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Unconscious Option Adoption

Although making decisions is a part of our everyday lives, we rarely stop to think about how we make them. Given the central role that decision making plays in a technology project, an understanding of the ways in which individuals and groups make decisions is a valuable tool for those who hold leadership roles.

One of the first challenges lies in recognizing when a key decision needs to be made. A reoccurring theme that comes up in the troubled projects I’m called upon to review is a failure to have formally recognized that a critical decision existed. Oftentimes there is a string of emails that are loosely associated with the issue, but no clear point at which the outcome of the decision was settled.

The failure to clearly articulate critical decisions or to consciously make a choice has many negative consequences. As well as being a common source of confusion for team members, such failures often result in the team unintentionally adopting suboptimal ways of working or ineffective solutions. William James once said “when you’re faced with a decision and you fail to make a choice that in itself is a choice”. Underlying James’s observation is the problem that unless you’re lucky, the unconscious choices we make are unlikely to be the best ways to go.

One of the skills that an experienced leader brings to a project is the ability to see the critical decisions. Experienced leaders are able to identify the decisions, bring clarity to the questions and are able to focus the team on making effective decisions. While traditional training methods ignore such issues many of today’s successful organizations have recognized the value of such skills and are now starting to align their training and hiring practices to leverage such abilities.

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