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15 Sep 2014

Wasting Time Not Making Decisions

OZA No 454 (Wasting Time Not Making Decisions)An executive expressed pride in his people’s efficient execution of an initiative, “Everyone came together as a team and got this done in under two months.” After prompting him to share more, he eventually included, “It took us a year and a half to make the decision to do this.”

Whether the decision was right and whether it required that much time are not the points. The point is that the executive did not consider decision-making time part of the total execution time even though his people were involved in researching, organizing and analyzing the decision. If so, the total implementation time was closer to twenty months.

Consider salespeople’s pipelines. Each opportunity requires resources to move forward. Some eventually languish. If the opportunities become too much, additional sales help might join or languishing opportunities removed.

Now, let’s visualize a pipeline containing all the decisions to make. Each requires resources, much of it time. If new decisions come in faster than ones come off, the decision pipeline expands, requiring more time and money as we update research and refamiliarize ourselves with the decision.

Meanwhile, just as languishing sales opportunities skew projections, languishing decisions skew what might happen. We inject more uncertainty, ambiguity, complexity and volatility than necessary. Employees waste time toggling between waiting for change and following the status quo. Even decisions removing items from consideration for defined periods give context avoiding these four self-inflictions.

Accelerating decision making obviously helps. Often though, thoughtful consideration and consensus building derail this. While important, it’s often excessive and wastes time. Over-thinking increases errors, collecting too much information promotes indecisiveness and pursuing “the right” decision is often illusive. Worse yet, languishing decisions undermine leadership and morale by through indecisiveness.

Problems don’t wait while we decide. We should include decision-making time in efficiency calculations.


2 Responses

  1. My approach when engaged myself and my suggestion to students: Find the more “obvious” foundation or framework of a solution and start developing the design / prototype for this. In making this effort, the motivation to continue will be there. In addition, the next steps will be much clearer. When (not if) mistakes or difficulties arise, they will be more informative much earlier in the timeline.

    Think about it: What’s the probability that a detailed design / plan of action will have all decisions made correctly such that implementation will happen flawlessly???

    1. Mike Lehr

      Yes, John, trial and error is still the best learning method around, especially in this age where things change so quickly. Again though, the main point is that when it comes to implementation, execution time is usually measured from the time the decision is made, not from when the problem arose and determined it required a decision. Nonetheless, your approach gets people implementing sooner.

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