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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Quick Decisions Are (Statistically) Good


I received some flak when I advised you to make your decisions fast. When I was writing that post I was well aware that sometimes we need time to become more familiar with the subject to make a better call. Yet I still think quick calls should be a rule and there should be few exceptions. Why?

Let’s start with the argument which I already brought but it seems to be ignored. Typically we take more time to make better calls but we waste this time. We get distracted or simply forget about the problem but the outcome is that we learn virtually nothing about the subject and we make the final decision basing on the same weak premises we took into consideration in the first place.

The argument for quick(er) decisions was based on weighting three things:

1. There are decisions which can and should be made quickly.
Unfortunately we often defer these decisions because that’s how we usually work. We do crappy job distinguishing situations when quick and easy calls should be made from those where more research will bring more valuable data. For this group we should make quicker calls.

2. There are decisions which we defer but do nothing to become more knowledgeable about.
This is the case I keep referring to. We definitely could learn more and our calls would be better. The problem is we don’t learn more so our calls are exactly the same and the only thing we get while waiting is well, the waste of time. For this group we should make quicker decisions as well.

3. There are decisions which we defer and do learn more about the subject.
A typical case brought as a counterargument. We should work like this: if we don’t know about the subject enough we learn more and then we make a better decision which saves us unnecessary work or some problems or both. For this group quicker calls are wrong.

In the ideal world we’d be able to distinguish between each case and tell which group the decision belongs to. I have a bad news: we don’t live in ideal world. In the real world it all gets messed up and we can hardly tell which problem is which.

My advice to make quicker calls is based on the premise that there is enough issues which fall into first and second category that we gain more by making quicker calls than we lose by making too quick (and wrong) calls in cases from the third group.

After all it isn’t that random. Sometimes we exactly know which case we deal with and then no one forces us to make quicker/slower decision than we should.

Just remember, the reason why we defer our calls isn’t always rational. Very often we wait only because we feel insecure making the decision. The advice to make quicker calls is just a trick which deals with the feeling.

Whether I’m right or wrong depends on statistics (and on psychology a bit), but from my experience that’s the way to go.

in: communication

6 comments… add one

  • Phil Ruse December 30, 2010, 2:22 pm

    I think there’s something to this based on something my old boss once said in a meeting; that his own mentor had advised him to make at least a certain number of decisions each day, no matter what they were. As if to get into the habit of making decisions.

  • Pawel Brodzinski December 30, 2010, 2:50 pm

    I believe these are all tricks to force us to overcome our fears. And yes, people do expect from their leaders to make quick decisions. Or at least not to hamper projects with decision making process itself.

  • Agile Scout December 30, 2010, 4:30 pm

    Good calls on this one! Thought provoking, nonetheless.

    I once heard that our first gut reaction is usually the best… where did I hear this?

  • Pawel Brodzinski January 3, 2011, 2:56 am

    “I once heard that our first gut reaction is usually the best… where did I hear this?”

    You feel it in your guts I guess…

  • Andrew Fuqua January 5, 2011, 5:24 pm

    Yeah, I almost posted an exception to your original post but then I read more closely your context, namely:

    – “waiting long days for some minor decision which hampers the project”

    – “We hamper our projects, we defer work. ”

    In that context, the last responsible moment is now, or has already passed. In that case, yeah, go ahead and decide and get on with it.

    If your bullet #2 above is the same, that the time to decide is now because people are waiting on the decision, then now is the time to decide.

    But maybe there is another bullet. 2B perhaps. It’s the case where you don’t know whether you are going to learn more (as in 3) or not (as in 2). It’s the case in which no one is waiting and you have time. In that case, treat it as #3 and wait.

  • Pawel Brodzinski January 6, 2011, 4:32 am

    By the way I see an interesting pattern recently. People are waiting to ask decision-makers for their call to the last moment – they basically take away a chance to learn more about the subject and request decision here and now as otherwise it would be a problem.

    This is something I didn’t think of when I was writing the post but similar situations come up in the comments over and over again.

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