Action Time at 70%

In armed forces real-time operations where decision making can be a matter of life and death, the leaders often do not have the benefit of time to ponder over their decisions and analyse decisions fully before deciding on a course of action. Oftentimes, having 70% to 80% of information is enough to take action.

In certain situations, this can also be carried over to the working world. Too often, people are afraid to take action unless they have all available information. This may lead to “paralysis by analysis” as no one dares to take the next step.

If you ever find yourself in a position where you are “stuck” because you’re trying to gather ALL possible information, just take a step back and see if you can make do with 70% of the information and proceed with a suitable level of confidence. Remember, in this dynamic environment where business moves so fast, it is essential for decision making to be fast too.

4 thoughts on “Action Time at 70%”

  1. Got to cut this one off…

    Ok, put yourself in the high-powered shoes of a PM. You need to make a critical decision. You have some information available… say, 8 pieces of info (for argument’s sake).

    You know you can make a decision with 70% of the information. So you confidently go ahead and make the decision based on the 8 pieces of info?

    *BZZZT!* Thanks for playing, there’s actually 20 pieces of info in the complete puzzle. You just made a decision based on 40% of the facts!

    You can rarely — I’d say never — be able to ascertain what 100% of information is. Without that, you cannot say you have 70% or 80% of the facts.

    So how to avoid analysis paralysis? At the end of it, it’s gut feel on the decision-maker’s part. Experience, info-network, preparations, instinct — that’s what a good decision-maker relies on. You cannot be sure whether you are working on enough information, you can only gut-feel that the information is sufficient…. and then have the hedges and buffer in case you screw up.

    If there’s one thing to cultivate, a decision-maker must cultivate a sense of timing. There is always time to take action… but how many knows when NOT to take action?

  2. You are right in saying that experience plays a big part in deciding whether to go ahead. An inexperienced PM will likely fail regardless of whether he has 50%, 70% or 100% of the information.

    I’m really writing about PMs in ultra-conservative organisations that have a culture of blame when something goes wrong and a lot of effort is spent finger-pointing rather than rolling with the punches and moving on. This leads to a culture of fear where all information must be gathered before anything can be done. Lots of paperwork and administration will just fly around before progress is made (if you’re lucky).

    Unfortunately, the best way to gain experience is through mistakes. Learning the hard way always makes you remember better. I would rank a good mentor as second and a dynamic workplace environment as third.

  3. BTW, I liked your point about knowing when NOT to take action. In certain work environments, the management are the route planners while the PMs are just the passengers to make sure the project is on track, even if the track is leading straight off a cliff. Despite a PM’s best intentions, sometimes people just want to hear that a project is “on track”. 😉

  4. The Culture of Fear part: You have a point but Fear is not a good motivation or check/ balance mechanism — once the person gets past the fear portion, he’s essentially going to just do anything he likes… which is ulcer inducing for the rest, really. Sucks to be his coworkers.

    You can’t really always say the mgmt are being chicken, because some of the systems out there really can kill people. Mistakes made by one person can have multi-million dollar consequences, and we don’t pay management enough that they can foot that bill..

    Still, there has to be room for experimentation — can’t grow without that. So it’s whether the organization can come up with a workable framework/ “box” for itself — not its staff — to grow via experimentation but also preserve the critical system functionalities.

    On the “On Track” part — yeah, “on track” to where is a question that has to be asked… What’s the point of hiring a PM if you don’t give them the mandate to achieve the objectives on their own? If you want to run things so badly, run the bloody thing and hire a PA to keep things on track. PMs are hired for their management abilities, not for their tracking abilities…

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