Large companies have many different needs when it comes to technology. Large companies are all very different. Large companies in the same industry are similar but still different. Leaders in large companies are looking over their shoulders at other companies and asking to understand what tools and services their peers and competitors are using. They are looking for solutions in many cases based on the perception of missing something. They are looking for solutions without requirements. They are looking for solutions outside of their company without consulting their own internal subject matter expertise. The result is a series of bad decisions that cost the companies millions of dollars in re-work or replacement technology. In many cases, companies get themselves into bad deals where they are effectively trapped or locked in.
Assumption Based Decision Making
When we take a glance at the surface of any concept, we make a lot of assumptions. We don’t have information and we add in or fill in the blanks with our own ideas and perspective. We are flooded with a lot of information today. Most of this information comes in the form of snippets or 3-5 five lines. We gain a lot of opportunities to learn but this is also very dangerous if this information were to stand on its own. I have a friend that is going to a golf place with his peers. The only reason he is going to the golf place is that his boss is forcing him to go. When he asked his peers individually if they wanted to go, almost all of them said “no.” If someone to ask where the team is going, it would be easy to assume that all or most of these people wanted to go to a golf place and/or have an interest in golf. Once the people go to the golf place regardless if they participate or not, it is likely that they won’t complain about it. When one senior leader asks another where they took their team for a team building event, it is likely that the leader will recommend the golf place. The golf place, in reality, is the wrong answer.
Decisions for technology are made in the same way. The first questions that people ask today are, “Who is using it?” or “Where is it being used?” not “What do we actually need?”
What We Can Do
My team and I are faced with assumption-based decision making frequently. There are a few things we do to help our leaders make the best most informed decisions possible.
- Break down the bench- We benchmark and add perspective to the results.
- We openly ask about the problems and what we are trying to solve.
- We write narratives about what we learn to put information into context.
- We share our learning along the way as opposed to waiting.
- We offer subject matter perspective and opinion.
- We seek to understand the total costs and implications of making moves.
- We examine feasibility.
- We seek to understand technological and process maturity.
- We seek out and find opposing views.
- In some cases, we warn and walk. In other words, we do what we can to inform the decision-maker and prepare for the incoming lesson.
Don’t Give In or Do
Being right doesn’t equate to being effective. As a young consultant, I wondered why we made bad decisions and why people didn’t stand up and say “Hey, this is a bad decision.” I was working on a large multimillion-dollar project. There was a very influential person on the team that convinced leaders to purchase a software solution that was designed for small engineering teams. He saw more in the tool than it was capable of producing. The software vendor was happy to sell as many licenses as possible. It was a good day for those guys when the signed contract came in. My team had a lot of problems with the software. We worked with the vendor and did some benchmarking with other companies. Since the software was being targeted for use in a way that it was not designed for, the benchmarking was useless. After months of examination, study, and testing, my team determined the software as it was would never meet the real need as designed. My twenty-something self said, “I’m telling the boss.” I set up a meeting and explained with all my facts, charts, benchmarks and all the passion I had built up from months of spinning. I thought that if I had this chance, I could get them to see what I saw and they would make the right call.
The person of influence had them all in and committed. When I took my position and made my opinion known, it was too late. At the time, I couldn’t see why they wouldn’t back out of it knowing it would fail. Now, I understand that they were already in and it really didn’t matter. Within five years, the application proved to be what we believed. It technically failed to meet the great influencers vision. This wasn’t for a lack of trying, it simply couldn’t do what he wanted it to do. It cost a lot of money to figure this out. It wasn’t all a loss though. The process and concepts built alongside the technology are effectively in service today. My team and I were right but it didn’t matter. Depending on the situation, it may make more sense to commit fully with the understanding that this will result in a lesson. The lesson can be of great value but get to failing fast. If we recognize our failures quickly, we can grow and learn.
Good. It is healthy to have different positions. We can all agree to disagree but when leaders make a decision and they own the decision rights, we should support them even while making our perspective known. In my case, our team was right from a technological perspective but actually wrong from an overall strategic perspective. The program itself drove systemic global change in the approach to organizational process and design. I was looking at the tree, not the forest or beyond.
At the end of the day, try to challenge assumptions with fact. Challenge and test as much as you can without pushing yourself out of the conversation. Recognize when you did what you could and then switch over to helping them achieve the goals. If it fails, learn, grow and be prepared to take the next steps. If it works out, take it as a personal lesson and grow from it. Don’t give up and don’t give in but use every opportunity to learn and gain experience. This applies if you are five, fifteen, fifty and beyond.
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