Fast & Effective Decision Making

I read a pretty interesting book the other day called Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success by Ken Segall. The major insight that I took away from the book was the way in which Apple apparently makes decisions. The decisions are with the people doing the work, not with those in charge.

To understand the difference, let’s think through two scenarios. The first one where people make decisions who are not doing the work and the second one, where they do.

I think the first way of decision making is the way in which the vast majority of organisations make their decisions. There is a team that is working on some project. Several people work days/weeks/months on something and then there will be an ‘important’ decision to be made. So, the team will go to their manager and say: “Hey look, we have done all the work, now we need to do X, can we please have this approved?” The typical response you will get by the  manager will be: “Well, I know very little about the situation as I wasn’t involved. Can you please brief me?” The team will then do that. At the end of that briefing, the line manager will say: “Okay. I am still not sure, I need more data to be able to make a decision, can you please do X and Y and Z.”

There is nothing wrong with this. Nobody who is not involved with something can make meaningful and quick decisions about those things. What they need to see is lines of progression, not dots. This simply takes a long time.

The consequence of this is that typically decisions that are made are suboptimal and they take a very very long period of time until they are made. This may well be completely natural, but it is also highly inefficient.

Consider the second scenario where the decision maker is part of the team doing the work. That person will have seen the progression from the start. They are intimately involved with all aspects. They know what decisions should be made. Imagine in that scenario that person makes all decisions, and their manager functions as a coach/mentor/advisor. There are regular catch ups where decisions are reviewed before they are made. Some superficially, some in detail. For example, the manager could request that the person making the decision justify their decision in writing in a multi-page Word document or similar. Interestingly, Amazon do something similar. The point here is simply to make sure the decision maker has thought through the implications of the decision and there is a real justification for that decision. However, the manager effectively delegates all decision making to the people doing the work. What they do however is ensure that the way in which decisions are made is correct. For that, they don’t have to be involved with the work, they just have to be able to understand whether the decision is well through through.

“But what happens when people can’t make good decisions?” Well, when people don’t do good work, you try to coach them to do good work and if that doesn’t work, you have to either move them into another position or you have to let them go.

That is how Apple manages (at least according to Ken).

I find this very interesting. Sounds incredibly effective. Incidentally, this is how directors interact with CEOs. If that works, why can’t this kind of behaviour exist throughout the entire management chain? Something to think about.