CIO how-to: Smart decisions on deadline

Do you find yourself missing deadlines, scrambling to get things done, endlessly weighing opinions?

Being slow to pull the trigger on decisions will frustrate your employees, colleagues and boss. Today, the rewards go to executives who can get things done as fast as possible, even when that means making adjustments later. Some people associate timely decision making with sloppy decision making, but quick decisions can also be smart ones.

One of the best ways to make decisions is incrementally. You can make a series of small decisions that add up to one big decision. Along the way, you can get immediate feedback, correct the course and move forward. The key is to try to make your best educated guess now -- and recover quickly and expertly. By scanning the bad habits below that might describe your tendencies -- and following the advice offered -- you can make smarter, quicker decisions.

Perfectionists pride themselves on making fault-free decisions almost all the time, thereby avoiding risk and criticism. But they can often waste time collecting more information than they need. They tirelessly search for information that may not exist, double check facts they already know and are reluctant to make any decision that carries a potential downside. My experience working with successful CIOs is that their intuition is often telling them all they need to know. The bad news is that every decision involves some uncertainty and risk, and sometimes a lot of both. When pressed for time, it's best not to vote against whatever your gut is telling you.

Procrastinators don't like to admit that their bad habit leads to missed deadlines and sabotages the quality, accuracy and consistency of their decisions. Try to devote some immediate time to new decisions, so you can gauge difficulty and devise a plan. Divide decisions into sections, perhaps three parts, and schedule time to devote to each section. If it's a decision that has to be made in a month, divide by weeks; in a week, divide by days. Perhaps most important, set a false deadline for yourself, if possible. If your CEO needs an answer by Friday, start gathering information for a Thursday deadline.

Disorganized. You can't operate helter-skelter and make quality, timely decisions. Set tighter deadlines, focus more on mission-critical decisions and don't get diverted by trivial work and other decisions. Keep a decision log. When a decision opportunity surfaces, immediately record it and include a deadline date. If you're not disciplined in how you work and consequently are late in making decisions and taking action, buy a book on both total quality management and process re-engineering. Also, attend a workshop on efficient and effective work design.

Selective timeliness

Are you timely when making budget decisions -- but then miss the mark when it comes to other deadlines, such as providing employee reviews? Try this: Create two columns on a sheet of paper. Mark the left side for decisions you make in timely and speedy decisions. What's common about those areas? The right side is for decisions or tasks that you let slide. What's common to that list? Are you avoiding detail or strategy in a technical area you dislike or know little about? You're already making timely decisions in at least one area, so transfer your behaviors and practices to those other areas. If you aren't an expert in an area that is causing you pain, you can hire a consultant or convene a one-time problem-solving group. You don't have to be an expert in the area, but you do need to know how to find people who can help you meet decision deadlines.

Fear of conflict

Conflict slows you down, shakes your confidence when making decisions. Do your homework first: Scope the problem, consider options and choose one, develop a rationale and then take your case to others. Be prepared to defend your selection; know how this decision could affect them. Listen carefully and invite criticism of your decision or idea -- and revise accordingly in the face of real, new data. Otherwise, hold your ground.

David Foote is co-founder, president and chief research officer of Foote Partners LLC, a general management consultancy and IT workforce research firm in New Canaan, Conn. A former Gartner Inc. and Meta Group Inc. analyst who founded and directed Meta's Executive Service, Foote has advised leading corporations and governments on five continents in information age management strategies for more than 20 years. Contact him at dfoote@footepartners.com.

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