“You can get with this, or you can get with that” — Dres of Black Sheep, “The Choice Is Yours”
I ran this tape into the ground. This was back when high technology was pushing a button to flip from the A-side to the B-side. Kids today, with their streaming music services accessible on their smartphones, have no idea about the struggle of winding your popped tape with a pencil.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading “Decisive”. The book, authored by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, provides a very effective decision framework that when applied helps us make better decisions in life and work. Chip and Dan were speakers at our 2013 Data Center Conference in Las Vegas. I did not get a chance to catch their session, but a colleague grabbed the book for me.
I&O leaders have to make decisions every single day, whether approving of a change, hiring of a new employee or purchasing an IT service support management platform. I reference the third point for a specific reason; of the 779 Gartner client inquiries I fielded last year, 332 were about trying to determine which ITSSM platform to choose. Forty percent of my calls were with clients trying to arrive at a decision to stay with their current vendor or go to another one.
The most common question: “Do we stay with BMC, or go to ServiceNow?”
The most common response to that question: “Well, it depends…”
This isn’t skirting the question. That answer is driven from the fact that there are many variables to consider, including the client’s scope of information, an understanding of their situation, their ability to distance themselves from a decision, and the availability of resources to support whichever decision they make.
At Gartner, our goal is to help deliver the technology-related insight necessary for our clients to make the right decisions, every day. The technology-related insight is relatively easy —— I’m privileged to have ongoing dialogue with the providers of ITSSM tools, and I validate vendor claims with the clients I interact with throughout the year. I can help a customer develop a shortlist based on their requirements, provide insight that can validate a customer’s suspicions or help decipher a seemingly complex pricing model without too much trouble. But, the part about helping clients make the right decision can be a little misleading at times. I am usually given 30 minutes at a time with a client, where the first five are used to gather situational context. Over the next 25 minutes, I apply my expertise and scope to that context to provide the client with recommendations and suggestions. I also want to make sure to call out any pitfalls to avoid, and help clients see things that are not immediately obvious.
Then, of course, the choice is yours.
Even with all the technology-related insight in the world, our clients can still run into the villains of decision making, evidenced by short rip-and-replace cycles. That’s where a decision framework, like the one the Heath brothers outline in “Decisive,” is an extremely viable tool to utilize.
Widen the Scope of Possibilities
“Should we replace our vendor or not?” is a narrow frame. There are many more options to consider, but often they are out of the scope of the decider. Recently, I was on a call with an IT leader who was adamant about replacing her service management platform because she concluded that it lacked IT service catalog and IT asset management capabilities (which was simply not true). The decision was made to move to a new solution, and the inquiry call was to discuss what type of pricing to expect. Using the “vanishing options” technique from the book, I asked her (hypothetically) what would happen if funding for a new tool wasn’t approved. Stunned by the question, she proceeded to say that if the organization had to stay on its current platform, it would refine processes and try to make more effective use of the tool, if it indeed provided service catalog and ITAM capabilities (which it does). By considering opportunity costs, perhaps an investment in process improvement might be more sustainable.
Reality Test Your Assumptions
There is no shortage of information available to help you make a decision, and the authors surmise that we tend to trust “the averages” over our instincts — but not as much as we should. We lock ourselves in an “inside view,” which is our evaluation of our specific situation. This plays out on my inquiry calls with clients, who conclude that their IT organization is a mess and that a new technology solution will be the catalyst for positive change. Having a Gartner relationship provides our clients with an “outside view,” which allows me to explain how things generally unfold in a given situation, such as the purchase of a new ITSSM tool. Analysts collect context over time, in order to articulate what usually happens, and they describe the typical outcome in the form of pitfalls to avoid and critical success factors. Still, most clients gravitate to the inside view for reasons tied to pride and overconfidence in their abilities to “make it work”. Both views are required to gather the best information.
Attain Distance Before Making a Decision
My clients often describe sales situations as “high pressure” when sellers make it hard for the buyer to attain distance from the decision. Images of Jordan Belfort come to mind, shifting into closer mode when a prospect tells him he needs to talk it over with his wife. In the fourth quarter of 2013, I handled more ITSSM tool decision calls and contract reviews than in any other quarter. These contacts were a mix of seller-driven fiscal year-end fear, and buyer fears tied to not spending allocated funds. In both cases, fear drives the decision-making process with predictable results. Emotions are tied to the familiar (what product everyone else seems to be using, what vendor attends the most tradeshows, etc.), and loss aversion (i.e., losses being more painful than gains are pleasant) creates situations that allow exploding offers to be effective.
Prepare to Be Wrong
This isn’t the same as being pessimistic for no reason, but rather understanding what the future looks like across a range of outcomes. Leaders should plan for the worst-case and best-case scenarios, and ask questions tied to the outcomes, so as to prepare accordingly. Ask yourself:
- So your ITSSM tool implementation went horribly wrong. What happened and why?
- So your ITSSM tool implementation was a huge success. What happens next?
The latter is a very real “trap” — take the customer who executes flawlessly, and starts to see so much demand from the business that it becomes hard to meet demand without additional resources. For some, it’s a good problem to have, but for others without foresight, it can be a real challenge.
My brief and simplistic overview of this book does not do it justice. I would strongly encourage this read to anyone who has to make a decision, whether it is IT-related or not. The book is full of examples that are easy to understand and contextualize. We can all stand to improve our decision-making skills.
Isn’t that right, Mr. Kapernick?
Are you replacing your ITSSM tool in 2014 (or nah)?
How does your organization go about making key decisions?
What expertise can you lend as someone who has been there before to help someone trying to make the same decision you had to?
What approaches to widening assumptions, reality testing answers, attaining distance and preparing to be wrong did you undertake, and how?
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