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Management as a skill

Management as a skill

Define the Problem

Decisions do not occur in a vacuum. Many come about as part of the firm’s planning process. Others are prompted by new opportunities or new problems. It is natural to ask: What brought about the need for the decision? What is the decision all about? In all kinds of textbooks examples, the decision problem is stated and is reasonably well defined. In practice, however, managerial decisions do not come so neatly packaged; rather, they are messy and poorly defined. Thus, problem definition is a prerequisite for problem management.

A key part of problem definition is identifying the setting or context.

Identifying the decision context and the decision maker represents a large step toward understanding the choice process. The particular setting has a direct bearing on both the decision maker’s objectives and the available courses of action. The next two steps consider each of these aspects in turn.

Determine the Objective

Uncertainty poses a second difficulty. In many economic decisions, it is customary to treat the outcomes of various actions as certain. For instance, a fast-food chain may know that it can construct a new outlet in 21 days at a cost of $90 per square foot. The cost and timing of construction are not entirely certain, but the margin of error is small enough to have no bearing on the company’s decisions and thus can be safely ignored. In contrast, the cost and date of completion of a nuclear power plant are highly uncertain (due to unanticipated design changes, cost overruns, schedule delays, and the like). At best, the utilities that share ownership of the plant may be able to estimate a range of cost outcome^ and completion dates and assess probabilities for these possible outcomes. (With the benefit of hindsight, one now wishes that the utilities had recognized the risks and safety problems of nuclear plants 10 and 20 years ago, when construction on many plants was initiated.)

Evaluate the risks

The presence of risk and uncertainty has a direct bearing on the way the decision maker thinks about his or her objective. The drug company seeks to maximize its profit, but there is no simple way to apply the profit criterion to determine its best R&D choice. The company cannot use the simple rule «choose the method that will yield the greater profit,» because the ultimate profit from either method cannot be pinned down ahead of time. In each case, there are no profit guarantees; rather, the drug company faces a choice between two risky options. Similarly, public programs and regulatory policies will generate future benefits and costs that cannot be predicted with certainty.

What is the decision maker’s goal? What end is he or she pursuing? How should the decision maker value outcomes with respect to this goal? What if he or she is pursuing multiple, conflicting objectives?

 

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