Better Business Decisions: Use Buckets Not Bullets


All managers make business decisions. But it’s not the quality of the decision that matters.  What matters is the importance of the decision compared with others that have to be made. Making ‘brilliant” decisions about relatively unimportant matters, doesn’t usually help your business.

Necessity and Importance

Let’s say that you need to change the overall focus of your business. This is obviously a most important decision. Let’s say that at the same time you realize that the company that maintains your motor vehicles is doing a costly and sloppy work.

The focus decision is clearly far more important than the vehicle maintenance decision. Most managers would give attention to focus before vehicle maintenance. But the more urgent decision, the one that needs to be fixed first could easily be the vehicle maintenance decision. It’s likely to be a decision that has major immediate implications. The focus decision has overall much greater importance than vehicle maintenance. But it needs far more time and consideration. Implications of a poor decision about focus mean it’s something that needs time and great care.

A New Approach To “Importance”

When faced with a number of issues requiring decisions, we usually place them in order of priority: most “important” first, least important last. That may not be the same as “best for business”. We fire our “best bullets” at the “most important” decisions.

New Categories

Another approach is to categorize decisions into three “buckets”: must do, should do and could do. Then we can assess what’s in each “bucket” by three further criteria: now, soon and later. The business focus decision is clearly a “must do” but not necessarily a “now”. The vehicle maintenance decision may be a “should do”. But it may also be a “now” in view of the urgent need to keep vehicles operating day to day.

Decisions Compete

Issues for decision compete with each other for management attention. It’s a common dilemma for managers. Your most valuable employee has resigned. Your longest and most loyal customer wants urgent talks about extended credit. Your bank has appointed a new manager for your account and wants to see you about offering improved credit. And you’ve just discovered potentially damaging deficiencies in your financial records. You know what I’m talking about. You need a method to decide which decision’s most important now.

Who Wins The Contest?

You have four big issues all demanding your attention. All are important. All have serious implications for future business. If asked to rank them in order of importance your Finance Manager, Operations Manager, Business Manager and yourself would be unlikely to place them in the same order. But the new “buckets” categories provide you with a new perspective.

The Best for Business Decision

It’s not surprising that the Business Manager and the Finance Manager see the business priorities differently. Each has “barrows” to push. It’s important that you have a technique that creates a broader perspective.

Bucket Benefits

The “must do”, “should do” and “could do” classification when combined with “now”, “soon” and “later” forces managers to consider the importance of decisions differently. And it requires them to think beyond their own special interest towards the interest of the business as a whole.

It’s important to recognize that no decision is regarded as less important than another. They’ll all be attended to in time. But the immediate priorities will be determined by business needs rather than self or sectional interests.

Staff Performance Implications

The clearer you are on what’s important to business, the clearer your staff will be. The more all managers concur, the more focused the business will be. When staff understand the reasons for management decisions they’re more likely to endorse them enthusiastically.


As managers we’re called upon to make many decisions. This “buckets not bullets” technique provides a realistic, business based method for improving decision quality.

What To Do Now

Discuss this approach with fellow managers. Try it next time you have competing but important decisions to make. Please let me know whether it makes a difference.

Please remember to click on the “Resources” tab in the navigation bar to find other resources to help you improve on job staff performance.

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