Agile decision-making

For many of us, making decisions is an important part of our job.

Sometimes you can make the decisions in isolation, but on other occasions it seems important to consider the views and opinions of other valued colleagues. Often the nature of the circumstances are so complex that it can be difficult to gather all the relevant information ready to make the right decision. And waiting for these people or this information can delay the point when you are in a position to make the actual decision.

But, after all, it is important to make the right decision…

…or is it?

Not according to Percy Barnevik’s “7-3 formula”! The man who ran Swiss engineering giant ABB for a decade insists that you can still be successful if you make nearly half as many wrong decisions as you make right decisions!

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Making durable decisions easy

Making decisions always seemed simple and satisfying, and easy to change to suit circumstances.

But that was back in the days when they were design decisions, and I had developed a number of tools and techniques to help me shake the pieces into place. Things like evaluating requirements, identifying options, noting constraints, and twisting and turning the results until clear winners start to emerge. And of course – number one rule – note it ALL down. You need to know how you got where – and most importantly why, because then, once you plug in the newly changed circumstances, the design could flex and easily produce new results.

But now it all seems to revolve around money – the cost of doing something versus the cost of not doing it. Early attempts to record decisions were far from perfect. Scoping the decision was not a problem – describing what we need to decide and giving weightings to the factors that would help us decide. Nor was it difficult to list out costs, benefits and risks of the different options. The biggest issue turned out to be the inter-relation between the different options – the benefits of one option were to avoid the risks of another, or the risks involved not achieving the benefits. Tedious, repetitive and confusing!

So the solution I am using for now is to assume that the benefits (positive outcomes) and risks (negative outcomes) are all “theoretically possible” across all options, marked on a scale of 0% to 100% probability of maturing. This means the difference between the options is expressed as a combination of negative versus positive probabilities. I have stopped short of allotting a price to the benefit or risk, because these are so often subjective – in the eye of the beholder. Still, seeing the balance of plus and minus percentages should help people do their own calculations from their point of view. After all, many would-be decision-makers work from preconceptions, and massage the statistics to make the formula give the result they want, so no point in putting them through the unnecessary effort, is there?

In some ways commercial decisions are less complex than technology design, because there are fewer dimensions to consider. Money, however, can cause rather emotive reactions in people, and hard cash can boil things down to black and white results that might not have been obvious when you first asked a technological question.

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