July 25, 2023 | Mark Paradies

Conservative Decision-Making

Do You Make Conservative Decisions?

Conservative Decision making

Conservative Decision-Making … often people take shortcuts and make non-conservative decisions to save time or money. Incident investigators often find non-conservative decisions after major accidents. For example, the:

  • BP Deepwater Horizon well blowout and explosion
  • Chornobyl reactor core meltdown
  • Shuttle disasters (both of them)
  • Boeing 737 Max crashes

These examples are just to remind you of the many other accidents where non-conservative decision-making got companies in trouble. Lives were lost. Facilities were destroyed. The environment was damaged.

Who Makes Non-Conservative Decisions?

making a conservative decision

Many times people at the pointy end of the stick (the workers) are blamed for making non-conservative decisions. Of course, this happens. But investigators seem to look the other way when non-conservative decisions are being made by senior executives.

Probably the most famous of these decisions is the decision by senior management that there would be NO ADDITIONAL SIMULATOR TRAINING requirements for the new 737 Max. They would simply have a computerized short course on a tablet and then, after a test, the pilots could start flying. There was no mention of the new computerized system (MCAS) to prevent stalls or how to deactivate it if it caused problems.

The Verge, a technology online publication, wrote the following:

It’s a perfect example of the cross purposes at which business, technology, and safety often find themselves. With its bottom line threatened, Boeing focused on speed instead of rigor, cost-control instead of innovation, and efficiency instead of transparency. The FAA got caught up in Boeing’s rush to get the Max into production, arguably failing to enforce its own safety regulations and missing a clear opportunity to prevent these two crashes.

Eventually, it cost the CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, his job.

Do you think the engineers and managers would make different decisions today? Of course. That’s the advantage of hindsight. But Conservative Decision Making is about making the right decisions in advance (proactively).

Admiral Rickover and Conservative Decision Making

We have previously detailed how Admiral Rickover developed the first high-reliability organization in our series of articles summarized in Stopping the Normalization of Deviation with the Normalization of Excellence – How Admiral Rickover Did It.

Conservative Decision Making was a key part of his philosophy. But he didn’t call it Conservative Decision Making. He called it Facing the Facts. We wrote about Facing the Facts at THIS LINK.

Rickover described Facing the Facts as:

“… To resist the human inclination to hope that things will work out,
despite evidence or suspicions to the contrary.

If conditions require it, you must face the facts and brutally make needed changes
despite significant costs and schedule delays. … The person in charge must
personally set the example in this area and require his subordinates to do likewise.

The link above provides two design and production examples that are directly applicable to the 737 Max decisions and the alternate way that Rickover would have approached the decisions.

Conservative Decision Making

Rickover, who was personally involved in major design decisions, would not allow corners to be cut.

Who Needs to Learn Conservative Decision-Making?

Learn Conservative Decision Making

Unfortunately, most human performance improvement programs teach Conservation Decision Making to people on the shop floor (workers and supervisors). Who really needs the training? Senior management.

  • Plant Managers,
  • Operation Managers,
  • Directors,
  • COOs,
  • CTOs,
  • CFOs and
  • CEOs.

These senior leaders set the tone for decisions made throughout the organization.

Learn More About Conservative Decision Making

Want to test your ability to spot conservative (or non-conservative) decisions?

Want to learn additional techniques to improve human performance?

Want to learn which techniques work the best?

Then you need to attend the Stopping Human Error Course coming up on October 4-5 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Mark Paradies
Mark is teaching about stopping human errors.

Alex Paradies and Mark Paradies are teaching the course. 


The Stopping Human Error Book

Stopping Human Error

If you attend the course, you will get the book, Stopping Human Error, as part of the course materials.

If you want to read the book before attending the class, you can order it by clicking HERE.

Want to read the book’s Foreword before buying the book? CLICK HERE.

Below is the TapRooT® TV episode of Alex and Mark talking about the book when it was “new.”

We look forward to seeing you at the course in Knoxville.

Courses & Training, Human Performance
Show Comments

One Reply to “Conservative Decision-Making”

  • M Murray says:

    Please include the CFO as a recommended attendee to your Conservative Decision Making class. These spreadsheet jockeys are often the ones setting unrealistic expectations with regard to efficiency, financial return, productivity, etc. and then they make promises to the financial press which the COO, Plant Manager, and others are then bound to meet. CFO is the MAIN function you should start with in this training as they are the ones who usually are driving the risky decision making through unrealistic models in their spreadsheets.

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