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Difficult Decisions made Easy

This article was first published on LinkedIn October 24, 2016.

What do difficult technology decisions have to do with ice cream?

There are two kinds of decisions, easy decisions and difficult decisions. Easy decisions are usually easy because there is one alternative that is obviously better than the other - and so the choice is easy to make. When you take the kids to buy an ice cream, however, they tend to get stuck over the vast selection of flavors and struggle to decide. That is typically a difficult decision. It is difficult because the choice is less obvious, and the child is concerned about not making the optimal decision. It is difficult to tell which is the best alternative – often because there is little or no significant difference between them. Therefore, we may as well flip a coin and just go for one of them.


Obviously, the potential risk and downside of making the “wrong” decision is higher if you have limited information as basis for your decision. In order to – in a business reality – to make “flip-of-a-coin” type decisions, you need to have sufficient decision support and confidence that each alternative actually is more or less equivalent. The fingertip intuition and ingenuity lie in knowing what is sufficient. When do I have the necessary information to be sufficiently confident that my choices are fairly comparable and equivalent so that I can actually flip the coin and make the seemingly difficult decision into a simple one?

If you want to help the child picking the ice cream, I will assume that one typical strategy is to narrow down the set of choices based on the child’s typical preferences when it comes to ice creams. Then, having boiled the number of choices down to a manageable short-list, you will find that you have arrived at the coin-flipping point and will be able to help the child jump to a conclusion relatively confident about a satisfactory result.

This exercise of shortlisting and differentiating, based on assumptions, lifelong experience – and not to be forgotten – significant people skills and knowing your audience is what differentiates you as an adult from the inexperienced child. This can be transferred to the task of an Enterprise- or Business Architect providing decision support to the Business Executive.

There is significant pressure in business about innovation and ability to support changes in business requirements. Possibly the biggest obstacle for this type of change has been the reluctance to make architecture strategic commitments and decide on platforms, technologies or tooling, running extensive RFI and RFP processes in the search for the perfect solution or configuration. As a matter of fact, the impact – and life expectancy – of these choices and decisions is dramatically reduced as a consequence of the same pressure for business change. It is therefore increasingly important to enable the business to make good enough business decisions.

Enterprise Architects have the ability and responsibility to make complexity sufficiently simple for a given group of stakeholders [read my blog post "You cannot KEEP it simple, if it's already complex"]. This means that the Architecture function is well positioned to – and should be held responsible for – distinguishing between easy and difficult decisions. It should then also be the task for Enterprise Architects to help decision makers and business executives arrive at the appropriate level of confidence to recognize when the (seemingly) difficult decision is really a matter of choosing your ice cream flavor [read my colleague Camilla Krogstad Grøneng writing about digital leadership in her blog post "Om å lede i en digital verden"].

Bilde: Scott Graham |