Lasting Decisions

So it’s a funny thing about decisions…


Decisions are supposed to represent the conclusion of a process involving the following steps:


– Research of the problem

– Decide on the scope

– Discover the requirements

– Determine viable alternatives

– Evaluate costs, benefits, and risks 

– Do some soul-searching

– And then resolve and commit on a way-ahead


While these steps are typically formalized in a work-setting, they may be done informally in our personal lives. 


But even after all this, we need to remain adaptive to changes in the environment that would cause us to reevaluate the decision and alter course. 

So a decision is a decision until we revisit the decision. 


The problem is that in some highly complex, unstable/turbulent environments, or ones where there are a lot of disagreements among stakeholders (such that there was perhaps not a consensus on the original decision to begin with) then “decisions” may be short-lived.


In this case, decisions may be half-baked, not even last until the ink is dried, and certainly not have a chance in hell to be executed on or seen through to determine whether they actually would’ve worked. 


In a way a decision that is so temporal is not even really a decision, but sticking your toe out to feel the temperature of the water, and any commitment of resources can and probably will be a complete throw-away.  


We’ve got to do the investment in the upfront work, really make a good data-driven (and inspired) decision, and give it an opportunity to blossom. 


Yes, we need to remain agile and change as we sincerely need to, but too much change and for the wrong reasons leads to going nowhere fast.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Struggling With Some Decisions

So I’ve been helping some family members with some really big decisions lately. 


As we all know, there are pros and cons to every alternative. 


I remember how you can diagram decisions out like the branches of a tree with probabilities for each branch to try and get to the highest value decision. 


The problem is we don’t know everything that may happen down the road or even know the probabilities for each possibility–or as they say:

We don’t know what we don’t know.  


So it’s hard to make a great decision and not second guess yourself.

Well, what if…


You can “what if” yourself to sleepless nights and death and never decide or do anything meaningful. 


We have to make the best decisions we can usually with limited information. 


Using gut or intuition is not a solution either–those can end up being very wrong especially when we let our raw emotions dictate. 


So I do not take decision-making for myself or helping others lightly, especially my family. 


I want to protect them and help them make good decisions that will bear fruit and joy down the road. 


I definitely don’t want to waste everyones time and efforts and lead them or myself down a dead end or worse off of a cliff.


In the end, we have to turn to G-d and whisper:

Oh G-d, please help us to make the right decisions, because only you know what the results will be from it. 


And so, I am definitely whispering!


At the same time, we need to move forward and not let fear and doubt get in our way of living. 


Yes, we have to be prudent and take calculated risks (everything worthwhile is a risk), but also, we have to look at the potential rewards and the costs for these (every decision is an investment of time and resources) and then just try our best. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Project Manager – The DIRECT(or)

So I learned this cool acronym for the roles of a project manager:


DIRECT


The project manager directs the project (similar to a director who is the project manager of a movie).


Here is how the project manager DIRECTs the project:


Define – Identify the opportunity or issue that the project will address including, the vision, scope, resources, and measures of success. (i.e. the “Charter”).


Investigate – Explore options and pros/cons for each (i.e. an “Analysis of Alternatives”).


Resolve – Solve and resolve (i.e. commit to) the course of action that will be pursued (i.e. “Project Plan”).


Execute -Do the project and track/manage cost, schedule, scope, quality, risks, and actions items (i.e. “Scorecard”).


Change – Identify process and technology techniology changes, test these, fix outstanding items, and make the cutover (i.e. “User Acceptance Testing,” “Punch List,” and “Go Live Plan”).


Transition – Migrate people to the new solution, communicate the changes, overcome resistance, and conclude the project (i.e. “Communications Plan” and “Lessons Learned”).


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Boardroom B.S.

Gavel

So I had the opportunity to attend a board meeting recently and to see firsthand why most decisions are so flawed. 


– No Diversity–The board members were all from a single age group and color, and this clearly impacted their thought processes and decisions. For example, when others attending the meeting asked about updating some technology, the board members blankly felt that was not important even after almost a decade of the same thing. 


– Self-Interest–The board only entertained issues that they were interested in for themselves. For example, when someone stood up to talk about issues they didn’t feel were important to them, the board members tuned out, interrupted the speakers, actually scrowled at them, or just shut them down altogether. 


– Getting Personal–Board members frequently changed the discussion from substantive discussion to personal attacks. When one person questioned a recent decision, a board member started yelling about being called names (which never happened that I saw) or telling the speakers that they didn’t know what they were talking about. 


– Information Poor–Board members made decisions or committees recommended decisions first, and then put it up for discussion later (like at a subsequent meeting). Moreover, the board members referred to decisions being made over and over based on anecdotes of people telling them this, that, or the other thing (none of which could be verified) and not on facts or surveys of those impacted by the decisions. 


– Transparency Lacking–Board members made decisions without explanation for the reason or justification, and even without necessarily evaluating all the alternatives. When questioned, the board wasn’t able to identify costs of alternatives or even fully explore the other viable options. 


– Intimidating The Opposition–The board members actually seemed to challenge and turn to intimidation to stem alternate views from their own. Some people that had supported other voices in the room where turned or told that they hadn’t understood the issues properly to begin with. 


Despite some nice people personally and one or two that didn’t seem to go along with the shinanigans, overall it was a very disppointing show of decision-making, governance, communication, and leadership. 


No wonder people get turned off by the process, don’t participate, and lose confidence in those at the top. Maybe time for people to be leaders with heart and not megalomaniacs with gavels. 


(Source Photo: here with attribution to CJ Sorg)

Seesaw, Yeah It’s For Kids

There is an interesting new crowdsourcing application called Seesaw.

And like a seesaw goes up and down, you can take a picture and crowdsource decisions–thumbs up or down for what you should do.

Food, clothes, movies, more–I could imagine people even going so far as to use this for dating–Go out with them or not? Keep ’em or dump ’em?

While the possibility of having others chime in on your everyday life decisions is somewhat intriguing, social and fun…it also seems a little shallow and superficial.

Do you really need to ask your friends about everything you do or can you make simple day-to-day decisions yourself?

And when it comes to big decisions, perhaps you need more than a picture with a thumbs up or down to give the decision context, evaluate pros and cons, think through complex issues, and make a truly thoughtful decision–perhaps some genuine dialogue would be helpful here?

Finally, many decisions in life come at the spur of a moment–should I or shouldn’t I–and you don’t have the benefit of saying hold on “let me take a picture and get some of my friends opinions on this”–life waits for no one and timing is often everything!

It is good to get other people’s opinions (i.e. the proverbial “second opinion”) as well as to do what my father used to tell me which is to “sleep on it,” because things look different over night and in the morning.

But while you should consider what others think–in a meaningful way–in the end, you need to trust your inner self and take responsibility for your own decisions. 😉

Apples or Oranges

Apples-and-oranges

There are lots of biases that can get in the way of sound decision-making.

An very good article in Harvard Business Review (June 2011) called “Before You Make That Big Decision” identifies a dozen of these biases that can throw leaders off course.  

What I liked about this article is how it organized the subject into a schema for interrogating an issue to get to better decision-making.

Here are some of the major biases that leaders need to be aware of and inquire about when they are presented with an investment proposal:

1) Motivation Errors–do the people presenting a proposal have a self-interest in the outcome?

2) Groupthink–are dissenting opinions being actively solicited and fairly evaluated?

3) Salient Analogies–are analogies and examples being used really comparable?

4) Confirmation Bias–has other viable alternatives been duly considered?

5) Availability Bias–has all relevant information been considered?

6) Anchoring Bias–can the numbers be substantiated (i.e. where did they come from)?

7) Halo Effect–is success from one area automatically being translated to another?

8) Planning Fallacy–is the business case overly optimistic?

9) Disaster Neglect–is the worst-case scenario imagined really the worst?

10) Loss Aversion–is the team being overly cautious, conservative, and unimaginative?

11) Affect Heuristic–are we exaggerating or emphasizing the benefits and minimizing the risks?

12) Sunk-Cost Fallacy–are we basing future decision-making on past costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered?

To counter these biases, here are my top 10 questions for getting past the b.s.
(applying enterprise architecture and governance):

1) What is the business requirement–justification–and use cases for the proposal being presented?

2) How does the proposal align to the strategic plan and enterprise architecture?

3) What is return on investment and what is the basis for the projections?

4) What alternatives were considered and what are the pros and cons of each?

5) What are the best practices and fundamental research in this area?

6) What are the critical success factors?

7) What are the primary risks and planned mitigations for each?

8) What assumptions have been made?

9) What dissenting opinions were there?

10) Who else has been successful implementing this type of investment and what were the lessons learned?

While no one can remove every personal or organizational bias
that exists from the decision-making equation, it is critical for leaders to do get beyond the superficial to the “meat and potatoes” of the issues.

This can be accomplished by leaders interrogating the issues themselves and as well as by establishing appropriate functional governance boards
with diverse personnel to fully vet the issues, solve problems, and move the organizations toward a decision and execution.

Whether the decision is apples or oranges, the wise leader gets beyond the peel.

>Rational Decision Making and Enterprise Architecture

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In the book Images of Organization by Gareth Morgan, the Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon is cited as exploring the parallels between human and organization decision making, as follows:
Organizations can never be completely rational, because their members have limited information processing abilities…people

  • usually have to act on the basis of incomplete information about possible courses of action and their consequences
  • are able to explore only a limited number of alternatives relating to any given decision, and
  • are unable to attach accurate values to outcome

…In contrast to the assumptions made in economics about the optimizing behavior of individuals, he concluded that individuals and organizations settle for a ‘bounded rationality’ of a good enough decision based on simple rules of thumb and limited search and information.”

While EA provides a way ahead for the organization, based on Herbert Simon explanation, we learn that there is really no 100% right answers. Organizations, like individuals, have limited ability to plan for the future, since they cannot adequately analyze potential outcomes of decisions in an uncertain environment with limited information.

Architects and the organizations they serve must recognize that the best laid plans are based on bounded rationality, and there is no “right” or “wrong” answers, just rational planning and due diligence.