Do you have a hard time making decisions? Even the most decisive of us can get caught in the headlights of the oncoming project train, unable to choose left, right or straight ahead. Here’s a few strategies that I’ve found useful and sometimes forgotten about while stuck on the software development analysis thought pot.
- Ready, aim, fire! Research, evaluate, decide. Hesitation breeds doubt. Doubt is the father of indecision. Make a reasonable degree of confidence your standard and avoid looking for absolute guarantees. There are none.
- Put away fear of failure and accept the fact that there is more than one acceptable outcome to life’s challenges, including your project. Learn from mistakes but don’t be too afraid to make new ones.
- Begin. Make a start. Act. No journey or decision can ever be taken without the first step. Make a small decision, take action and then improve on your progress by evaluating regularly. Take digestible course correction decisions. Don’t derail your project by overcorrecting and rolling the bus at full speed.
- Set a decision deadline and stick to it. Lay out an incremental research and evaluation plan with a list of questions you need answers to in order to make your decision. If you don’t have a perfect answer, enumerate what you have anyway and incorporate it into your final decision.
- When the problem is too big and the decision too overwhelming, break it down into smaller, more specific pieces. Apply the strategies you find effective on the more manageable elements. Do that until you’ve put all the pieces together and before you know it, the puzzle will be complete.
- If the outcomes of the decision, regardless of the choice, are equally acceptable, flip a coin. Move on. Don’t waste time dwelling on equally acceptable paths to different but relatively satisfying conclusions.
- Go crazy. Make a choice even if you don’t have a reasonable level of confidence. Get off the ice berg and start swimming. Something will happen and that will lead to something else. It might turn out to have been a mistake, but at least you’ll have momentum on your side. A moving car is far easier to turn around than one that is parked.
- Put things into perspective. This project decision you’re worrying about, the one keeping you up at nights. Can it compare with watching your kid’s school play? Will your client attend your kid’s wedding? Or your funeral? Beyond successful completion or abject miserable failure on the project, will the outcome have a permanent impact on your life in the long term? Will it matter to your grandkids? Perspective can be a powerful decision making tool.
- If you can’t take the plunge off the high dive, run an experiment. Try out your decision on a smaller scale. See what happens. Take the results and boldly make the real decision.
- Change your point of view. Look for a distraction. Take a walk in a Japanese garden. See a movie. Read a good book. Take your wife on a date. Go to church. Do something to get away from it all, even if just for a few hours. Then come back with a few oxygenated brain cells and make a decision. Ready, aim, fire!
What strategies have you found useful when stuck, unable to make a critical choice on a project? I’d love to hear from you.
Update: I know these are generalized platitudes, but sometimes a good platitude can spark the inspiration one needs to find a specific solution to a real problem.
In his annual letter to shareholders, Warren Buffett wrote (emphasis added):
“We tend to let our many subsidiaries operate on their own, without our supervising and monitoring them to any degree. That means we are sometimes late in spotting management problems and that both operating and capital decisions are occasionally made with which Charlie and I would have disagreed had we been consulted. Most of our managers, however, use the independence we grant them magnificently, rewarding our confidence by maintaining an owneroriented attitude that is invaluable and too seldom found in huge organizations. We would rather suffer the visible costs of a few bad decisions than incur the many invisible costs that come from decisions made too slowly – or not at all – because of a stifling bureaucracy.”
There are times when working in an enterprise can be frustrating because there are individuals who deliberately and regularly hinder your work while hiding behind the plausible deniability and comfortable safety of that stifling bureaucracy of which Warren Buffett so sagely speaks.
The question is what to do when you find yourself in that situation. There can be only three answers, I believe. Either you succeed in spite of the efforts of well seasoned bureaucrats and hope that attrition wins the day or you fail while trying or even give up somewhere along the line, resigning yourself to failure. The third alternative is that you find another ball field and another team on which to play and never look back.
Which one would you choose?