Calleam Consulting Rotating Header Image

First Option Adoption

When I ask teams to look back at a decision they made that didn’t work out as they had envisaged, they are frequently able to come up with one or more different alternatives that would have resulted in a very different outcome. While seeing such alternatives after the event is a useful learning exercise, it’s no substitute for being able to see the best alternatives at the point in time when the decision was first made.

In today’s world we reward people for rapid progress and in many situations we feel pressure to make decisions as quickly as possible. Such pressures often lead us into the trap I call “First Option Adoption”. Rather than generating and evaluating a number of different ideas, the first alternative identified becomes the only alternative identified and as such becomes the chosen answer.

The problem with first option adoption is that for critical and complex decisions, the first option is seldom the best option. While “first option adoption” may initially give the illusion of progress, ultimately we suffer the consequences when a poor choice is made. The cost of those consequences is normally many magnitudes higher than the additional cost of spending a few minutes to generate alternate ideas.

Generating alternatives doesn’t have to be an onerous effort. Oftentimes simply by recognizing that a significant decision is being made, a skilled leader is able to slow the team for just a few minutes and facilitate the process of having the team generate ideas. Those few minutes invested are often rewarded with significantly better ideas thanks to the synergies that arise when many different perspectives and thoughts are allowed to float to the surface.

1 Comment on “First Option Adoption”

  1. #1 Robert Wood
    on Sep 5th, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Very true! I’ve learned this lesson myself the hard way. Some thoughts related to this:

    1. Many times, but not all, the first option is sufficient. The skill is in recognizing those scenarios that need to consider multiple options. One approach is to identify if your project ever identifies multiple options; if the answer is “no”, then start considering multiple options on future decisions to get in the habit and get experience in this technique.

    2. Identifying options when one’s experience level is low can be difficult. One solution is to get more experience on the project in this case. Another is to assume the worst on at least your significant scenarios and force your team to work through what could go wrong and what alternatives can address these potential problems.

    3. Evaluating options is not always easy nor straightforward. Some evaluations might require significant further efforts to determine which option is best. But at a minumum, one should consider what can go wrong and how each option could address the problem. Often (though not always) this type of basic analysis can be performed relatively quickly, if the right people are involved.