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Some thoughts on starting with your LEAST important decision


I was talking to a customer the other day about a particular decisioning problem they have. There’s an operational decision that they take several thousand times a year. Not a transactional one but a pretty high volume one. Sometimes these decisions have a large financial impact but often they have a smaller one. Today the focus is on the instances with a large financial impact with most of the smaller ones being made somewhat abruptly with little analysis. They are working to improve the accuracy of this decision and thinking about how data and analytics can be used to improve it. Naturally enough, they planned to start by looking at the instances of this decision with the highest financial impact.

I made a contrarian suggestion:

Start by modeling and then automating the decisions with the smallest impact

Specifically, I suggested that they build a decision model that would handle most if not all of their small value decisions. This could then be automated, allowing these decisions to be made using a best practice approach (captured in the model) for even their lowest value decisions – the ones that are rushed through today.

So why start with the lowest value decisions? Well, four reasons:

  1. The focus on the lowest impact decisions would make it easier to get approval of the decision model and easier for the business team to get behind automation. This reduces the time to value.
  2. Automation of these decisions would take them off everyone’s list, allowing the staff to focus on the important ones without distraction while knowing that these decisions would not be neglected.
  3. The decision model and the automation would generate insight about how decisions were really made – what really made a difference – and this insight could be used to improve the decision-making approach.
  4. Over time, the business will get more confident in the decision automation allowing pieces of it to be used for more impactful decisions, reducing the effort of making those decisions and improving their accuracy.

This start-simple-and-improve mindset has served us well in many projects. It replaces a “the computer is going to replace me” mindset with one focused on how automation can help human decision makers do their job better and spend more time on higher value activities.

You can have a strategic impact without starting with your most strategic decisions.