In 2021, Strategic Decisions Group celebrated its 40th anniversary. On this page, we recount the genesis of the organization and of the fields of decision science, decision analysis, and decision quality. 

Ron Howard Stanford


The term “decision analysis” (frequently abbreviated as “DA”) was coined in 1964 by Professor Ronald A. Howard of Stanford University to describe the integration and application of decision theory and systems engineering to significant decision problems. In his seminal 1966 paper, “Decision Analysis: Applied Decision Theory”, he defined DA as “the discipline comprising the philosophy, theory, methodology, and professional practice to formalize the analysis of important decisions.” Shortly thereafter, Dr. Carl Spetzler worked, for the first time, with a major corporation to develop a consistent approach to decision making and risk management. Prof. Howard and Dr. Spetzler, along with Dr. Jim Matheson and Mr. Jeff Foran, ultimately founded Strategic Decisions Group, and the firm has since remained at the forefront of decision analysis theory and practice for 40 years.

SDG evolved from the decision analysis group at the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International), a group established by Dr. Howard in the “teaching hospital” model where decision analysts could learn and advance the then-nascent profession by consulting on actual business and societal decisions. This group developed many of the tools and concepts in use today, including influence diagrams, strategy tables, tornado diagrams, the accepted method for probability encoding, the concept of decision quality, and the Dialogue Decision Process. Many of these early papers were reprinted in a two-volume collection, “The Principles and Applications of Decision Analysis”.

From the outset, Dr. Spetzler, who has led SDG since its founding and is now chairman of the board, set out to create a new kind of management consulting firm—one that would harness the power of normative and behavioral decision analysis to help organizations choose the best course of action in the face of uncertainty, daunting complexity, competing preferences, and organizational complexity.

Now celebrating its 40th year, SDG continues to push the frontiers of the theory and practice of DA, motivated by the real-world issues faced by our clients. The firm’s professional staff includes not only PhD decision analysts but also experienced business consultants, bringing together the creative and analytic skills necessary to best serve our clients. In addition, we maintain our ties to academia with our relationships with Stanford University, The University of Texas at Austin, and RWTH Aachen University in Germany. As a firm, we have developed solutions to complex problems in business sectors as diverse as life sciences, energy technology, R&D, and public policy.

To learn more about how SDG has advanced the field of DA and Decision Quality, visit our Resources Hub and explore: