Decisive book club – part 4 of 5

So we have got to the last and final villain of decision making: Over confidence. This is the moment you need to prepare to be wrong!  But don’t worry – being wrong is not a bad thing – it is a time to learn and being prepared is part of your success strategy.  To review how we got this far check out the previous posts Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

Preparing to keep your project or efforts on track are not signs of weakness but as I said ensure success.  The key insight from what the Heath brothers have researched is that if you follow some of these steps as a process you can really assist yourself in getting yourself out of some of the mind traps that we all fall into. For example one way to help get people thinking of things that could go wrong is to do a pre-mortem; i.e. do the post-implementation review or what could be done differently activity at the start of the project instead of at the end AFTER you have made the mistakes you are now discussing.

If you as a product manager guide this process by puling your team together who is executing on this decision and asking what could go wrong here, you can guide them into the mental shift to plan for the future.  Don’t forget to ask what could go wonderfully right.  A lot of projects I have worked on often worry about the worst case scenarios – I may have been surrounded by good decision makers already – but we often fail to plan for success and that can catch you out as well.  Using any tool to think ahead and prepare to be wrong does not mean you don’t go ahead with what you have decided, but it helps to know what you will do when those situations occur.

Some of these areas will make sense if you have followed a good project management approach, but you can kick off any of these techniques yourself.  My favourite out of all these tips was the tripwire.  The tripwire can be a great way to catch yourself at a certain point in the future and consider making a new decision, because you have new information at hand, or that flag that someone said “would never happen” has.  It can be a chance to go back to others who have made a decision and allow you to challenge it, because the factors that the original decision was based on have changed.

The great story that went with this tripwire in the book was about David Lee Roth and his bowl of M&M’s free of brown ones, which he insisted he have backstage at every performance.  The ultimate diva behaviour if this is the only part of the story you have heard.  The band’s production design was particularly complex, and while they had a road crew, much of the prep work had to be done in advance of the road crew arriving.  So they had a set-up contract that was pretty complex, and if any of it wasn’t followed correctly it could leave the band exposed to serious injury.  One of the clauses, deep into the contract and amongst all these technical specifications, was to have a bowl of M&M’s backstage that must be completely free of brown M&M’s.  If David Lee Roth walked back stage and saw even one brown M&M in the bowl, he would pull everyone up and insist on a check of the entire production set up.  His tripwire had gone off, and this was a great way to let him know the band was at risk because critical instructions had not been followed.

There are so many ways to help overcome over-confidence and prepare to be wrong, that I felt this was one of the easiest villains to defeat.  (Hah, a bit of over-confidence slipping in there!). Often one is following through on someone else’s decisions and these tools can be really useful for feeding back to the decision-maker flags or tripwires for when a decision needs reconsidering:

  • do a pre-mortem.  Think what could go wrong and then plan in preventing that
  • bookend things – worst to best scenario and have a plan for either outcome
  • FMEA = failure mode + effect analysis.  How likely is it, and how severe the consequence if it were to occur (and how likely will we be able to detect it, if it were to occur)
  • pre-parade: prepare for success as well as failure!
  • correct for over-confidence by multiplying by a certain factor (i.e. dev estimates, predictive models etc.)
  • treat the future as a spectrum not a point in time
  • add in a tripwire!!  (David Lee Roth story, brown M&Ms)
  • Triggers are another way to recognise when a (new) decision making moment has come up
  • Partitions also an option to create conscious thought on following through/or not on a decision

The book by Chip and Dan Heath can be purchased here: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.

The last blog post will wrap up with a couple of key take-outs from the book overall and summarise what we have covered so far.

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