Making better decisions



Good decisions matter. In fact, it could be argued the primarily KPI for a manager is decision making.

Confronted with a decision, I have seen many professionals give instructions based on the first thing that comes to their mind. As in any other field, some managers are particularly gifted, and this works out, for the rest of us, it makes some sense to have some rules of thumb handy.

In this entry, I will be reflecting on the various actions I have found useful in making effective decisions.

Be Precise

SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time based.

Surely we all must have heard about this acronym somewhere. As a framework for evaluating goals, its merits are beyond dispute, yet I argue the method can be simplified even further. For decisions only two factors matter.

Measurable and Time-based.

By definition, a decision implies the existence of alternatives. Here, I mean real options. For example, a decision should we or should we not pay our top employees is mute, the alternative is untenable

A good choice gives proper stead to the other options. It explores the possible costs and benefits in ways that can be measured.

Consider the  decision such as:

We will introduce game night to boost employee morale

Sounds great right? Now what about:

We will introduce game night, this will cost us Kshs 1M per month. It is expected in the coming year, we will experience a drop in voluntary exits from average of 5 per month as seen last year to 2 per month saving us recruitment and training costs of 3M per month

The decision is not only measurable, but it is also possible to reflect on the decision in a year and see if it was actually the right decision.

Build in a way for the decision to be executed

If you happen to attend a government function, you can expect to hear words such as:

As a government we will work to ensure you have clean water, a hospital here, jobs for every able person and reduce your taxes.

Obviously high aspiration but mostly fluff. No decision has been made here, after all, how will all these goodies be delivered on the back of a government cutting its own funding means?

Any manager worth his salt sees through this hyperbole, the same manager then goes to the office the next day and declares to his team.

This quarter we have adjusted our sprint goal to 60 story points per sprint. I trust in you to deliver this.

If the confused looks from your team were not educative, let me explain what went wrong. The decision made here is merely un-executable.  Don’t get me wrong, as a goal, it has some excellent characteristics, it’s definitely measurable and time-bound but how the hell is the team to execute on it?

Perhaps a better way to do this.

Due to company x ( a new threat) entering our industry, a decision has been made to more quickly move along our product plan. Our historical average has been 40pts/sprint but I believe we can get this to 60pts/sprint. To do this, we need higher quality hires, the HR team will be holding a session with us on how we can systemize our hiring process. Further, I believe as surely you must that higher quality code is the basis of faster development due to reduced rework. Thus going forward enforce a strict policy of 100% code coverage on all new code.

Of course, don’t give orders, ensure whatever decision you come up with and its attendant actions have well been negotiated with knowledgeable parties within your team.

Embrace conflict

I work with a great team at Twiga, for the purposes of this example, I will discuss two particular managers within the product team, Evans and Seth.

Seth is extremely precise in his thinking, his attention to detail is something to marvel at. In discussions, he will usually be the first person to notice inconsistencies in what we are working on.

Evans, on the other hand, is unusually perceptive.  He is able to synthesize a great number of facts and come up with a simple and clear explanation.

In any working session, there will always be some opposition to my ideas. At first, I merely accepted this, but I have come to embrace it. These two gentlemen have sharpened my thinking, through their eyes, I am now able to see through my own blind spots.

This is not a fringe phenomenon in my own little world or even within Twiga but indeed a general truth. To get the best thinking available, you must submit your ideas to argumentation and be willing to take the best ideas.

It is only through this means your decisions will get sharpened.