The agony of choice – more on decision rules

You might be wondering why I spend so much time thinking and writing about how we as an organisation make the choices we make. The reason is very straightforward: If we don’t make reasonable choices regarding how we spend our energy and capacity, then nothing else will matter. As an Agile Coach, I can spend countless days, weeks and months helping teams discover and deliver using all the tools known to man, but if we’re not spending our energy wisely, then all of that just won’t matter. When saying this, I’m coming from a place where the wellbeing and success of the organisation as a whole is my first concern. I could abdicate from this responsibility and focus on the development of teams and individuals, which to tell the truth is closer to my heart. Yet, in this complex adaptive system we call an organisation, these things are obviously intertwined.

I belong to a team, a group of people who I consider to be the smartest and most skilled people around. They will, just like me, instantly sense when things don’t make sense. The feeling that the choices we make as a group (organisation) is taking us in the “right” direction is immensely important to everyone involved, as it has a direct impact on everyones motivation and sense of pride. I believe Deming was right on the money when he urged us to “remove barriers to pride of workmanship” in order to help people feel motivated and happy.

So, in order to keep us conscious about how we think when we think about our choices, I have posted the sentences you see below on our development cave wall. I call it “alternatives for choosing”. This is based on reasoning I’ve heard expressed in priority meetings, and some thoughts that I myself have introduced. In general, I think all of these strategies for choosing can be legit. So this is just a matter of making them explicit so that we can talk about them and perhaps reach a consensus regarding what is allowed to influence our choices.

So, here is the current list of alternatives:

  • “We choose that which seem to bring the organisation the highest value, based on our single impact value finding tool”
  • “We choose that which we have to choose, due to circumstances that we cannot control” 
  • “We choose that which seems to be the right choice right now, based on our current situation, regardless of other ways we identify value”
  • “We choose based on target group and attempt to deliver value to a specific target group that we have chosen to focus on”
  • “We choose based on target group and time box our efforts. We say that during X time we will deliver as much value to this target group as possible”
  • “We choose the value that satisfies the internal stakeholder that we have neglected the most lately”

I have no illusions that there is such a thing as the perfect decision. I am a satisficer rather than an optimizer, which means that I’m more likely to be seeking out a satisfactory solution than chasing after the optimal solution. I am also of the opinion that todays optimum is very likely to be tomorrows sub-optimum, so the investment of energy and resources into finding this perfect solution will most likely be waste. Furthermore, I simply don’t believe that we have the capability to recognize the optimal solution until after the fact. And after the fact we iterate, armed with new information. See?

So this is why, for a weird person like me, it becomes important that the reasoning behind our choices makes sense.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *