Preston Smith's Corner

How can I develop products more flexibly by changing our decision making?

October 2006 Quick Tip

How and when you make decisions is a critical skill in developing products flexibly. The basic rule is not to make a decision until you must – what we call the last responsible moment (LRM). When you make decisions before this, you close off options, thus reducing your flexibility.

There is much more to the LRM than I can cover in this short note, but it is important to understand that this is not procrastination. Instead, it is a matter of recognizing early that there is a decision to be made, noting when its LRM will occur, and starting to collect information to aid in making it better when its LRM arrives.

Another critical aspect of flexible decision making to appreciate is that many of the approaches we use to manage development projects force us into making decisions before their LRM, thus restricting our flexibility. Such systems include phased development systems (for example, Stage-Gate®); conventional project scheduling, budgeting, and planning; and upfront product requirements specification. Consequently, the ability to maintain flexibility requires us to revisit such systems and reconfigure them to defer the nonessential decisions. Approaches such as rolling wave planning and the use of product visions do exactly this.

Fortunately, this is a rich area, and there are many tools available to make decisions more flexibly. These include decision trees, real options thinking, consequence tables, framing decisions before making them, and internalizing the LRM.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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