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HomeGeneralChanging our minds...

Changing our minds – the evolution of IT project strategic thinking and decision making

Interesting perspective from a Chief Experience Officer, Sandy, on how her organisation is making decisions – “we’re like a car that’s forgotten it has a steering wheel and more than one gear”.

I love this metaphor. I can see the car missing turn offs and short cuts and the noise and smoke from driving along in first gear!

What she means is that when the project team faces a challenge, or has a strategic decision to make, instead of weighing up what the problem really is and what would be best, it is culturally beholden to the in-house resources it already has at its disposal.

Sandy thinks it may be a hangover from the pandemic.

I suppose we all managed with what resources we could lay our hands on, became insular in our thinking, even adopting a scarcity mindset as we adjusted to the changing reality.

When things opened up again some businesses took time to switch their thinking back, I recall some clients needed reminding that Stoneseed’s PMaaS was available remotely (and therefore whatever geographical restrictions were in place didn’t matter), others had got so busy muddling through on their own that they hadn’t noticed they no longer needed to. A colleague at the time joked that we needed a “Source-Out-To-Help-Out” government scheme to remind project decision makers of all their options!

Anyway, instead of leveraging the almost limitless solutions that exist in the “as a Service” resource universe, Sandy’s firm effectively relinquished control of any response. By limiting their strategic and creative thinking, they limited their customer’s experience too (which is what caught the eye of Sandy the CXO) and, in turn, hit their financial balance sheet (which is on the radar of the CFO and, uhoh, the CEO)!

The company is to undergo a huge shift in how they think strategically, resource and design IT Projects, and generally make decisions.

Project Management as a Service

How decision makers make decisions fascinates me. After all, what is a project other than a series of decisions – from original pitch to green light, through to initiation (resourcing, planning, designing a project) … decisions, decisions, decisions. Even designing a programme of works at a higher level is basically – decisions.

It’s crucial that we permit ourselves access to all solutions available when considering any decision. Which feels like a good time to remind you of your one-stop shop for IT Project Management Resources – Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service (PMaaS).

Stoneseed employs a team of Project Management and Technical Professionals, delivering services through a flexible, on-demand resourcing model. From strategy to service delivery, this cost-effective model for project delivery is underpinned by Stoneseed’s PMO, methodology and toolset.

That’s Project Managers, Business Analysts, Technical Advisory and PMO experts available onsite or, as discussed, remotely (we are experts in remote access Project Management), offering rapid response resources when you need them urgently.  Get in touch to find out more.

But, if you’re stuck in a mindset like Sandy’s firm, you may be making decisions that don’t give you the scope for considering “as a Service” resources. As Sandy’s colleagues mull over available resources, PMaaS, being out of sight, might also be out of mind, so it can help to occasionally reboot our decision-making strategy.

EYE ON THE PRIZE

Nigel, a COO friend (who never seems to make a bad move!) once wrote in an email, “Strategic decision making is 90% keeping your eye on the prize. Your “why” is sacrosanct. Beware unworthy “hows”.”

So, it’s vital to remember what that “why” is, choose the best available “how” for it, and I suppose be a gate keeper against all those “unworthy hows” – many of which may look like and, perhaps, even be good choices … but good choices don’t cut it … you want the one great decision.

I wonder how many decisions get made without all the facts to make them effectively? Unconsciously, I mean! No-one sets out deliberately to shortchange their potential!

If I’m constantly amazed at the ever-expanding universe of possibility that “as a Service” resourcing can offer, what hope does someone not working in this arena have? If your go to is waterfall and you’ve never tried a hybrid approach or applied an Agile methodology, how can you really know what’s best for your current task or project? If you’ve never had a Business Analyst pore over your projects or programme – of course you’re not going to know the value they add!

As we’ll discuss in a moment, sticking up a hand and asking for advice, getting the benefit of someone else’s experience, or just a fresh pair of eyes – can be the best decision you’ll ever take.       

Some decisions require just a little thought, application and effort, others demand more time and a deeper dive before you reach a conclusion. A key part of decision-making is having a simple technique which, with regular practice, becomes second nature.    

DECISION MAKING’S BECOME LIKE SPEED DATING!

Like everything in IT Projects, decision making has been sped up! Decisions are needed fast, but they still have to be thoroughly thought through. My friend Gareth realised, post pandemic, that his tried and tested six step decision formula needed speeding up.  

He took it ‘off paper’ (mostly, key points are still documented) and created what he calls his “All Fingers and Thumbs” decision making strategy which he demonstrates it using the fingers of one hand. It’s quite entertaining, I’ll share it here, I’d love to hear from you about how you make strategic decisions for your IT Projects and Programmes – and see if Stoneseed can help, in either our advisory or resource provider capacity. 

THE “ALL FINGERS AND THUMBS” DECISION STRATEGY

It’s basically still a ‘six step plan’. Gareth uses his hand and runs through his fingers to illustrate it, so it may be useful to hold up yours – done that? OK … stick out your thumb. Come on! Run with me!

Step 1 – Thumb – What Will Good Look Like?

So, ask yourself exactly what the problem is (and take time to make sure that you have framed the question right! That you are solving the actual problem!) Identify the best outcome of your decision, and thoroughly visualise it. Finally, be sure that you know WHY you need a solution to this problem! Be sure of the “what” and the “why” before you even consider “how”.

Sandy the CXO’s organisation were leaping straight to “how”. They were looking at what resources and tools they had and then trying to apply this to their challenge – or worst still trying to make the problem bend and fit their available resources. When you do this, you rarely end up solving the actual problem.

Step 2 – Index Finger – Information Gathering (like an index) And Consider All Options

Just as you’d lick the index finger and stick it in the air to ascertain the wind direction, step 2 is all about gathering all the information pertinent to your problem! When you do this, you organically gain an even better understanding of the problem and you open up a more effective solution space where you will be better placed to come up with ideas. 

The index finger is also the one used in the thinking emoji, so step 2 is also about creating a list of all the possible solutions – even the crazy ones should be written down. Gareth has what he calls a “Mad Pad” and rather than traditionally listing solutions line by line, one below another, he creates a shop window of potential solutions. 

Finally in step 2, remember at school when you needed help? You’d raise your hand and extend your index finger. Same here, seek people you trust, project management and resource experts and ask their opinion and advice – this will help you to gather a good mix of solutions, crucial to make the best decision. 

Step 3 – Middle Finger – Alert to The Consequences

How attention grabbing is a click of the fingers? I actually saw someone do it to attract a waiter to get the bill in a restaurant last week. Middle finger, snapped against the thumb – click! Effective.

Step 3 is all about being alert to the potential consequences of your decision (and it’s fitting that the thumb is involved here because this can be as important as step 1).

Here’s where you weigh up the positives and negative potential of the decision, which really helps to avoid pitfalls when concluding on a final choice of action. This is where you consider the impact of the decision on everyone involved, the business (and its mission), your team, stakeholders, and YOU! How will this decision affect your immediate and career future? (Worth throwing that in the mix!)

Step 4 – Ring Finger

“Getting married – big decision,” Gareth says, “Step 4 is where you channel your inner Beyonce and, if you like it, put a ring on it! And commit!”

It is now time to make your choice and execute your final decision. This can be an anxious stage and you should lean into those gut feelings because they may be trying to tell you something. Use the information you gathered, your awareness of potential consequences, and your solid, unshakeable certainty of what the problem REALLY is to inform your consideration of your feelings and when all is settled. Commit and execute, leaving all other alternatives behind. But don’t “burn the boats”!

Step 5 – Little Finger – The Chef Test Finger – Evaluation of The Decision

A chef will dip a little finger into a sauce to evaluate it as it cooks (because this finger is the least used – so cleanest).

Step 5 is all about evaluating the decision, measuring its progress against the goal of the decision, the wider project aims and its alignment with the business need and mission.

Sometimes, we’ll have got it wrong and have to either reset the sails (glad we didn’t burn those boats), or rethink altogether. Step 5 is about checking your course regularly and correcting the course, if need be.

Step 6 – Back to The Thumb – Post Decision Evaluation

When the decision has run its course, it’s valuable to take a little time to go back and assess. Would you give your decision making in this instance a thumbs up or thumbs down?

Assessing what worked well (and what didn’t) can be useful in informing future decision making.

“And do you know what?” says Gareth, “If you nailed it, indulge in a little ego massage! Identifying that you made a GOOD decision gives you a confidence booster ready for the next decision!”

It sounds quirky. Gareth reckons big decisions that took hours are getting made in tens of minutes – just by flicking through his mnemonic fingers!

It might not be for you! But I share it as an illustration of how people are thinking differently about decision making. I think we all have to do. Faster, better, more informed! For you, it could be integrating Project Management as a Service, some input on strategy or methodology, or even welcoming a BA via Business Analysis as a Service to super-align your IT projects with business need.

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