Dealing with Difficult Decisions
We have all been there — that moment in the meeting when a problem is encountered and the stakeholders tell the BA, This is too difficult to us to decide; let's avoid this and move on. But is that the correct course, or could this end up as a missed requirement?
The BA needs to be adept at identifying a decision task and follow a decision process by analyzing different alternatives to identify the best option. The key point here is analyzing different alternatives. If there is no alternative, there is no decision. The trick is determining that no alternative exists rather than allowing stakeholders to evade addressing the problem.
My process for managing decision tasks are:
- Define the problem. The problem must be business-related and linked to a process currently under analysis.
- Identify the objective There must be a specific business goal the problem is related to.
- Identify the alternatives. The alternative must be associated with both the problem and objective. If the alternative does not apply to both the problem and objective, then reject it.
- Identify the decision-maker(s). The alternatives need at least one decision maker who may or may not be a stakeholder. An example of a decision-maker who may not be a stakeholder is an attorney who needs to determine the legality of the alternative.
- Review the alternatives. Discuss each alternative in context of the problem, objective, and other business-related impacts, criteria, and policies.
- Select the outcome. Consensus is arrived on a single alternative; a decision has been made.
Identify if the problem is fixable; sometimes, the issue is truly so difficult it cannot be resolved. If it is attainable, frame the problem in business terms and identify the business factors needed to both solve the problem and achieve the objective.
As soon as the alternatives are drafted, begin to review with the decision makers and stakeholders. Review is an iterative process as these discussions will eliminate some options and may identify new options. Once the alternatives are narrowed, perform "what – if" analysis. Decision tables are critical to documenting the decision and business rules, limitations and exceptions. In my requirements document, I include a section to briefly identify the alternatives reviewed, why alternatives were discarded, and the reasons the outcome was selected. What may have been an obstacle at the present may not exist in the future. Two years from now, when the new business sponsor wants to know why such a stupid decision was made, the answer can be provided!
The outcome must be achievable — fit with the organization's strategy, policies, and legal environments. The result is the selection of the 'best-fit', not the 'optimal'. The stakeholders may not all agree on the outcome, but they will know due diligence was performed and the 'best' decision made based on the current environment.
In the words of Elia Kazan:
"What's called a difficult decision is a difficult decision because either way you go there are penalties."
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