The qualitative approach to management seeks to answer questions that cannot be answered from a solely quantitative angle. Although quantitative methods -- such as statistics, information models and computer simulations -- are useful for testing hypotheses and are vital tools for managers, they're not as effective at answering the how and why questions. On the other hand, qualitative methods -- such as case studies -- do answer the how and why questions, or at least they provide hypotheses managers can then test via quantitative methods.
The quantitative school of management -- also known as operations management -- uses mathematical models to improve decision making, similarly to the way physical scientists use quantitative methods to test a hypothesis. The qualitative approach to management, on the other hand, is grounded in the social sciences -- such as psychology and anthropology -- that aim to discover the motivation behind people's behavior by using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Both approaches can provide valuable information to managers.
The qualitative approach to management uses the views of experts to create business performance forecasts. These experts base their opinions on the results of a certain action, or on their personal experiences and education. Experts come from a variety of fields, such as finance, purchasing and sales. The results of forecasts based on expert opinions are usually tested with quantitative methods, such as trend extrapolation.
Sales force polling is a hybrid management method. It combines a statistical approach with the distinctly qualitative approach of selecting a small group of people, who are in continual contact with customers, to provide valuable insight into the effects of a particular decision. This allows managers to ask more in-depth questions about the state of the market, which can then be normalized to create a short-term forecast.
Consumer opinion surveys provide another valuable tool for managers who take advantage of a qualitative approach. Although survey analysis also uses quantitative methods, the surveys obtain answers from consumers on their feelings about a product or service. The responses are invaluable to managers who want to test the reactions of customers to management decisions.