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As leaders and managers, it is our responsibility to find credible information which assists practical and informed decision-making. Unfortunately, decisions often have to be made without all the necessary information available. A decision maker in these circumstances will often leverage from their previous experience, the business risks associated with the decision, and levels of authority bestowed upon them, to name a few.

From my own experiences I have often seen many people very uncomfortable making decisions without ‘all’ the information. This often takes the form of indecision, where business or situational opportunities are missed – often being capitalised on by a competitor or more flexible/adaptable team.

In the military the term ’fog of war’, originally coined by Carl von Clausewitz (military strategist) is often utilised to explain uncertainty during war, and addresses the complexities with gathering accurate and timely information. The metaphor is often used to explain to commanders the importance of making decisions with what little information one has; a very important feature of war, particularly in the pursuit of maintaining momentum towards a goal or end-state.

So why are some people so uncomfortable with making decisions in the absence of ‘all’ the information? The answer it seems is simple; people do not want to make the wrong decision – this is understandable without additional context. They also presume that there is such a thing as a ‘perfect decision’. What if I told you there is no such thing as a ‘perfect decision’, and that the need to maintain momentum should be, in most cases, a stronger driving force. This is not to be confused with making rash or ill-considered decisions, as this can be equally damaging and frustrating to co-workers.

I would argue that that the purveyors of the 80% in time, as compared to the 100% too late rule are often those that excel in competitive markets, and generally maintain momentum towards project success.

Sir Richard Branson once said,

“There’s no such thing as perfect decision making – only hindsight can determine whether you made the ‘right call.’”

Branson placed greater emphasis on gathering accurate information in order to answer specific questions of fact, which would later either confirm or deny a decision to move forward. Too often people appear to be gathering information without a good understanding as to what decision it will influence. In these instances, people are most certainly busy, but unfortunately they are often collecting the wrong information. Quantity in this context does not ensure quality.

So what can leader and managers do to ensure they are assisting their teams with collecting the right information?

  1. Categorise your questions of fact – Determine what one must know/must have vs what is nice to know/nice to have. In some cases a metric or means of measuring the data will assist in knowing when it has been successfully gathered upon. Greater emphasis should be placed on answering the questions which will determine go/no go criteria for the project.
  2. Ask the right questions to the right stakeholders – Too often we are not engaging with the right people, nor asking the correct questions. When engaging with SMEs ensure that your question: is used to drive a specific decision on your end, and is asked in the correct language or vernacular (note: words have different meanings to different organisations). Don’t assume everyone speaks the same technical language -Engineers vs Project Managers is a recurring theme in many industries.
  3. Streamline data collection towards specific questions, which will confirm or deny a specific decision to be made – Effective Project Managers are those that can adequately define the Project Scope and ensure the project remains orientated towards a measurable end-state. If people are collecting information that does not target a specific decision, stop collecting it.  
  4. Sequence your data collection to align towards project milestones – Note: you often do not need all the information at that point in time. Some information will only become relevant later. If you wait for all the information you can miss critical opportunities as the project evolves.

In summary, if you have enough information to make a reasonably informed decision – make it! Nirvana is never reached in the pursuit for the perfect decision.

 We have taken many of these lessons and incorporated them into The Eighth Mile Consulting.