with CBA, as Paramount Decisions cofounder and CTO Doanh Do saw it, was that the Excel approach was still too cumbersome. He studied the process while at The University of California–Berkeley, and he found that for every 20 projects he looked at that employed it, only one was actually done correctly. “We decided to turn this into software because we know that the process works and has worked well if you know what you’re doing, but the barrier to using it is very high,” Do says. “We built the software to … standardize the steps so that you can focus on your decision and not the methodology.”
Paramount Decisions software follows the eight steps of the CBA process, which help decision-makers understand the advantages of their various options and the specific costs of those advantages, according to Do. “In each step, you can focus on what’s relevant for yourself, and that really allows you to frame and understand what you’re trying to do with a decision,” he says, later adding that “you can see a cost-value trade-off between your options.”
After running a decision through Paramount Decisions’ CBA software, users can print out helpful single-page documents that help break the decision down for others. (Image courtesy of Paramount Decisions)
Once a decision is made, it can be turned into either a single-page A3 or a longer report breaking down the decision step-by-step. “This allows you to communicate the rationale with the owner,” Do says. “The goal here is that anybody who may or may not be part of the decision can follow the eight steps and understand how you arrived at your decision.”
John Koga, vice president of performance and innovation resources for The Boldt Company, is a CBA veteran who’s worked closely with Jim Suhr for the past 12 years, and after he had the chance to consult with Paramount Decisions and test out its product, he brought it to Boldt, where about 50 people are now signed up to use it, not including Boldt’s partners, who have access as well. “Even an inexperienced person could probably get through and do it correctly because of the way Paramount Decisions has it set up.” Koga says. “It removes a lot of the mistakes that people sometimes make and … error-proofs the whole process.”
Additionally, the fact that Paramount Decisions’ software is available online means multiple parties can more easily access and analyze a decision at the same time, and it offers additional tools for collaboration, including the ability to sync with people’s calendars. “Our trade partners, our subcontractors, our clients—anyone—could be involved … on a particular project,” Koga says. “The access is very, very good.”
Paramount Decisions released the first commercial version of its product in May 2016, and it’s picked up other AEC clients since then, including DPR Construction, and it’s also working with a major automobile manufacturer. Moving forward, it will continue updating its software, with a particular emphasis on additional tools for teamwork. “Right now we’re just looking at how [to] improve people’s ability to collaborate,” Do says. “All the features are designed for enhanced collaboration and enhanced tracking of your steps.”