The Gorilla changing room- Making decisions out of choices

“WAIT, WAIT, What?”
Bob hasn’t been handling stress to well lately. His last word broke into a near falsetto and the tick above his eye was threatening to register on the Richter scale.
Monica didn’t seem the least phased by the outburst. I think it would have taken a good 9.0 to shake the plastic smile from her face. “Marketing thinks Pantone Snorkel Blue 19-4049 is not the right shade for the logo on the case. We want to look at Dark Blue 19-4035 instead.”
Okay, so I have to admit Bob was probably justifiably upset. Me, I was having an odd sense of déjà vu.
“Excuse me, Monica, but didn’t we go over the logo color about three weeks ago and all agree on Snorkel Blue?” I asked, trying to give poor Bob time for his blood pressure to get back down under 200.
Monica gave a casual wave with her absolutely pristine fingernails. “Well, yes, but marketing wasn’t sure then so we didn’t say anything.”
If Monica kept talking in the third person I might just snap myself. “Okay, we are starting mass production in a day. I’m not even sure we can change the color. Wally?” I turned to look at the head of our hardware team.

Wally looked at me with a pained expression that didn’t need words. If they had words, they’d probably been something like “I’ve had our manufacturer change the blasted logo color seven times, how many more do you want to change it?”
Monica gave a dismissive wave to Wally. “Marketing feels certain that the color has to change, can’t you just speed up the shipping process to cover?”
Bob leaned forward, smoke veritably curling from his ears. “We already chose the color, five times. If you can’t be bothered to attend the meetings because you are to busy getting your forehead botoxed…”
Hogarth sidled up to me, his hot breath on my neck the first clue I had to his nearness. Thing is I wasn’t surprised. The meeting was going just so many different ways of wrong that I knew he was bound to show up sooner or later. I guess you could say I was starting to learn and understand his presence. His appearances were no longer absolute surprises of non-sequiturs.  I could almost hear the lesson he was about to give.
“So does this make you Bill Murray?” he asked.
Blink… Huh? Blink… Blink… That was not the lesson I was expecting.
I turned away from Bob’s latest fusillade at Monica and stared at Hogarth. His brilliant white smile was in counterpoint to his bushy black eyebrow raised at me in question. Sometimes I think he truly takes pleasure in confounding me to speechlessness. “Hogarth, what on earth are you talking about?”
Groundhog day of course. You know, the film with Bill Murray reliving the same day over and over until he gets things right?”
“Hogarth, it’s not February, I’m not Bill Murray and what the hell does this have to do with the meeting.”
“Well didn’t you already decide on the color of the logo five times?”
“No, it’s been seven…” Hogarth just looked at me.  “Oh, hell.”
There is a malaise sweeping business, from San Francisco to Sydney and Johannesburg to Edinburgh the same problem is rearing up to prevent companies from succeeding, from moving forward, from getting anything done, from not killing each other in meetings of death, from doing the right things, the right way. What is this frightening cancer? What is this thing that is able to crush your projects and leave the teams wondering what was the license plate of the bus they were just thrown under?
We can’t make decisions… To be clear, we are very good at picking choices. We are wonderful at nodding heads and saying “yes” but we are absolutely abysmal at making and committing to decisions. When it comes to putting the rubber to the road, we are found to be lacking even the tires needed to hit the road.
Wait a minute. You just said we are very good at making choices, what’s the problem?
A choice is not a decision: A choice is picking someone to ask to prom night. A decision is saying “I do” to marry your spouse. When you go to Baskin and Robbins (A US based Ice Cream store) there are thirty-one choices of ice cream, but there is only one decision as to what you’ll get on that single scoop. A decision is a stake in the ground with clear accountability tied to it.
Accountability… There’s that scary word again. Don’t run away, it won’t bite. Accountability is easy. It can be fulfilled with Mark Horstman’s single law of project management., “Who, Does What, By When.”
You see, what so often happens is that everyone is sitting in the room and a plan is developed. People nod their heads, and maybe the guy who was really opposed decides now is not the time to object. But then there is no follow up. Sure it might have gotten documented in the meeting minutes, but no one was assigned ownership. No date was set. No specific plan was set. How do we know if it is done? How do we know if what was agreed is what is being done? How do you measure the “acceptance criteria?”
If a choice was made, you don’t. If a decision was documented then you have.
Hey now! Don’t run scared just because I used the “D” word. Documentation does not need to mean a twenty page requirements document. Documentation just needs to be “Who,” “What,” “When.” The only hard part is the what and if you define what by the acceptance criteria it can be pretty darn easy.
You have the power! Stop the déjà vu cycle! Don’t go through another Groundhog day again. Don’t let a meeting end without “Who,” What,” and “When” being written down and agreed to.
Change isn’t a bad thing. But changing because you didn’t agree the first time is a waste.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla? mailto:jbancroftconnors@gmail.com
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

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