Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Speedy Decision Making

In dynamic environments, things change so quickly there is often a limited window of opportunity to reap the benefits of a project.

The challenge is how to make timely decisions.

In a tall hierarchy the problem is “decision lag” where decisions are not made in time to keep pace with a rapidly changing environment (Collyer & Warren, 2009). By the time a decision is made it may be out of date. There is a great cartoon where Dilbert’s project is made redundant while he patiently waits for the plan to be approved.

"Know when you have good enough"

Apart from avoiding tall hierarchies like the plague (See cases for IBM and Spaceship1), leading practitioners in my studies strongly advise on the need to balance decision quality against decision speed, to make them as speedy and efficient as possible. Here are some quotes…
"You could analyse for a year and come up with a 4% or maybe 20% better decision but actually that would be a 100% worse outcome because we will miss the opportunity."
"Know when you have good enough. [One of my team members] wanted to know down to about the fifth decimal place what the capacity of a particular unit. In the end we missed the deadline and in hindsight we realised the bottom line was there were only three choices.., we can only get small, medium, large. Small is obviously too small, large is too big, medium works ... and that’s all we needed to know."
...and a paraphrase from World War 2 General Patton...
A reasonable plan executed in time is better than a perfect plan hatched in a prison camp.
My practitioner study participants identified a number of practical ways to achieve informed yet timely decisions. Here are some examples...

Simon Collyer

Collyer, S., Warren, C., Hemsley, B., & Stevens, C. (2010). Aim Fire Aim - Project Planning Styles in Dynamic Environments Project Management Journal, 41(4), 108-121. doi: 10.1002/pmj.20199
Collyer, S., Warren, C. M. J. (2009). Project Management Approaches for Dynamic Environments International Journal of Project Management, 27(4), 355-364