PMBOK v5 – Raise a Little Hell
Agile Preservation or Progression?

Decisions: Delayed, Dated, or Done?

Decisions Burden Decision making is both analytical and emotional. We need to make decisions to move forward beyond the forks in the road, but when exactly is the best time to make them? Agilists have the automatic response of “At the last responsible moment” drummed into their heads so often that you may think they are drones rather than free thinking individuals.

Agile and Lean gurus have explained the benefits of delaying decisions until the last responsible moment for many years. It prevents us from committing to potentially harmful decisions too soon and instead enables us to gather more information and then make a better decision when we actually need to. It keeps design options open, enhances agility, and allows agile teams to be more responsive to change than teams who have locked into a defined approach early.

Real Options adds some math to the picture. It supports the same general idea of decision delaying and providing some dates and values for our decision making calendar. This could be reassuring for people left feeling a little uneasy by all the “up in the air” decisions. Now, it is not that we are just putting them off, but instead have agreed that there is an optimal time to make each decision and when that arrives we will make them.

I recently read the excellent “Rework” book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37 Signals and it was refreshing to read about their thoughts on Decision Making. They say: “Decisions are progress. Don’t wait for the perfect solution. Decide and move forward. You want to get into the rhythm of making choices. When you get in that flow of making decision after decision, you build momentum and boost morale. You can’t build on top of “We’ll decide later”, but you can build on top of “Done”.

Plus, you don’t have to live with a decision forever. If you make a mistake, you can correct it later. It doesn’t matter how much you plan, you will still get some stuff wrong anyway. Don’t make things worse by overanalyzing and delaying before you even get going. Long projects zap morale. Make the call, make progress, and get something out now – while you’ve got the motivation and momentum to do so.”

I like this a lot. We can often get caught up in the analysis of the perfect moment to make a decision and forget the very real motivational impact of not deciding. Decisions are emotional and our emotions impact our productivity. Yes it might be marginally better to decide on that reporting tool at the end of the month, but if everyone is non-committal until then or only 90% focussed, perhaps not sure on what will happen, then what is the real cost of this Real Option?

People’s ability to deal with ambiguity varies from person to person. However many people find it disconcerting to work with little bits of their commitment parked at each of these delayed decisions. It is foolish to try and schedule being happy on Thursday at 2pm, likewise it is foolish to assume delaying decisions comes without motivational penalties.

Like most things, we can’t live by a single mantra such a “Delay decisions to the last responsible moment”, instead we need to balance the analytical benefits of delaying decisions against the emotional costs and remember that, as Rework goes on to say: “Momentum fuels motivation. The way you build momentum is by getting something done then moving on to the next thing.” Rework keeps it real, and for that is a great read.

“…we need to balance the analytical benefits of delaying decisions against the emotional costs …”


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