To make a decision you need information and you can only make a decision about the present or the future. Making a decision about how to handle a past event is still a decision about the future.
Information has six attributes. It must be relevant, accurate, timely, supported, accessible, and complete.
Different personality types will make a decision based on different percentages of information. A good decision-maker will make a decision when the time is right, even if they have incomplete information, as long as the information they do have is relevant, accurate, and accessible. These types of people are rare. More frequently, organisations get bogged down as the business waits for decisions to be made and the decision-makers request an ever-increasing amount of information.
Getting the decision right is important because bad decision-making is the most expensive activity in a business. Not making a decision is equally expensive.
The question therefore becomes: “How do you accelerate decision-making whilst devolving it to the lower levels of management yet still maintaining the quality of the decisions made?” One way to do this is to provide the manager with pre-vetted decisions. This way they only need to use their judgement about which decision best fits a specific set of circumstances. This could substantially reduce expenses in a business, but for most businesses this is wishful thinking.
The concept of judgement support was first introduced to me by Russell Swanborough. He explained that decision support is the process of providing information to assist in decision-making. Judgement support is the process of providing a selection of suitable decisions for a manager to choose from in order to find the best one for the specific business circumstances.
Industries that get judgement support right are those that use statistics as a core competency, for example, insurance companies. If you call up an insurance company and ask for cover they will vet your profile against the “bell curve” and offer you cover accordingly. They take almost zero interest in you as an individual and the call centre operator cannot make a decision on your personal circumstances. All they can do is guide you through the screening process and then offer you predefined choices of cover. They can use their judgement as to which cover is best for you.
To implement judgement support into the lower levels of the business requires the business to know what decisions are being made in the first place.
There are two types of decisions that get made in a business where judgement support can be applied. The first is before a process starts and the second is at each decision point within the process.
Consider the following process.
The process has three decisions in it. Each decision creates a different path and each path has a different cost to serve. Consider the following table.
Following path 1 is the most cost-effective processing sequence. It also carries the highest volume.
Path 1 is shown.
Every time the sales clerk transacts the process they are faced with the same decision. Depending on the decision they make, the cost of the process either remains at $100 or increases to $200 or $300 or, worse, the process is not completed at all.
A bad decision is therefore an expensive decision. To mitigate bad decisions the sale clerk could be given a set of parameters to which they would have to adhere. They can make any decision they like as long as it is within these parameters. The assumption is that the suite of decisions that make up the parameters is known and accepted and would always ensure path 1 is followed, irrespective of the particular decision made.
If they wished to move the sale down path 2, then they would require approval, or they may have to ensure the sales process meets a more rigorous set of sales parameters.
The idea is to recognise that the decision is a key point in the process in that it directly impacts gross margin. Making the wrong decision could result in the sale losing money.
The other point in the process where judgement support can be applied is at the start. Before the process is triggered, the supervisor can use their judgement to commence work or not. If the process cannot be completed on path 1, then it may be preferable not to start work at all. The supervisor should be provided with clear criteria about when to commence work and when to pause the process. They then use their judgement to evaluate if the incoming work meets either criterion. What they can’t do is to decide that they will commence work anyway, knowing that it cannot complete for whatever reason.
Technology can also be used to implement judgement support. Solution sets such as Business Process Management can be configured to ensure the process follows the “bouncing ball.” This means that the process worker has to deal with the screens in the order that they are presented. Any decision they will need to make should have already been configured into the process and it is predetermined when those decisions will present themselves. Only at these times can the process worker use their own judgement as to the best way to proceed.