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My old boss (pre-SAP) used to jokingly say he makes decisions immediately, with authority, and usually wrongly. That company is still around and although we used to laugh about that statement there’s more than a chunk of truth in it. Trouble is, with tight margins and tight operating costs there’s less room than ever before for wrong (or to be blunt about it – bad) decisions.

This blog shows how to make sure the decisions are executed immediately, with authority and correctly. It is illustrated using the SAP environment but I think it is safe to say that the rules apply equally to whatever environment you work in.

1. Decisions are irreversible.

This has to be clear in everyone’s head. Decisions, once made, are irreversible. They unleash actions, money-transfers, armies of colleagues and a torrent of workstreams. You cannot simply switch the system off and start again.

True, you can compensate. But compensating for a bad-decision is a messy process of trying to reach out to different colleagues or partners, trying to shutdown workstreams, and writing off losses. This is something to be avoided.

If your process is automated, compensation can be built into the process. Indeed, many of the most important business processes in a company’s repertoire are compensation processes – but that does not mean they are there to be used. They are there to be avoided.

Mopping up is a huge drain on company resources so do everything you can to make good decisions easier to achieve.

2. Decisions need to be transparent

What is the point of a decision if half the work force works against it? Do you rely on e-mails, phone, chat … to propagate the decision. The unfortunate answer is usually “yes” – because many decisions are one-off responses to crises. However, the more repetitive a required-decision is, the more it is worth investing automating the process.

This is one of the strengths of SAP. The automated business processes that are delivered as part of the SAP Business Suite; the customization that can be done; and the tools available to automate new processes. But irrespective of the tools used, that fact that a process is automated means there’s no lull in the process once the decision is made.. the ensuing actions, work-streams, money/goods transfers follow automatically. The workforce and system-components pull together to see this decision through.

Invest time in automating processes. Invest time in making sure the process-automation is flexible enough to change with time.

3. Decisions need to be immediate

Please, managers, no dawdling.  When I have reason to go on a business trip, I need to know now, rather than in a week’s time that your budget cannot cover the costs. That way I can create alternative plans. And what is the value of approving late, if the costs of a late hotel/flight/train booking have doubled?

Late decisions mean delayed processes (late shipments, product launch, acquisition-lost…) or frantic scrabbling to cut corners in the next phase of the process. My old boss was right – there is no excuse for delayed decisions.

The IT department is responsible for helping the manager make decisions well and quickly. Ideally it is guided by the following principles: 

  • The decision must be delivered to the manager immediately!
  • The manager should not have to search for decisions to make.
  • The manager should not have to wade through obsolete decision-requests.
  • The manager should see all facts at a glance
  • The manager should be able to confer with colleagues right-away.

I’ll show you how you can get this to work using cutting-edge technology, in this case the SAP integration with Lotus Notes, Alloy. If you are not using Alloy, or Lotus Notes, or even not using SAP, the basic premises are just as true (but more difficult to achieve).

Alloy delivers the decision item to the manager’s Lotus Notes client as soon as the manager is online. Domino replication and the Alloy software deal with that side of things. The decision is presented as an item in the inbox, but also in the sidebar (Alloy plugin) so that even if the decision has been pushed further down the inbox by other mail, the view of all pending decisions is still accessible in the sidebar and there’s a visible reminder that it is not empty.

Let’s assume the manager uses David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology (GTD) then the very first step is to decide whether or not to make the decision now or later. If she sees at a glance that it will take more than 2 minutes, then she’ll postpone this. She presses  the “remove from inbox” button and the decision disappears from her inbox. Mission accomplished. Later on in the day, she may well be offline. she decides to spend say 15 minutes to work off pending decisions and she needs to bypass the clutter of her inbox to cut straight to the pending decisions. She can either do this from the sidebar or by visiting the “pending decision” view. What’s important here is that these are not simply static e-mail notifications, but a view of pending decisions which are automatically updated according to whether or not they have been processed by her or a colleague or whether the process has made them obsolete.

Pending decisions view

Figure1. Clean, tidy list of pending decisions. 

With the confidence that each item is a pending decision, she can execute them one by one without having to wade through  a list of valid and invalid notifications. Alloy is a quantum leap forward from e-mail notifications and it is right in the heart of her standard desktop productivity tool – in this case Lotus Notes.

We’ll handle how to arrange the facts-at-a-glance in the next section. But before moving on let’s assume that she decides it can be handled GTD-fashion in under 2 minutes and hence she wants to make the decision right away…

  • she’s opened the decision item
  • knows from experience company guidelines and what is required of the decision
  • glanced at the facts of the decision

No problem – she just presses the approve/reject/redo/release/escalate… button in the Lotus Notes form. In Alloy, if the decision has been modeled with SAP Business Workflow these buttons are rendered automatically based according the decision-choice that is modeled in the SAP workflow. Neat – IT hasn’t had to remodel the existing workflows when implementing Alloy.

And finally the last item in the laundry list of prerequisites for prompt decision making: “The manager should be able to confer with colleagues right-away” …

Since the decision has been modeled in Alloy she will see immediately whether or not the colleague (e.g. trip-requestor, functional expert…) is online and can fire off a chat directly from the decision item to get the feedback required.

E.g. “Why you, why not Tim who’s in Chicago that week?”, “Doesn’t chemical xxx require special-handling?” “Isn’t customer xxx starting to default on payments?”…

Getting such simple items out of the way immediately is like detonating the remains of a rockfall to free a road. Someone else can get on with their job without you being in the way. The more simple decisions you can get out of the way immediately, the less of a pile-up you have to deal with later, much later. 

4. Decisions need to be based on facts

This is simple but often neglected. Make the effort to show the most important facts in the subject line of the decision item so that it can be assessed for urgency (or 2 minute GTD rule) without even opening it.

Make the effort to show the basic facts in an orderly, consistent, tabular format so that the facts can be seen at a glance.

Revisit this periodically and discuss with the decision-makers to make sure the facts displayed do really reflect the current policies. Quality? Time? Value?..

Alloy displays the summary in the preview pane (Figure 1) and allows sophisticated formatting using the native Domino Designer to make sure that what the manager sees is what she needs to know. It also ensures that the layout of the standard functions (decision buttons, related reports…) are consistently displayed. Templates can be used to make different decisions consistent with another, irrespective of which SAP system they come from. Similarly if you’re using the SAP Portal make sure the Web Dynpro follows a similar technique. Ditto for SAP Windows GUI.

Related reports

Figure 2. Clear display of facts in this standard-delivered decision items. The same is true for the important functions: decision buttons, related reports, pending decisions reminder-list 

5. Decisions need to follow guidelines

Don’t take it for granted that the managers making the decisions all have the current corporate interests at heart.  They will follow what they believe to be the corporate interest but juggle in their own interests and ideals too which will vary from manager to manager. What is it that ensures that they know the current corporate interests and apply the same consistent logic or priority?

Be specific. Describe the factors that the corporation places most value on when making a decision. In the decision, provide a link to this description (corporate guidelines).

When the guidelines change, alert the managers to this fact by updating the template for the decision items with an appropriate headline. E.g. “News 14th July: More degrees of freedom for your employees” (Hey – it is Bastille day after all).

6. Decisions involve analysis

Many decisions are tough decisions. Forget the 2 minute rule here. This is when the manager needs to shut out all distractions and concentrate fully on the task at hand. Purchase a new production plant? Accept the end of a newbie’s probation period? Agree on the budget for a marketing campaign?

It’s easy to press the reject or approve button – but is this the right decision? As I described at the beginning, industry is less-forgiving than ever when it comes to poor decisions. So making the best decision, and being able to justify the decision is what keeps a company, and a manager’s position, alive. The justification is not simply a matter or asking expert opinion, or consulting a transaction to see a status, it’s more likely to be structured reporting data – in other words spreadsheet summaries of data from the system. Getting these reports can be time-consuming which means there’s a risk that either the reports will be ignored, or out-of-date reporting data will be used.

Related report invoked from decision 

Figure 3. Reporting analysis used to reach a decision

To avoid this pitfall the decision should be delivered with the reporting data. And the manager should be able to request (by push-button) the very latest data if there’s any doubt in the mind of the manager. So when IT configures the decision in the SAP system they should make the effort to configure the related reports that are going to help the manager make and justify the decision.

By the way, justification is simple and often neglected. The manager simply types in a short comment and this is transferred to the workflow so that anyone can remind themselves later why this decision was reached. It’s often neglected, but if the manager’s know this is available, then as the focus moves towards better and better decisions, the comment field will become more and more important.

7. Decisions can be delegated

A manager can delegate decisions (corporate and SOx restrictions accepted) by setting up a substitute. Indeed, a manager must set up substitutes when she goes on vacation. Once done, the decisions will automatically appear in the colleague’s inbox. This will probably be Lotus Notes if the colleague is using Alloy too – but it could be a different inbox, such as the UWL in the portal or Windows GUI Business Workplace. So the multi-channel aspect of decision-rendering is very important. The nice thing about Alloy is that the user-interface of a decision can be enhanced for Alloy, or left as the default, without affecting the existing user interfaces for portal or Windows GUI.

Another aspect of this is the day-to-day delegation of non-critical decisions to a assistant, again, within the corporate/SOx framework. Typically the assistant performs the non-critical (e.g. low value purchase requisitions) and leaves the costlier items to the manager. Critical here is that the manager can see at a glance which items are left over (pending) and this is where e-mail notifications just don’t go far enough. The e-mails litter the inbox irrespective of whether the decision has been made or not. Alloy not only shows the pending items (those remaining) but also has a view of items that the assistant completed.  This is good for tracking and transparency as in “Yes, Tina released that yesterday”.

The manager will need to know how to activate and deactivate a delegation (it can be quite sophisticated when different types of decision require different delegates) but once done, the routing is automatic.

Tip: Use the Alloy configured links to link to a portal page showing the managers how to set up substitutions.

8. Decisions are collaborative

The judgment comes from the manager making the decision. But the expertise she collects on the way is collaborative. The sky’s the limit as to what can be done to locate and reach the experts. I mentioned Lotus Sametime for the instant messaging. This is automatically enabled in Alloy where names are added to the decision form. I believe a good manager will reach out to all experts related to a process before making an important decision so it is worthwhile including them in the decision form itself. Engineering change requests, financial decisions, product decisions all involve a bevy of experts and even if they have already given their ok upstream in the process you may want to quickly touch-base with them before making the final decision to commit (or let the decision move downstream to those above you).

The animated screenshot from the SAP live demo system (IDES) showcases how Alloy enables this chat from a customized workflow decision.

Sametime chat from decision

Figure 4. Direct chat integration within the decision.

What Alloy also offers is the ability to collaborate on the related reports when analysis is involved in order to reach a decision (see point 5). This is out of scope of this blog, but a powerful capability indeed. Also out of scope, but maybe the theme of a future blog, is how to locate and and discuss with experts using technology already at hand on the desktop. In the Lotus Notes world this could be Connections, for locating the expert with Quickr used for private discussions with these experts.

Bottom line: Informed decisions helped by direct consultation with experts, stake-holders and experienced colleagues are simply are more reliable decisions. I.e. Better.

9. Decisions are irreversible (revisited)

Out of sight, out of mind. But the processes rumble onwards so at the end of the day it may be worth a quick glance at your outbox (Alloy – status view) of the decisions you have made during the course of the day so you’re prepared for any repercussions the next day.

In any case – there’s nothing like leaving work with a clear conscience, and a glance at the decisions you’ve made during the day with a reminder of the quality you’ve invested in those that are significant is as good a way as any of going home with the feeling of a job well done.

 

Checklist for Effective Decision-Management

I’ve put together a checklist of items that I believe you might be useful before rolling out a new decision to your workforce. The more questions that can be answered affirmatively the more reliable the decisions that are made.

The raw questionnaire is attached to this blog for your own use but to give you and idea of scoping I’ve answered the questions based on Alloy below.

  1. Are the decisions delivered automatically to the manager?
    Yes. They arrive in Lotus inbox directly and even when they are removed or dragged and dropped elsewhere they can be accessed from the decisions folder.

  2. Can the manager distinguish between obsolete and pending decisions?
    Yes. There is a view which only shows pending decisions. All other views (e.g. type-of-decision) also show the status.

  3. Can the manager make the decision on-the-spot?
    Yes, including offline.

  4. Are  the results of the decision propagated to colleagues and systems?
    Yes. The underlying workflow or in the case of Alloy leave-management – the underlying MSS configuration tables) drives the process through completion. In Alloy, the show-case processes deliver the results to the requestors directly through Lotus Notes. In two cases a calendar entry representing a request is even updated accordingly.

  5. Are the underlying facts easily digestible?
    Yes. Standard Lotus forms are delivered for the show-case processes. Native tools are used (Domino Designer) to create decision-forms based for new decisions based on the data coming from SAP. Validate the design with the business users before deploying a new decision.

  6. Are the criteria for reaching a decision documented?
    Yes. Company guidelines should be described and linked to from the Helpful Links section.

  7. Is it easy to propagate changes in decision-criteria to the manager?
    Yes. Update the form to alert managers when the criteria or company policy changes. And include this information in the linked guidelines (“Helpful links”).
    If the decision options are changed in the Business Suite the new options are automatically propagated to Lotus Notes.

  8. Are reports available to support more in-depth analysis?
    Yes. Reports can be assigned to decision types and these are listed in the sidebar when the decision is opened in Lotus Notes. If the admin has scheduled the report to be delivered periodically the latest report can even be used offline, or an ad-hoc run requested when absolute up-to-date information is required.

  9. Can the manager document why a decision was reached?
    Yes. Comments are always possible and these are transferred to the underlying workflow. It is even possible to configure the decision so that a comment is obligatory for certain decision options.

  10. Is collaboration with experts possible?
    Yes. Sametime chat directly from the within the decision. In addition reports results can be shared to collaborate on the analytics (authorization required).

  11. Is substitution for vacation/illness supported?
    Yes. Configured from the portal or Business Suite using whatever sophisticated rules have been created there.

  12. Can the manager see the decisions that a colleague has performed on her behalf?
    Yes. The status is updated in her view of decisions.

———————————-

BTW: I’m all for collaboration, so if anyone knows how to upload a pdf attachment to a blog I’ll create an Adobe form for download.

Similarly, if anyone is interested in improving this very rudimentary form I’d be thrilled to hear from you.

Rudimentary checklist:

   

Decision Type:

Business Area:

Planned go-live date:

System:

Underlying tool:

 1

 

Are the decisions delivered automatically to the manager?

 2

 

Can the manager distinguish between obsolete and pending decisions?

 3

 

Can the manager make the decision on-the-spot?

 4

 

Are  the results of the decision propagated to colleagues and systems?

 5

 

Are the underlying facts easily digestible?

 6

 

Are the criteria for reaching a decision documented?

  7

 

Is it easy to propagate changes in decision-criteria to the manager?

  8

 

Are reports available to support more in-depth analysis?

  9

 

Can the manager document why a decision was reached?

10

 

Is collaboration with experts possible?

11

 

Is substitution for vacation/illness supported?

12

 

Can the manager see the decisions that a colleague has performed on her behalf?

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2 Comments

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  1. Susan Keohan
    Ladies and Gentlemen, blogs by Alan Rickayzen are back!  This blog is an excellent example of how anyone can benefit by a thorough reading of Alan’s blogs… Though I am perhaps not in the target audience, the logic and thought can be applied in many areas.  I am going to cut-and-paste your Effective Decision Management, and have it tattooed on my left arm (well, maybe not really). 
    (0) 
    1. Alan Rickayzen Post author
      Ouch – I fell off my chair laughing at the idea of tatooing blogs.
      Sue, I really miss doing business with you but I’m glad we can touch base on workflow related themes. Glad you can use this.

      All the best,
      Alan

      (0) 

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