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Posts tagged ‘decision making’

Would you have the courage to kill your “puppy”?

Cute puppy

Few people have the courage to kill their "puppy"

Before you call animal protection agencies, I need to warn you upfront that this blog post is not about taking the life of man’s best friend. This post is about making difficult decisions – very difficult decisions when it comes to ending your own initiatives. For the record, I love animals but I found the analogy so powerful that I decided to use it to support my perspective [thanks to André for the analogy].

I wrote about an organization’s ability to create, select and grow new ideas in an earlier blog post. I already highlighted 2 very different methods of launching new initiatives and in this post, I want to write about a leader’s ability to kill an initiative before it reaches full potential. No sane person launches an initiative or a project with the objective of not being successful.

Too many organizations lack the ability to innovate so when an organization has the amazing ability to generate new ideas, it is a wonderful thing. In such organizations, employees are motivated and the company makes sure it will continue to grow by bringing innovations to the market. Such organizations typically have a healthy pipeline of ideas that help them re-invent themselves. Some large organizations even have the goal to generate more than 30% of their revenues from products created in the last 24 months. That’s an aggressive but worthwhile strategy.

The challenge I have seen is with smaller organizations where the initiator of the idea is also typically its leader. In such circumstances, the leader no longer has the ability to take a step back and see things as they are – not as he wants them to be. After investing money and personal energy and imagining such high potential, making the right decision about pursuing the project (or not) when the results aren’t there is nearly impossible. The emotional ties to the project are so strong, it requires a lot of courage to make the decision to kill the project.

What do you do when the initiative doesn’t deliver on its expectation? Do you keep moving forward or do you put an end to the project? When do you know when enough is enough? How do you know you didn’t kill the idea too soon?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to these questions except it depends… It is obvious that the decision to end an initiative is much easier to make when you are not emotionally associated with the initiative. Not having taken part of the initiative makes it easier to use clear-cut criteria and apply them. If the project didn’t generate the expected revenue or doesn’t meet which ever other criteria used to evaluate it, it is much easier to decide to cancel it – to make a rational decision instead of an emotional one.

As with every thing in life, no one can ever be certain that the decision was the right one but I firmly believe that making no decision (or maintaining the status quo) is worst than making a decision. Isn’t insanity the behavior of repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome?

As for your initiatives, stop seeing them as puppies. Take a step back and if you must kill your project, see the experience as an opportunity to develop new skills that you will need further down the line. As Agile people keep saying “Inspect and Adapt” which is a clever way of saying “Learn from your mistakes, and move on”. Very few large success happened on the first attempt. See your failed initiatives as a pre requisite for your next success.

I’ll tell you about some of my “puppies” in an upcoming post…

Comments from the peanut gallery…

Let me start by affirming I am in favor of democratic structures in “for-profit” organizations. I believe people should have a say in decisions, no doubts about that. In my opinion, the concept of democracy is closely related to the wisdom of crowds where diverse opinions from a larger group of people systematically leads to better decisions and solutions.

Comments from the peanut gallery

Comments from the peanut gallery

Now that’s established, I want to make a distinction between democracy (participating in the selection of the decision) and the discussions leading to decisions – which I will call the debates.

The debate is not a democratic process. Let me use an example to explain why I have an issue with opening debates to crowds.

Following another disappointing loss of our local hockey team, a few colleagues gathered in the cafeteria were loudly debating their opinion on the cause of the team’s poor performance…

  • Paul: “Price [the goal tender] doesn’t deserve to play with the team, he lacks consistency…”
  • Mario: “What do you mean? Price did what he could but he can’t do everything. With Markov’s and Gill’s injury our defensive line is weak and Price is too often left to himself…”
  • Richard: “Did you guys watch the same game I did? We have no offensive line. We gave a lot of talent to bring Cammalleri to Montreal but he is just not the scorer we need and nobody actually has the right skills…”
  • Mary: “No, no. It’s the referee who influenced the game…”

I’ll stop here but that is enough to show my point. How many of these people do you believed played in the NHL? None.

How many of these people took coaching training or even played junior hockey? None.

How many of these opinions are actually useful to make the right decision? None. That’s right!

This is what my wife calls the “comments from the peanut gallery“.

Let me use another brief example to prove my point further.

Assume a skilled people manager joins his highly technical team for a brain storming session. The team is looking to improve performance of their Java application and the tension in the room is high.  The manager – for sake of clarity, doesn’t have a clue about computer programming except maybe for a 3 hours introduction to Microsoft Excel taken 5 years ago – suggests to replace the framework and maybe the sorting method. What are the chances that his suggestion will be accepted? None.

The same situation applies when people with no management experience or training jump into a discussion about people management or organizational strategies. To take part of the discussion there needs to be a few pre-requisites. It is not enough to want to participate in the discussion, to really contribute people need: knowledge of the topic being discussed, experience, and a willingness to move the debate forward.

What is not needed is a personal opinion without facts, knowledge or experience but this is exactly what happens when a debate is open to the general public. When these conditions are met (knowledge, experience, and willingness), people should be welcomed to join the discussion so to take advantage of the wisdom of crowds. When these conditions aren’t met, people should stay on the sideline waiting for the debate to end and propositions to be open for selection.

Just like in the Canadian Parliament, a selected (elected) number of people were selected to represent others in the discussion. Once options are selected, the democratic process can allow people to vote.

I didn’t have time to do this

I don't have time to do this

I didn't have time to do this

“I didn’t have time to do this” is by far the lamest excuse I hear and we hear it all the time. Why is that?

You know the scenario. Someone committed to delivering something to you by a certain date and once the time comes, you ask the individual to honor their commitment only to hear these words – “I didn’t have time…”.

Although I could go into time management, this is not the point I want to make. Let’s call a spade, a spade and stop pretending that work doesn’t get done because people didn’t have time to do it. Think about it, when was the last time you heard someone tell you, “I have too much time”?

Life is as such as we accept more work and activities than we have time for, so claiming we didn’t have time for something seems like an understatement. In reality, what really happens is:

  1. the individual didn’t want to do the work in the first place;
  2. the person is procrastinating;
  3. the person has difficulties in prioritizing their activities and cannot make a decision to determine which piece of work is more critical and should be completed first.

As you can see, none of these options would be a popular answer, so people use the same lame excuse over and over again.

Now that you know there is no such thing as having too much time, you may want to ask the person using the lack-of-time excuse to provide the real reason why the commitment has been broken. That should make for an interesting conversation.

Stop treating me like a grown-up

I can’t recall the number of times I heard an employee, a colleague, and even a manager say “I wish my boss would give me more responsibilities and stop telling me what to do“. This seems to be a recurring theme but what really surprises me is how quickly people want to give up their new responsibilities and run to their boss to ask them what to do once they are given more responsibilities.

Growing up is a difficult endeavour and many people would prefer to remain “children” (sort of speak) within the organizational environment. Notice how, even within self-organized teams, people will go to the leader and ask for permission to do something – Can I delay my current assignment to start working on something more critical? Can I skip the recurring weekly status meeting tomorrow to help Peter resolve an important client issue? Can I spend $200 to purchase a new tool that will save me 10 days of work?

It is my firm belief that people are very capable of answering their own question and take the best decision. If they need additional information, I’m there to provide it to them. If they need my experience, I’m there to share it with them. If they need me to support them, I’m there for that also. But if they want me to take the decision for them, sorry I am not available or even interested in doing that. I like people to be accountable.

Every time, I ask people why they are asking ME for a permission to do something, I invariably get “I’m afraid to make the wrong decision” as the answer. Organizations are so slow to change, to evolve, to mature because of the constant fear maintained by the organizational structures, processes, and (yes) people.

Give some slack to your people and support them in the process of organizationally growing up but don’t get into the position of taking the decisions for them unless you want your organization to stop growing.

More time does not create better decisions

Seth’s post was pretty short on Sunday but it raised 2 questions in my mind in the context of Agile Business Intelligence.

His statement sounds contrary to what is suggested by Mary and Tom Poppendieck in Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit where it is recommended “to delay those decisions as long as possible“.

The second question that came to mind was that with Business Intelligence, there are huge pressures to find “the single version of the truth” which means that money is invested to analyze and normalize the data in a BI project so that it is consistant throughout the organization – and becomes the “perfect” information.

After a while and after reading Seth’s post a few times, his last sentence allowed me to reconcile the various perspectives. Seth says “What happens if, starting today, you make every decision as soon as you have a reasonable amount of data?“.

Which I translated for the context of an Agile Business Intelligence project to: “delay your decision until you have a reasonable amount of data“. Striving for perfection is never a good use of time, resources and energy in my opinion.