Just make a decision! Talk at South Wales Agile Group

I was asked recently to present at the South Wales Agile Group, and I decided to talk about a topic not often discussed – making decisions. I wanted to explore why teams are often terrified of making project decisions; fearing that the consequences are worse than actually making a decision in the first place.

I wanted to talk about decision-making within projects because I felt that whilst this is a problem that goes back a long way, it is mostly thanks to the implementation of Agile shining a spotlight on real bottlenecks that the problem has become more widespread.

The hardest decision I made in the 90's - Sega or Nintendo?

The hardest decision I made in the 90’s – Sega or Nintendo?

I talked about how some decisions are easy and some decisions are hard but, ultimately, if you have empowered the right people to make these decisions you have at least a fair chance of making the right ones.

It’s important to remember that a decision should only be hard to make if the consequences of that decision carry a lot of risk. You might consider the dreaded “what do you fancy for dinner?” question to be a tough one – but is it really? The biggest problem is not what to have, but spending so long thinking about an answer that you actually get no dinner at all. And this is true of project decisions, too. Often, teams will spend far longer than they need to making a decision that has minimal impact or importance for the bigger vision. What this leads to is less production and ultimately less delivery.

The reason I believe people still worry about making project decisions is due to the fear factor of getting it wrong. You can trace this back to the waterfall projects of old where all decisions were forced up-front prior to development and there was little, if any, room to adjust or change your mind as you moved forward. You had to make your bed very early on and then lie in it for the duration of the project.

The tyranny of waterfall makes making decisions feel scary

Fast forward to a more modern Agile approach to project delivery and one of the biggest differences is obvious. We’re encouraging teams to spread their decision-making throughout the life of the project, adapting to what is most important on that day. If things don’t work out the way they were anticipated to, it’s possible to very quickly move in a different direction. This approach takes a huge percentage of risk away from making a decision and, importantly, empowers the right people to make them.

Adopting Agile doesn’t make decision-making easier – it’s not a silver bullet. In some ways it actually adds the potential for increased mistakes as you’re encouraging more decisions to be made on a regular basis. In every area, Agile keeps the pressure on to encourage regular delivery.

The very best teams will thrive on the pressure, but the very best teams will also make bad decisions from time to time. What makes them the very best teams, though, is that they learn from bad decisions and improve themselves moving forward.

You can view the slides from my presentation here:
Just make a decision. It won’t kill you.