Thursday, August 29, 2013

What Trumps How

My business cards carry a slogan: "How the decision gets made DOES matter".  I do think that is true, in two ways: the the information that as provided to the decision-makers in advance of the decision being made, and the actual method by which a decision is made and advertised.  More transparent decisions tend to be better decisions because participants in the decision process have to be able to answer the implicit question of "why?"  But I'll go ahead and open this blog with a contrarian angle:  knowing why something was decided does not matter nearly as much knowing what the decision was.

I have experienced a couple of situations (names changed, of course) where executives simply didn't want to give up any power to a decision board, regardless of what external mandates seemed to require.  With one, the process was not very conventional, but it was workable: and once we settled that part, it was actually possible to build a compliant framework around it.  Just as long as it was quite clear that Sandra would have the last word.

What does not work is a system based on random acts of decision - or indecision.   Let us say that Bob announces his decision.  But Lucy is unhappy and gets a closed-door meeting to complain to Bob, who agrees that Lucy's issue is important and she should continue with her project (without making clear where these resources are to come from, and Lucy knows better than to ask).  Bob never actually tells anyone about this, and Lucy runs into a resource conflict with the original project team.  Meanwhile, Jaime ignores the whole process and diverts his resources to something else altogether; Bob agrees (again behind closed doors) that Jaime seems to be working on something very critical and should keep doing whatever it is that he is doing. Once all of the organization's resources are committed to wholly incompatible activities, none of the projects can get access to the skill sets they need to complete a phase; the organization is up in arms.  Bob then announces that he made his priorities quite clear in the original meeting and there had better not be any any further discussion of this topic. As a result, all of the projects grind to a halt and stay there.  As Dave Barry would say, I swear I am not making this up.  I'm not that talented.

What I learned from all that was that the first priority of any governance process must be to make sure that everyone knows what has been decided.  It would be nice to know when, and why, and who was in the room; to know that this week's decision will not be overruled next week; or to know that the decisions were supported by some actual facts.  But, given some degree of general competence, organizations can absorb quite a bit of subjectivity, whereas they must know what the current marching orders are.  If you can simply get that published, your governance program may find itself with a more solid foundation than you expect.

Welcome to the Business and IT Decisions blog!

I'll set a goal of a new base posting weekly, although several may be continuations of previous posts.

This blog will be about how decisions get made and, probably for the most part, about some of the processes that support making decisions: planning, architecture, budgeting, and so on.

Given the wide-open nature of the Internet, it wouldn't be surprising if some overheated and/or irrelevant comments or responses got added to the blog over time.  Those will be removed and/or blocked. Otherwise, please feel free to agree OR disagree; not much learning results from mass agreement.