The Perfect Crime

When a team skips proven brainstorming steps, even a loser solution can pose as a ‘no-brainer.’

I enjoy heist movies like Denzel Washington’s Inside Man where the anti-hero gets away clean, never identified. Criminologists, however, say a truly 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 presumption makes these crimes perfect.

© Dave Wittenberg