Tech Manager—Making the Call
Sometimes decisions get bogged down or become fuzzy as teams and individuals take too long to decide. I have been in many a team meeting where items were discussed and bantered about, but they never seem to come to a conclusion. It seems like some folks are happy just stringing out a decision until it is either too late to make any difference, or the impact of the decision is diluted because the opportunity is lost. Too much thinking is being done.
Other times there are decisions that are made too quickly and seem like the whim or dictates of one person in the room. Others are unable or unwilling to challenge a selection that was made. The choice is made quickly and some are not sure it was correct or even worse, they don’t even know what was decided. Too little thinking is being done.
Back in 2015/16, I wrote a two-part article that provided suggestions for how Tech Managers can help others make decisions. Now I turn to helping yourself make decisions when it comes down to you, or you are leading a team. Decision making is a key skill that Tech Managers have to have. If they take too long to make up their minds, it slows things down and derails progress. If they move too fast, they make the wrong call and cause troubles for themselves and others. Getting it right is what others expect from a leader. Getting it wrong may get you into hot water.
I came across several articles on the web that have been written about the types of decisions that are made in the workplace (and outside of it). They boil down to a mix of categories. Frequent vs infrequent, and high impact vs low impact. The infrequent and high impact decisions can change your firm or derail a project and need a lot of discussion and deliberation. Even the frequent choices that have to be made each week might have broader impact and need special attention. I am really writing about the low impact decisions that tie up your time and money. They also do not have deep impact or great risk involved when a decision might go wrong. You want to build a solid track record of great decisions, and you probably do a great job at it. But there are times when you just need to make a call and get things moving.
So how do you get it right? How do you get things done without moving too fast or too slow? Well… I am no expert, but I do have some ideas about moving faster or slower depending on the need. Read on and see if anything I might suggest will help.
Speeding Things Up
Sometimes, things get bogged down because people are trying to get the perfect answer and verify that every last detail has been reviewed by every last person. I am all for due diligence (and will discuss that later), but sometimes it gets out of hand. Sometimes it costs you more than the tool you are trying to buy. You may be spending too much money on people’s time.
Let’s say that you want to buy the best code writing tool on the market and it is $1200 per year for a subscription. Standard practice is to get approval from your supervisor, their supervisor, accounting and the project manager of the project you are going to use it on. Say it takes an hour per person to convince that it is the right tool, you looked at others, there is nothing else that is better/cheaper and that it is needed now. One or two waffle back and forth so it takes two hours of your time and theirs getting meetings in place and talking it through.
So, a grand total of 8 hours’ time over two calendar weeks (meeting are tough to coordinate), plus, the 4 hours you took to find this tool and prove to yourself it was right. So, we are now at 12 hours. With an hourly rate of $125 per hour or so (including their benefits and load), that is $1500 in hourly money that was chewed up to buy a $1200 tool. Making the real cost out of the gate to be $2700 for the first year.
That was a long explanation to say that you have to balance the cost of delays and being sure of every last thing in hopes of preventing a wrong decision. Compare that to the savings of not taking up staff hours and getting it done. If they approved it on your recommendation, it would have been only 4 hours of time and the worst case is that you lose $1200 because it does not work (wait, you made sure it would work before you asked for it). I hope you get my point. Somewhere along the approval line, you are spending too much time (and money) to get everyone on board. Don’t have your procedural steps make the decision process cost more than the purchase you make. Opt for getting some guidelines in place that only your approval, or maybe one more, it needed to buy up to a certain level.
Define “good enough”. Waiting, refining and perfecting can chew up a lot of time and money. I have found that being 80% sure of a decision you are making is good enough to make the call. That last 20% takes a long time to resolve. And the last twenty percent usually does not change the outcome. I have seldom seen a decision changing in the last 20% of time used to make the call. Sure, there are times when you find new data or something beyond your research happens, like an unexpected merger or bankruptcy of a vendors. So, when you get close to deciding, most of the time, you already have the right answer.
Let others make the call by supporting other people’s recommendations. There may be someone else in the decision process that are closer to the issues and have a greater stake in the outcome. Many times, they will provide great input and seek to get others to agree with their chosen route. I say, unless you see some dire negatives, let them lead the way. Slide up next to them and help them frame the next step. This goes also for those who may report to you or lead in another area from you. If they are recommending a course of action, once you are convinced, accept their recommendations. This moves things along and supports their growth in leadership.
I will come back to this topic and discuss slowing things down. Moving at fleet speed is good, unless there is a good reason to slow it all down. You need to do your homework and ponder things for a good period of time. Sometimes things seem rushed and you need to slow it down.