Faster Management Decisions Can Lead to More Ease and Better Results, Part 4

If we want more ease and better results, we need to be able to change when the world changes. Yet, we don't always notice these changes, so we don't create options and experiment. Too often, we feel as if the world drags us down. We double-down on what we've been doing.

Instead, we need to generate options and see where we might experiment. When we do, and we learn something, we might feel better about our circumstances and become more open to change. That's easy for me to say and difficult for most of us to do. Yet, the more we can create resilient workplaces, the more ease we find and the better results we can get.

Let's start with what we do as regularly, in our personal lives.

How We Make Personal Decisions for More Ease & Better Results

Which long-term decisions do you make? If you're like most of us, you have goals for your life. And when it comes to decisions you might:

  • Commit to a partner after all of these: that first coffee, some months of dating, and then, afterward, you committed to each other. Most of us need more than a few weeks to commit to a life partner. We manage the risks of long-term commitments (decisions) by gaining experience with that person in many circumstances. (I hesitate to call these experiences MVPs, but most of us need experience with the other person.)
  • Commit to a mortgage after saving enough for a down payment plus a little more, and a somewhat-predictable salary to support that mortgage. Most of us don't take the absolute maximum mortgage we can afford because of the risks, but something a little less.
  • Create a yearly budget as a guideline for our specific goals, but manage that budget every week and month to manage our risks.

We manage risks to our long-term goals with short-term planning, replanning, and adjustments. Even with unforeseen and unknowable challenges, we create more ease and better financial results for ourselves. Then, even if we miscalculate, we can monitor our biggest risks. That's how we manage all our decisions: the Important and the Urgent.

Assuming we keep our goals in mind, we can plan and replan in the small, to achieve what we want, even if we change our various goals. Frequent replanning helps us achieve better results and ease in our lives.

Managers can use the ideas of goals to create ease and better business results, too.

Big Goals with Short Commitments Create Better Business Results

Consider these ideas:

  • Goals are the “why” we choose specific actions.
  • Commitments are the “how” we might achieve those goals.

The goals for our business (and lives) might not change that often. But the commitments? Those short-term decisions? Those change all the time.

I took an opportunity to write a new book this year, Free Your Inner Nonfiction Writer. That book satisfied one of my business goals: to write more useful books. That book was on my options list, but I had not planned to write that book this year.

Writing it wasn't free because I have a one-person business. I can't stop some work and assign another team to new work, because I am my only team. Even though I knew I would create a side effect of too much personal WIP (Work in Progress). However, I had the opportunity, took it, and am happy with my business results.

I gained two benefits: releasing a complete book, and taking the time off from the consulting book to decide what I wanted to say. I'm now able to finish the consulting book.

My consulting book had the same product problems as many of my clients have:

  • The product in our head is not what our customers need or see. (The consulting book had that in spades.)
  • While we can try to “commit” to a product, without customer acceptance, that product does not serve our long-term goals.
  • We need the flexibility to consider bets or options instead of commitments. I took a bet and wrote a different book while I mentally worked through the other book's problems.

That's why I like the idea of bets or options. See Annie Duke's Thinking in Bets. (That's an Amazon affiliate link.)

I focus on change, not commitments, to create better business results and more ease in my work.

Focus on Change to Create Resilience

The more frequently we can change our business ideas, the more resilient we can make our businesses. I'm not talking about changing the strategy more often than the teams can deliver. That's the point of the Multiple Short Feedback Loops Support Innovation.

We can get better business results when we stop “committing” to more work for so long, and think in bets or options. That's because the more often we plan to replan, the more likely we are to notice changes. (Market, product, culture, it doesn't matter what changes, the more frequently we plan to replan, the more we allow ourselves to notice changes.)

Because we notice changes, we can generate options and experiment with one or more of those options. We don't need to experiment with everything, but the more we experiment and learn, the better we feel about our resilience. That allows us to be open to and expect more change.

In the case of managers, we are much more likely to see when we should promote Important decisions to Urgent and vice versa.

Shorter planning horizons for less work means we have less sunk cost and more resilience. That creates more ease. What about business results?

More Frequent Decisions Reduce Cost of Delay and Might Increase Revenue

When I think about business results, I think about:

  • What will increase overall revenue and how fast can we expect that increase?
  • What will decrease the various costs we have? (Wait states often overwhelm the actual work time for almost anything in the organization.)
  • How can we monitor and reduce the Cost of Delay for our work? (That's a way to increase overall revenue faster.)

The longer we wait to change, the more we are susceptible to the Sunk Cost Fallacy. (Instead of changing, we continue to invest money because we already have invested so much.) The Sunk Cost Fallacy does not create better business results.

Instead, we can ask ourselves to define the overarching goal. Then, make the fewest possible decisions that will allow us to meet that goal. Now, we can monitor progress to that goal and decide when to change our decisions.

Better business results often arise from saying Yes to what matters and No to what drags the organization down. Sometimes, we can't tell the difference. That's why managers need to make more frequent decisions about fewer items—all in service to that overarching goal.

What to do:

Here's what I recommend for managers:

  1. Define an overarching goal for all the managers in this cohort, to help guide the decisions.
  2. Create a kanban board with all the outstanding decisions. Label them with two pieces of information: Important vs Urgent, and the age of the decision. (I don't know what you need for WIP limits, so be ready to expose all the decisions first.) Put them in columns that make sense to you. Create the board first and then improve it.
  3. As a management cohort, start to work your way through your outstanding decisions. Look for decisions that get stuck and get old. Ask, “What do we need to do to finish this decision?” Reduce your decision WIP. Measure your cycle time for your decisions. You'll probably have to iterate on your board.
  4. Using rolling-wave planning, make fewer decisions more often. Also, use incremental funding so you don't plan too far ahead. Instead of commitments, look to learn from the outcomes the teams finish. Those outcomes will guide your next set of decisions.
  5. Be open to change, especially if you want a different mix of revenue or to change the products you're currently working on.

In general, use Cost of Delay to rank work, including your decisions. Now, you should see better business results, and have much more ease as you decide.

Managers can use the principles behind what I do: How I Manage My Product Development: Ease with Continuous Flow (Day 1).

If you couldn't tell, I explained this to myself as I wrote. That's why I needed so many words. Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments.

The Series

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