Improve Your Decision-Making Culture

Published September 22, 2022

In January 1986, seven crew members of the Space Shuttle Challenger were killed when the rocket booster exploded from an escalated component failure. The explosion occurred from two broken O-rings seals, which allowed pressurized gas from the booster to escape into the fuel tank. Prior to the launch, NASA engineers requested testing for the integrity of O-rings in various temperatures, but their managers denied the request. By 1985, they identified that the failure occurred when launching in colder temperatures. However, management recommended the launch because the data was insufficient to prove that cold January temperatures would directly cause the O-rings to fail. NASA proceeded based on engineering management’s recommendation resulting in the preventable loss of seven lives, the destruction of the shuttle, and a thirty-two months moratorium on future launches.

Every organization has been a part of a transformation that got stalled in decision-making avoidance or paralysis. In the Space Challenger case, the fatalities could have been avoided with a proper decision-making framework in place. How do we disrupt the culture of waiting for a major milestone for local teams to give feedback to decision makers? How do we disrupt the culture of decision makers making decisions on pressures or biases, rather than data from local teams?

What is the benefit of access to broad data if inclusive decision-making is unattainable? As more people have access to data, more people need to be involved early and fully in decision-making authority. We have democratized the ability to analyze data, but still maintain a centralized decision-making process.

In the 2020 article, “Centralized vs Federated Digital Transformations,” two frameworks to digital transformations are discusssed, centralized and federated. Similar to the Challenger example, the centralized framework has a central team owning the organizational goals, roadmap, and metrics to track progress. Meanwhile, the federated framework has a central team defining the goal, but empowers each team to determine the roadmap, and metrics of success. While centralized resources can be more efficient, federated offers contextual decision-making allowing your organization to combine context and data science to solve a problem or present new opportunity.

How can your organization implement a federated structure?

  1. Communicate a clear guiding mission/strategy in the organization.
  2. Have data collection and analytical tools accessible to local teams.
  3. Establish and enforce processes for teams on the edges to voice and act on concerns throughout the transformation.
  4. Train distributed teams in data analysis and storytelling to give compelling arguments to management.
  5. Have built in kill switches that allow anyone to stop progress if something is suspected to be wrong.

The new decision-making culture – “Speaking truth to power”

In a federated model, all employees who have data to support their claims have a voice. However, this relies heavily on teams having access to accurate data and the ability to make a compelling argument. Management needs to listen to the reports from data-based analysis and avoid prejudices and biases influencing their decision. Disruption – data is the steak, intuition is the salt.

Contact Infinitive to start your digital transformation by implementing a federated governance framework to empower your organization to leverage data and avoid potentially catastrophic mistakes.