The human bias towards ACTION is very strong. But what distinguishes us from the beasts is our ability to THINK, i.e. envision a range of possible futures, evaluate competing alternatives and commit to a specific vision of the future before taking expensive or irreversible actions.

In its simplest maxim, we express these ideas as LOOK before you LEAP.  A more thorough statement is PLAN-DO-CHECK which adds the confirmation of whether the intended outcomes have been achieved or whether another iteration of the design/strategy is required.  However, I think even this proverb is flawed, at least if you take “PLAN” at its most common meaning, the layout of a set of steps or resourced tasks to achieve a result or create a deliverable.

The initial focus of any new endeavor should not be on the work to be done in the form of a To-Do List, Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) or project schedule, but rather the thinking to be informed, i.e. a To-Think List or Decision Breakdown Structure (DBS).


As a result, I recommend that you make a clear distinction between the THINK and PLAN steps, both in timing and level of resources/effort applied.  Thinking (decision-making) is analogous to selecting the DESTINATION for your next vacation.  This is 10X more important than planning, aka ROUTING.  If you pick a terrible destination, then the route you take there matters very little.  The destination represents a place or “end state” where new value is created and experienced; the routing is a necessary expense required to get there.  You want to increase the value experienced at the destination and reduce the time, cost, effort and complexity of the route.  Don’t start your next project by defining the work to be done, but rather the decisions to be made!

There is a second lesson that can be learned from the THINK-plan-DO-check model.  There is a lot of emphasis today on lean and agile methods for defining products and new businesses.  These methods emphasize the early, then frequent use of the CHECK step to validate assumptions (e.g. target users’ jobs-to-be-done, pains-to-be-relieved or willingness to spend) that are critical to product strategy, product design and business model decisions.  The CHECK step can be executed in the form of low-cost market experiments; adverse/unexpected results from such experiments may lead to iteration in a set of decisions and a “pivot” towards a different strategy or alternative.

As is typical of popular business trends, the pendulum may have swung too far.  Strategy or design iteration is not necessarily a good thing; it can be expensive to pivot.  The ideal scenario is that each strategy or design decision is made once and results in commitment to a viable alternative that represents the highest achievable value to the stakeholders.  That implies an efficient THINK process that has 100% first pass yield by asking all the right questions.  The ideal PLAN step would be simple and brief; to define a set of execution steps that realize the chosen alternative and manage the inevitable risks inherent in any such plan (protect the alternative from Murphy’s Law).

If you have great decisions and flawless execution, the CHECK step shouldn’t find any significant deviations from expected outcomes; the need for further iteration goes away.  Stated another way, the value-creating steps in any future-creating process are THINK and DO; the non-value-added steps (“necessary evils” to be driven toward zero) are PLAN and CHECK.

One final note, strategy/design iteration differs from elaboration.  Almost all significant creative endeavors require a “rolling-wave” decision approach.  You will make some critical decisions up front and then elaborate upon them in ever greater detail until all of your “How” questions are answered.  The rolling wave decision model also facilitates collaboration by enabling you to focus different contributors on the decisions that best match their expertise.

If you want some help changing the focus of your next project, the team at Decision Driven® Solutions has some great decision patterns to jump-start the THINK step.

About decisiondriven

Innovator in Decision Management, Systems Thinking and System Engineering methods and tools
This entry was posted in Decision Concepts, Decision Driven Product Development, Decision Driven Strategy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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