Abundant data and the need for speed are two characteristics of our time. Then do modern managers usually make quick, high-quality decisions? Not according to a study by Kepner-Tregoe Inc., a management consultancy based in Princeton, N.J. “Despite the existence of more and better information than ever before, time pressure prevents decision makers from gathering all that they need and from sharing it,” according to Peter Tobia, author of Decision Making in the Digital Age: Challenges and Responses, which Kepner-Tregoe released in December 2000.

Surprisingly, a majority of the survey’s respondents contradicted the conventional wisdom about information overload, saying that more and better data is actually a good thing. Rather, it’s the age-old problems of organizational politics, lack of agreement on objectives and changing priorities that keep decision-making in the dark ages.

“The survey shows that there is a cultural lag between sophisticated technology and the ability of the manager to take advantage of it,” says Tobia, Kepner-Tregoe’s director of business issues research. To make full use of IT’s data gathering and sorting capability, Tobia recommends that companies institute a shared, systematic approach to decision making.

Decision dilemma: speed versus quality

In which areas has the emphasis on fast decision making caused the quality of decisions to decline? The 479 managers responding to the December 2000 Kepner-Tregoe “Survey on Speed and Quality in Decision Making” answered as follows:

    Personnel/HR 27 per centBudgeting/finance 24 per centOrganizational structuring 22 per centQuality/productivity 20 per centIT selection and installation 17 per centProcess improvement 17 per cent

Checklists and balances

Decision-making methodologies don’t have to be complex. Dick Fishburn, CIO and vice-president of Corning Inc., the Corning, N.Y.-based advanced materials manufacturer, uses a simple but powerful tool to keep his cool in the face of demands to act quickly: a checklist.

“A checklist comes into play because certain things always need to be looked at to ensure a good decision,” he says. “It is very similar to an airplane pilot. He has a list to check before he lifts off, and every step is crucial and must be examined properly.”

Fishburn’s checklist is not so much a piece of paper as it is a process. He uses it as a training tool for IS workers. “You are training to create a mental model so [your team] knows what to examine in order to reach a quality decision,” he says. It’s a method for keeping the IS department out of the deep end of the flood of information.