DSS News
                       by D. J. Power
               March 31, 2002 -- Vol. 3, No. 7
         A Bi-Weekly Publication of DSSResources.COM

       Check the Detailed Hyperbook Table of Contents
                   at DSSResources.COM


* DSS Wisdom
* Ask Dan! - What is an example of a decision process?
* What's New at DSSResources.COM
* DSS News Stories


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DSS Wisdom

"There are almost as many perspectives on decision making as there are 
individuals and organizations involved in the process.  If a particular 
choice happens to differ greatly from the values and interests of an 
individual or group affected by its consequences, it is labeled 
nonrational.  In other instances, a decision maker may proceed on the 
naive assumption that he possesses perfect information, in which case he 
views alternatives with complete certainty regarding the outcome.  Often 
this view is conditioned heavily by the propensity of the decision maker 
for accepting or avoiding risk as well as ingrained perceptual biases 
below his threshold of awareness." (p. 297)

from Harrison, E. Frank.  The Managerial Decision-Making Process. 
Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975.

Ask Dan!

What is an example of a decision process? 

This is a question I receive frequently when I ask students to conduct a 
decision process audit. It should be an easy question to answer ... 
right!  Actually describing and explaining an example of a decision 
process can be difficult depending upon what one defines as a decision 
process. A decision process refers to the steps or analyses that lead to 
a decision and a specific decision process is often described in terms 
of inputs to the process, transformations during the process, and 
outputs from it.  Also, decision processes are often part of larger 
business or organization processes and hence can be hard to identify and 

If one examines the behavior of individual decision makers, one finds 
decisions to buy a new house or car, have a child or accept a job offer. 
 Although some decision makers use systematic decision processes and 
even DSS for these decisions, many don't.  Describing or specifying an 
individual's decision process related to a specific decision is often 
unobservable and hence makes a poor example of a decision process.

At the level of analysis associated with groups or organizations, one 
finds many examples of decision processes. At the senior management 
level, processes often exist to develop annual and long-range plans, to 
allocate resources, and to prepare capital budgets. Managers also often 
participate in annual budgeting processes and some companies have 
elaborate performance appraisal systems. Most companies have staff who 
make purchasing decisions. One can mention portfolio management 
decisions and scheduling decisions.

One of my "favorite" examples of a decision process is in Hammer and 
Champy (1993). They describe a process at IBM Credit that is a classic 
case of a poorly designed decision process. A request for financing is 
logged on "a piece of paper" in step one. After moving that paper around 
in four more steps, a decision to approve or not is finally made. The 
entire process "consumed six days on average, although it sometimes took 
as long as two weeks (p. 37)". The description is colorful, the agony 
for the frustrated senior managers seems plausible.  The example also 
illustrates that reengineering can improve decision processes. The 
structure of the process was changed, improved decision support was 
developed and the turnaround on a request for financing was reduced to 
just "four hours." Productivity improved dramatically.

Another good example for students is the college admission decision 
process. The variety of activities, criteria and participants associated 
with this decision process is extensive.  Some colleges use simple rules 
in their processes. For example, some public universities admit all 
students who graduated from a state high school in the top 50% of their 
graduating class and had an ACT test composite score of 20. Such rules 
are cheap to execute and easy to understand, but they are not very 
interesting.  The decision processes at the "highly selective" colleges 
and universities are much more elaborate and interesting.

Princeton's decision process is a good example. In The Daily 
Princetonian, Emma Soichet wrote an article called "Admitting the 
process" (12/11/2000). The article notes "30 admission staff members 
work, assembling each applicant's personal file while combing it for 
details that could lead to an eventual acceptance or rejection." The 
Early Decision admission process is described in some detail as a 2 step 

Initially, the support staff consolidates "the critical academic and 
extracurricular information about each prospective student onto a 
two-sided, thick, canary-yellow form. And from that small card, the 
process continues." The front of the card "lists all the necessary 
biographical and academic information - name, address, classes taken, 
unweighted GPA recalculated by the office and SAT and AP test scores, 
among other things." On the back of the card, "admission deans remark on 
and evaluate the less rigid elements of the application. At the top of 
the page, one box lists extracurricular activities, another notes legacy 
status. Further down, each of the four essay questions has a line for 
deans' reactions. There is also a space at the bottom reserved for 
readers to jot down their general impressions of the candidate."

According to Soichet, "The actual application reading process resembles 
a relay race, as each applicant's folder is passed to subsequent readers 
like a baton.  One of the four associate deans leads off the process by 
skimming the application to assign the student two numerical grades.  
Using a rating scale ranging from one to five - one representing the 
best - the associate dean evaluates the applicant for both academic and 
non-academic achievement. A junior officer, another associate dean and 
the dean of admission run subsequent legs of the race, reading the 
applications and jotting down impressions on the yellow card." 

At the time of the article, the Acting Dean of Admission estimated that 
the three readers combined spent "about one hour reading and evaluating 
each 12-page application."  With about 1,850 early decision candidates 
in Fall 2000, Princeton's 13 admission officers spent approximately 
2,000 hours preparing the "yellow cards."

The Princeton Admissions decision process "occurs entirely on paper, 
with associate deans voicing their opinions in a few paragraphs of 
writing ..." The Dean of Admission then uses the "yellow cards" to make 
the final decision. The article notes the Acting Dean of Admission 
Steven LeMenager believes that having one person responsible for all the 
decisions "provides a degree of accountability in the admission 

One finds similar yet different processes at other highly selective 
colleges. At Harvard, decisions about each applicant are made by a 
majority vote of admission officers. The Harvard Dean of Admissions 
noted in an interview "No one person makes any decision . . . ever." 

At Dartmouth, according a 1995 article by Allison Brugg in The Dartmouth 
Online, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg said "each 
application is read at least three times. The first time, someone from 
the Admissions Office reads and comments on the applicant. Then the 
application is read again. The second reader makes his or her own 
comments, having never seen what the first reader wrote. Both the 
comment sheets and the application itself are then read by Furstenberg, 
who either makes a decision or passes the application on to a 

The website HowStuffWorks.COM, describes a somewhat different process 
based on an interview with Duke University director of undergraduate 
admissions Christoph Guttentag. At Duke, once the applications are 
complete, each "complete application is then evaluated by one of 15 to 
20 'first readers' -- temporary professional staff (former admissions 
officers, faculty spouses, alumni, graduate students). These 
applications are randomly distributed. Applications then receive a 
second full evaluation by the staff member responsible for the region of 
the country in which the applicant lives. So each application is 
evaluated at least twice. The strongest 5 percent to 7 percent of the 
pool (as defined by all parts of the application, not just the academic 
and quantifiable parts) then comes directly to the director of 
undergraduate admissions -- Guttentag -- for review. Most of the time, 
if both the first and second readers recommend an admit, the student 
will be admitted. But not always. Guttentag reserves the right to have a 
student discussed in selection committee."

The weakest 25% to 33% of the applicant pool go to an associate director 
for review. If both readers "recommend a 'deny' then the associate 
director can 'sign off' on a deny." All other applicants to Duke are 
"reviewed by a selection committee where at least three staff members 
and the chairperson -- either the director of admissions or the senior 
associate director -- discuss the case."

Guttentag is quoted "So we literally sit around a table and talk about 
-- often in great detail -- all students in the large middle of the 
pool, and anyone, regardless of qualifications, who an admissions 
officer thinks ought to be discussed." The committee asks questions like 
"How much impact has a student had in their school or community? What 
sort of impact do we think they'll have at Duke?" The goal of the 
process is "to create a class that is talented and interesting, where 
the students are inclined to take advantage of what Duke has to offer, 
and where they will learn from each other." 

Finally, at Duke once decisions are made on all applicants, Guttentag 
reviews "the group as a whole and sees if any decisions should be 
changed." Then decision letters are printed, reviewed for accuracy, 
stuffed and sent to applicants. The process is complete.

In general, in the highly selective college admissions processes a 
manual, labor intensive, subjective decision process is used.  
Data-driven and communications-driven DSS are not used.  Criteria often 
seem vague and hard to measure. In some processes one individual has 
primary decision authority and others a group shares authority and 

We can create institutional DSS to assist in recurring, semi-structured 
decision processes like the College Admissions decision process. BUT we 
have to ask: Will using a DSS result in better outcomes? will decisions 
be fairer? or more systematic? What, if any thing, should be automated? 
When should DSS be developed and used in this type of decision process?


Brugg, Allison, "Furstenberg discusses the admission process," The 
Dartmouth Online, Thursday, October 12, 1995 at URL

Hammer, M. and Champy, J. (1993). Reengineering the Corporation. New 
York:  Harper Collins.

"How College Admission Works," HowStuffWorks.COM, at URL

Soichet, Emma, "Admitting the process: Princeton's admission officers 
dispel the mystery of what goes on behind the closed doors of West 
College," The Daily Princetonian, Monday, December 11, 2000, at URL

             Coming Soon from Quorum Books!
Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources for Managers
                   by Daniel J. Power

What's New at DSSResources.COM

03/30/2002 Posted Detailed Table of Contents for the DSS Hyperbook.

03/30/2002 Posted Chapter 11 and Chapter 12 in HTML format of the DSS 
Hyperbook in the Subscriber Zone. 

03/29/2002 Posted Chapter 10 in HTML format of the DSS Hyperbook in the 
Subscriber Zone. 

03/28/2002 Posted Chapter 9 in HTML format of the DSS Hyperbook in the 
Subscriber Zone. 

03/26/2002 Posted DSS Design and Development Questionnaire. Check on the 
For Researchers page.


DSS News Stories - March 18 to 30, 2002

03/30/2002 Japanese groupware company announces FreeBSD option and 
addition of European Time/Date format for collaborative software suite.

03/28/2002 Study cites Privacy Leadership Initiative's role in shaping 
online privacy practices.

03/25/2002 The OLAP Survey ranks Applix #1 in fast rollouts, 
performance, customer loyalty and ease of use.

03/25/2002 Advanced Reality boosts enterprise productivity by embedding 
real-time collaboration in Microsoft Excel.

03/22/2002 Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs scientists set new fiber optic 
transmission record. 

03/21/2002 The University of Miami uses MicroStrategy for admissions and 
enrollment decisions. 

03/20/2002 EMC announced availability of Widesky Developers Suite, 
expansion of developers program.

03/19/2002 InfoImage released fifth generation of its enterprise portal 

03/18/2002 Hummingbird and STG, Inc. to present network-based electronic 
records management at FOSE 2002.

03/18/2002 SilverStream Software announced availability of J2EE 1.3 
compatible SilverStream eXtendâ„¢ Workbench 2.0.


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