Tech Manager—Making the Call, Part Two
Previously I brought up the subject of making decisions. How sometimes they get bogged down or become fuzzy as teams and individuals take too long to decide. I discussed how to speed things up and move quicker. Now for the flip side...
Slowing Things Down
There are decisions that are made so quickly that they seem like the whim or dictates of one person in the room. When a call is made too quickly, others are unable or unwilling to challenge a selection that was made. The choice is made so quickly that some don’t even know what was decided. Moving at fleet speed is good, unless there is a good reason to slow it all down. You need to do some due diligence. Sometimes you just need to slow it down. But no one wants to see people drag their feet and avoid progress. How can you slow things down and have a valid reason to do it?
Doing Due Diligence
Good old Merriam-Webster provides two definitions for Due Diligence:
1) law: the care that a reasonable person exercises to avoid harm to other persons or their property
a: such diligence as a reasonable person under the same circumstances would use
b: the use of reasonable, but not necessarily exhaustive efforts
2) business: research and analysis of a company or organization done in preparation for a business transaction (such as a corporate merger or purchase of securities)
a: the care that a prudent person might be expected to exercise in the examination and evaluation of risks affecting a business transaction
b: the process of investigation is carried on… for the purpose of providing information with which to evaluate the advantages and risks involved
On a grand scale, it is the best practice for large decisions, like mergers or acquisitions, or major purchases. But I like to do it for most everything I purchase. It helps avoid the allurement of the “new and shiny”. It provides a framework for a good outcome and makes sure that some thinking goes into everything. It involves reasonable efforts in a process of investigation by prudent people. Sounds good to me.
It is proper to slow down any decision making so that due diligence has time to play out. If you put this into practice on every decision then you can slow things down as needed on any decision. The requisite effort needed to provide this level of care depends on the scale of the project or purchase. More purchase money to be spent or expanded project scope would call for greater due diligence. I want to move forward thoughtfully and without undue delay. I typically start with some basic questions and try to keep it as simple as I can. If they can be answered yes or no to these questions, that is great. Others may require greater digging. If so, then keep going. Question beget more questions and the investigation widens.
Here are some example questions I use when buying technology:
Appropriate Use – is this the right tool for the job?
Best in Class – is this the best tool for the job?
Uniqueness – are there other tools that we already own that do the same thing?
Data Storage – is it in the cloud? secured? backed up?
Team Choice – are key stakeholders on board?
Share-ability - Can others collaborate/see/use the data/files?
Access - Can those who need access, get it? Can we have differing levels of access?
Security – Can we lock out those who should not see the files/data?
Version Control – does the tool support document versioning?
Scalability – can everyone use it just as easily as one person? What if 100 people were using it at the same time?
Software Compatibility – does it play well with our other software tools?
Hardware Compatibility – Does it run on our current platforms (all variations)?
Extensible – can we add additional features via programming efforts? Does it have an API?
Workflow – does it enhance/embrace/adjust/overturn our workflow?
Training – is it easy to use by the average user? Is training provided?
Licensing – is it named user/subscription/concurrent user?
Administrative – who is the champion for this tool? Who will manage the user accounts?
SSO – how is user authentication managed?
Lost Opportunity – if we do not buy this tool, what will happen?
While the list looks long, it can be pared down depending on the tool you are reviewing. It might be a short conversation or email thread with the vendor or staff. It can be done quickly, or it can open up good conversations and investigation channels that might uncover that the tool is not a good fit.
One of the best questions that most people overlook or do not think through completely is “How will this be used?” You should have people think about how tools will at a deep, process level. Again, it can be done quickly. Just have them picture how the tool would fit, who would use it (and who will push back), when it would be used, what would stop being used because it replaces, how you get it in everyone’s hands and get them fully trained… think from cradle to grave in a project environment. This can uncover areas that might cause problems or failures.
BREAKOUT BOX - The goal of due diligence is to make good choices and purchases, not to slow the process down. It should increase success not stifle it.
Slow down to Find and Reduce the Risks
What if some of the questions in your review bring up causes of concern? Then you slow down again… You need to define the impact and reduce the risk if possible. Just knowing the potholes in the road allows you to fill them in or avoid them. You cannot eliminate all risk, but you can identify it and measure the exposure to risk that might impact success.
Since you cannot eradicate all risk, you can categorize it a “possible” or “probable”. Just because something “might” happen does not mean it will. If you can measure the probability, then you can prepare for troubles before they come. By reducing risk, you increase the chances for positive impact.
Know the Expected Gains and Deal Breakers
If you can define productivity gains, then you can frame a conversation of where the new tool helps. Try to quantify the reduction in hours over time, the increase in accuracy, the flow of data, the avoidance of known headaches and more. For each of these, anchor them in reality, not your dreams. They need to be defendable and measurable after the tool is in place.
Just because the new tool does not meet every expectation does not mean it will not improve your productivity. Know your deal breakers and be ready to walk away from technology that just does not improve things enough right now. Check back later and maybe future upgrades will improve it.
Go Dog Go
Not just a fun book to read to your kids… but lessons to learn about green lights and red lights. When entering into decisions and making the call you should be ready to speed things up if you see green lights, or slow them down when you see red. With practice you can know which gear you should be in as you head down the technology highway.