Reducing choices

Ultimatums rarely work because we react to the emotion instead of responding intelligently. On the other hand, giving your partner… a choice between two outcomes is a generous act, a form of truth-telling that helps both of you.”
Seth Godin
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One of the many things expected of a consultant is to add new insights into an organisation. One specific area of insight is to help an organisation make choices where there are an abundance of options. For example, if you have a new vendor product to select for your OSS project, how do you choose from the multitude of options and narrow the field down to the one that suits you best?

Over the years, I’ve built and refined a vendor selection process that can be found here, but today’s blog is about a fascinating assignment I had a few years ago.

I was the project management and technical advisor for a tier-one Telco whose country had never implemented an OSS before. The organisation’s team was very intelligent, but with no OSS experience.

During this assignment, there were many “fork in the road” decisions to be made that could only be made by the organisation itself, rather than me as an “outside” advisor. At each of these decision points, the organisation would assemble the SLT (Senior Leadership Team) and I would lay each of the options out for them. When there were a multitude of options, I’d try to reduce it to the two best choices, but describing why to the team.

The part of this story that I love is what happened next on each occasion. The eight members of the SLT would then all start talking simultaneously (in a language that I don’t speak mind you), each engaging with other members of the SLT for brief periods before engaging with the other influencers. The cacophony and associated body language was fascinating to watch. Then after somewhere between 15 and 45 mins of dialogue, the CEO would stand up, make the ruling and the project then moved forward. It was a very successful approach and somewhat amusing at times.

By contrast, I’ve worked with other more experienced CSPs (in terms of OSS projects) where the customer would reach stalemate because of the number of different business units with conflicting agenda and no representative team that could thrash out the best choice for their organisation as a whole.

What mechanisms do you use to reduce choices and reach a binding decision?

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