The Perfect Crime

Leaders can make great decisions only when they have the right choices in front of them. When a team skips proven brainstorming steps, even a loser solution can seem like a ‘no-brainer.’

I love ‘perfect crime’ movies like Denzel Washington’s Inside Man where the anti-hero gets away clean, never identified. Criminologists, however, say the perfect crime is never detected – no one even realizes a crime was committed. Therefore, there is no investigation, no accusations, and no consequences. Perfect.

If wasting capital without detection is a crime, perfect crimes are rampant. I have seen countless ‘no-brainer’ proposals that breeze through approval unchallenged – the solution was too obvious to waste time with fancy decision tools. Yet, when decision-makers stopped some of these ‘obvious’ solutions and demanded the project teams apply the proper decision tools, we often found that the ‘no-brainer’ was the wrong solution. Had we approved and implemented those ‘obvious’ solutions, no one – not even the project team – would ever know we wasted capital on the wrong solution. A truly perfect crime!

One of my favorite examples of this started as a General Manager’s attempt to prove that experience and instincts trump any disciplined process. I was testing a new process against recent projects and he wanted to torpedo the initiative to preempt this useless bureaucracy. With a smirk, the manager handed me the first project… replacing a truck.

The old truck had 280,000 miles on it, broke down frequently, and mounting repair expenses made it clear it was time for a new truck. It was also clear this example was chosen to make me look like a useless corporate wienie, but I was cornered so we proceeded into the process. Even I was surprised when, after applying the decision tools for less than 15 minutes, the manager’s team generated not just one but several better solutions… and none of them required owning or leasing a truck! Remember, they had already bought a replacement which meant they were also paying the ongoing costs of a driver’s salary and operating expenses. A mere 15 minutes to ask the right questions would have avoided this waste.

The Moral of the Story
We can’t afford to skip sound decision-making tools so leaders need to demand discipline in applying those tool every time. That takes courage because the final answer is often the original no-brainer. However, no one can truly know this is the right answer until the project undergoes the appropriate rigor.

Some decision-makers dismiss disciplined processes as wasteful mumbo-jumbo, certain that capital isn’t wasted on their watch! But then again, that attitude makes these crimes perfect.

© 2011 Verax Point Consulting, LLC

About Dave Wittenberg

I am all about equipping business teams to enjoy greater payoffs on their biggest bets. I bring a unique combination of evaluation expertise and behavioral insights developed over the course of more than 300 major strategic initiatives. Applying a highly effective, disciplined framework, teams unleash their full capabilities to generate better solutions, wring out hidden waste, and deliver superior returns. Specialties: Investment Evaluation, Decision Excellence, Strategic Analysis, Mergers and Acquisitions, Investor Relations, Leadership Development, Education & Training
This entry was posted in Biases & Traps, Leadership & Decision-Making, Valuations. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Perfect Crime

  1. Pingback: Now There’s A Name For It | The CapEx Compass™

  2. Pingback: No App For That | The CapEx Compass™

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