• Amanda Wilkie, Consultant

4 Steps to Overcoming Analysis Paralysis

"Better a good decision quickly than the best decision too late." — Harold Geneen

How many decisions have you made today? What to eat for breakfast? Which route to take to the office? When is the best time to call your client? In fact, researchers estimate an adult makes upwards of 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day. Granted, many of those decisions are subconscious. However, as your level of responsibility increases so does your number of high impact decisions, which could result in a ripple effect on your family, your clients, your team and your firm.

To help business leaders at IBM Global Services better understand decision-making and behavior, Dave Snowden and his team developed the Cynefin framework in the late 1990s. Drawing from research in systems theory, complexity theory, network theory and learning theories, the Cynefin framework defines the following four decision-making “domains”:

  • Obvious – Many well-documented decision-making rules exist in this domain. The decision maker has legal structures, standard operating procedures and best practices proven to predict the very clear cause and effect relationship here: if X then Y. He simply needs to find the proper rule and apply it. Think of the Obvious domain as a game of Tic Tac Toe.

  • Complicated – Decisions in this domain require more analysis. There may be a range of correct answers, but the decision maker must apply expertise and professional judgment to apply the appropriate good operating practice. The Complicated Domain is more like a game of Chess.

  • Complex – In this domain, there are no right answers. Cause and effect can only be deduced in hindsight. The adage “we don’t know what we don’t know” applies to the Complex domain. Now, we’re playing poker.

  • Chaotic – All bets are off in this domain. Cause and effect are so unclear that a quick decision - any decision – then reassessment is the best course of action. The Chaotic domain is like a good game of Pick-up sticks. Where do you even start?

Regulation and standards, along with the expertise of the CPA, land most business decisions found in our standard compliance services into the Obvious or Complicated domains. Additionally, decisions actually move from one domain to another. Snowden and his team illustrated the Cynefin framework in quadrants. As knowledge increases, there is a shift from Chaotic to Complex to Complicated to Obvious, where automation becomes a possibility.

Technology aids the shifting of domains toward Obvious through access to research and tools, such as the internet, with seemingly endless amounts of information. In fact, a search for “Boomer Consulting” returned no less than 1,330,000 results in less than half a second. With access to so much information, one might think business leaders can tackle those Chaotic and Complex decisions faster than ever. The truth of the matter is access to so much information can simply lead to analysis paralysis, which occurs when fear of making the wrong decision leads to indecision.

In technology, analysis paralysis is easily illustrated by the waterfall model of software development where requirements gathering, product design, implementation, verification and maintenance happens in a relatively linear sequential style. This rigid method made sense in the early days of solution design; however, it can’t keep up with customer’s expectations for new features and quicker problem resolutions than in the past.

Today, the old-school waterfall model has given way to more Agile approaches. In an Agile software development approach, both requirements and the solution evolve through an iterative and collaborative effort. Agile management adopts a similar method, especially when developing a new product or service, where the team completes small portions of the deliverables in each iteration or delivery cycle. Additionally, the team can tackle Complex and Chaotic decisions moving them toward the Obvious domain during each integration. As a result, these new initiatives are much more adaptive to change in scope and complexity.

Change certainly isn’t going to slow down, and our profession will continue to face more and more decisions in the Complex and Chaotic domains. So, how do you avoid the analysis paralysis trap? Take a page from the Agile playbook by adopting an iterative and collaborative approach to making business decisions and tackling the client’s problems.

  1. Define a minimum viable solution. Take perfection off the table. Viewing a decision or solution as the final deliverable increases the pressure to ensure you’ve addressed every possible variation.

  2. Gather feedback from the team and the client early. Providing a suggested solution to a client knowing there is room for improvement is quite uncomfortable. However, doing so gives you and your team the opportunity to learn through the process while ensuring the solution adapts to internal and external change.

  3. Integrate their feedback quickly. This step is easy. Adapt the solution based on the feedback you receive.

  4. Repeat the cycle. Continue to build the minimum viable solution, gathering feedback, and integrating the feedback into the next iteration of the solution.

For some, this iterative approach will come easy. Decision-making in the Complex and Chaotic domains will be exciting and comfortable. For others, individuals and organizations, this mindset tremendously contradicts the way they’ve thought and operated for so long; and will be a challenging adjustment.

If you’re already feeling analysis paralysis in the face of so much change in the profession, the following books can help you get into the right mindset:

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Amanda Wilkie, Consultant at Boomer Consulting, Inc., has a computer science background, but she’s not your average geek. With two decades of technology experience, Amanda has spent 13 years driving change and process improvement through innovative technology solutions working across firms of varying sizes in the public accounting profession. She has held strategic leadership positions in firms ranging from Top 50 to Top 10 including her most recent role as CIO of a Top 30 firm. Amanda is a recognized expert in the profession who regularly speaks and writes on blockchain and cryptocurrency and their impact on the profession.

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