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Judgement Calls: a book review

by Mark P. McDonald  |  April 3, 2012  |  1 Comment

An accessible and informative guide to tapping into organizational judgement

Judgement Calls is the new book by Tom Davenport and Brook Manville takes on the fundamental issues of how organizations are applying judgement, collaboration, and participatory decision making into their organizations.  Davenport and Manville present their argument in the form of stories surrounding major decisions at the organizational, cultural and individual level.   Their approach is ideal for capturing the qualitative difference in making group judgments.

The book is recommended for executives and managers seeking to understand, internalize and perhaps adopt this more collaborative style of decision making.

Davenport and Manville use these stories to illustrate the central elements they have observed for effective group decision making. These involve aspects of information, knowledge management, decision making processes and approaches.

The book contains a wide range of stories from modern high tech companies like EMC and Cognizant to historic organizational decisions made in Athens, and public sector/service cases from the Charlotte – Mecklenburg school district to the Wallace foundation.  The range, depth, and detail contained in these stories gives the reader a complete, informative and nuanced view of the challenges associated in exercising organizational judgement.


  • A thoughtful and comprehensive treatment of the issues associated with creating, executing and sustaining organizational judgement.  The topic is perhaps one of the most complex, contextual, culturally sensitive and socio-technical activities within an organization.  Davenport and Manville recognize this and rather than trying to ‘boil the ocean’ and reduce reality into simple prescriptions they provide a diverse set of stories and situations that enable the reader to get a sense for the power and differences associated with organizational judgement.
  • The stories are illustrative, easy to read and focus on the major points that mater in organizational judgement. The diversity of industries, situations, results and outcomes capture the range of applications of organizational judgement.  I found the stories about Ancient Athens, EMC, WGB Homes, McKinsey and Media General to be particularly helpful.
  • The concepts go beyond simple ideas normally associated with decision making and leadership.  The book covers issues like experience, knowledge, information and organizational structure as factors rather than a silver bullet answer. This will leave proponents of the ‘great leader’ model of decision making looking for more.  If you are looking for simple answers, recipes, twelve step processes, etc you will need to look elsewhere.


  • By providing illustrative stories, the reader needs to work a little harder to internalize the ideas and messages found in the book’s stories. This book requires active reading and consideration of the ideas and experiences of others and how they apply to you.
  • Fans of management and leadership books will draw the conclusions that this book is relatively lightweight.  The topic of  organizational judgment challenges broadly accepted ideas of responsibility and resource control. They will be looking for more heavyweight analysis to change their mind – which is contained in the stories but not presented like other business books.
  • Fans of Davenport’s prior books on analytics and business processes will find this book light on these subject areas.  The book discusses many of the organizational parameters of a successful Social Organization and the EMC story provides good details, but this is book is not about social media, analytics, or other technologies.
  • The book’s tone and prose sits between the popular non-fiction / journalism style of Gladwell and Friedman and the business / academic style of other business books. H authors have deliberately tried to write in a more journalistic style and they have largely succeeded in creating a book that is more accessible, descriptive and engaging.

Overall, the book is refreshing, engaging and helpful discussion of her how leaders are gaining an edge through tapping into the judgement of the entire organization.

Category: book-review  management  

Tags: book-review  business-management  management  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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