At an early concept meeting discussing the technical strategy for the new product, the engineering teams were at an impasse. The decision matrix balanced out with three distinct options. Product reliability differed slightly with each option yet presented risks just as the considerations of cost, complexity, feature set, and time to market.
The project manager, the leader of the development program, asked a few questions, asked for input from the director of engineering, and selected a path forward.
The team accepted the decision. The project went well. Yet, I’ve often wondered how did she know which option to select. I also learned to trust her judgment on difficult decisions.
In the January-February 2020 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Sir Andrew Likierman wrote an article titled, “The Elements of Good Judgment.” He examined leaders’ ability to cultivate good judgment, the ability to blend their approach to decision making with relevant knowledge to make decisions. Those with good judgment tend to identify important aspects of the available information, see patterns or relationships, and effectively counter their own biases and limitations.
Likerman defines the basic elements of good judgment as including learning, trust, experience, detachment, options, and delivery. Let’s explore the six elements that Likierman identified and how these apply to you, a reliability leader.
Attending a course and earning a passing grade or certificate is not always the same as learning. Consider the common pattern of ‘cramming’ the night before a final exam, and within a week forgetting most if not all of the course information. Now consider spending time all semester listening carefully and reading critically, actually working to understand the course information.
Good judgment requires deep undemanding and knowledge. The work to actually learn during conversations or reading provides the foundation to identify patterns that others are unable to detect.
With reliability work, we have the endless opportunity to learn from our peers, mentors, and our product failures. At every instance, be curious, listen carefully, and absorb the new information converting it into your knowledge repository.
Reliability professionals should not work alone. We work with a team developing a product or improving plant performance. At times, your value is facilitating a solution that requires a diverse team of experts to accomplish.
The hard part here is to invite alternative options and points of view. Avoid those that simply support your view. You most likely have contributions to make, yet when challenged and improved, the contributions will be better.
Instead of only paying attention to information that confirms your view, strive to find ways to disprove your view or suggestion.
Trust those around you to provide meaningful information from their point of view. Understand (see learning above) the rationale and incorporate other’s knowledge with your own.
Find trusted advisors, especially those that do to always agree with you, to provide a sounding board when considering an important decision or proposal.
You rely on your experience as well as the experience of others to identify related situations to guide a judgment call. Your experience provides a framework to consider the context and ramifications.
There is a trap here as well. Not every situation or decision is the same as before. The world and the set of constraints continue to change. Even with deep experience, you may still encounter a novel situation suggesting you avoid trusting only experience to make the correct decision.
Another issue is the nature of your experience. If you are world expected on silicon electronic device failure mechanisms, yet facing a mechanical wear situation, your experience is not broad enough to help in this situation. Recognize that, and find others with the suitable experience if possible.
Keep in mind that prior successes in solving problems or making decisions may lead to relying too much on your experience without doing the critical thinking necessary to fully understand the current issue. Success is not the same as experience. We do tend to learn more, and more deeply, from failures.
When working on a project, it is natural to be vested in the project’s success. Unfortunately, this may bias your view and resulting decisions. Being able to identify biases, both intellectually and emotionally, allows you to examine which biases may limit your ability to make a good judgment call.
The concept of conformational bias, seeking only supporting information and ignoring or discount dissenting information, is just one example to expose and examine.
One idea is to establish a routine to remind yourself to ’step back’ for a moment and consider what biases are at play and how they may adversely impact your judgment.
Sometimes the obvious solutions are not the best solutions. When making a decision, you may have just two presenting solutions. Avoid the trap that assumes these are the only possible solutions.
A useful practice is to consider a full range of options and understand why they are not suitable in comparison to the recommended options. Probe and explore all options as a means to fully understand the range of possible solutions, benefits, risks, and intentional and unintentional consequences.
There is always another path toward a solution, each of which provides the opportunity to fully understand the pending decision ramifications.
Making a decision or setting a course forward is just one element of solving a problem. The execution is important, as well. When making a decision or preparing a proposal always consider how exactly it will get done.
A great strategy and a series of great decisions may come to naught if it is difficult or costly to implement. Thus, consider the ‘getting it done’ as a critical factor when making a judgment based decision.
The article by Likierman includes many examples and expanding each of the six elements of good judgment including how to actively cultivate each element within yourself.
We face decisions big and small, and those that make the right decisions or recommendation more often than not tend to benefit accordingly. You can work to improve your ability to draw on your own good judgment with conscious practice. Doing so will serve you well and improve your system’s reliability perforamce.