Start with a Roadmap: Decision Making and Problem Solving in IT

Decision making and problem solving are two of the most critical (and challenging) demands placed on any IT management team.  Putting aside the complexity of the issues involved, it’s always scary to put your neck on the line.  But the risk can be lessened when you take on every decision and problem with a standardized planning "roadmap".  Read on to learn how it’s done.

It's A Constant Challenge....

When it comes to managing IT, there is no shortage of opportunity to make decisions and solve problems. The demands are constant, as recommendations must be made with regard to adopted technology, how it is installed, how it is maintained, and how it can be used to meet business interests and individual end-user needs. As if that were not enough, IT projects require their own unique brand of decisions and recommendations, including negotiating project scope, deliverables, budgets, schedules and related matters. Further, IT service obligations create a constant, day-to-day demand for “on the spot” decision making to solve technical problems and fulfill end-user support requests. This is all part of the challenge of managing the “business of managing technology in business”.

It takes a lot skill and effort to balance all these factors and reach the best conclusions possible. That does not mean mistakes will not be made. But it’s always easier to overcome these missteps if every decision is backed by the best available information, reason, collaboration and buy-in.

Key Dynamics of Decisions, Recommendations and Solutions

The starting point of any decision making and problem solving process begins when pending decisions, recommendations and solutions are broken down into (8) essential components (it's always easier to tackle individual "parts" as opposed to the complex "whole"). The following list provides the (8) elements needed to begin:

  1. The conditions and circumstances forming the basis of the decision, recommendation or solution.
  2. The background events leading to the decision, recommendation or solution.
  3. The known and potential stakeholder interests and influences that must be factored into the decision, recommendation or solution.
  4. The relative urgency of the decision, recommendation or solution and time available for related analysis.
  5. The relative visibility of the decision, recommendation or solution considering organizational value and political considerations.
  6. The relative impact of the decision, recommendation or solution considering priority, operational ramifications, cost ramifications and organizational value.
  7. The anticipated longevity of the decision, recommendation or solution (permanent or temporary).

And there is one more factor (and it’s a big one) – readiness to act.  Nothing wastes more time than reinventing the wheel. One thing is for sure – it’s much easier to take on the challenge of a decision, recommendation or solution with a roadmap rather than a blank slate.  That’s the purpose of the two (2) methodologies described below.

Applying the "Define, Align, Approve" Technique

“Define/Align/Approve (DAA)” provides a strategic approach to informed decision making, formulated to ensure that all plans and solutions are properly specified in actionable terms (defined), sufficiently matched to underlying needs (aligned) and appropriately accepted by the designated stakeholders (approved). This approach puts all ideas, plans and decisions through standardized “scrutiny and validation safety net”, as expressed in three stages:

  1. Have needs and solutions been sufficiently defined?  Defined needs and solutions are specified for "action" - to be executed and measured against established benchmarks for success, timeliness, and quality.  Without definition, successful results may always be out of reach.
  2. Are needs and solutions sufficiently aligned?  Aligned needs and solutions are designed to match strategic goals and objectives, as well as business requirements, technical requirements and existing organizational capabilities.  Above all, needs and solutions must be do-able.
  3. Have needs and solutions been accepted and approved?  In order to set realistic expectations and achieve intended benefits, needs and solutions must be openly negotiated, with specific terms for acceptance and approval, which must be openly secured from all decision making stakeholders.

Proactive Strategies for Technology Problem Management

Problem management is the process by which complex technology problems are responded to and resolved. As a practical matter, a “crisis” is no time to begin "process" development. To have any value problem solving standards must be in place and ready for use. That’s why the most effective problem management approaches are “proactive in nature.

Proactive problem management is executed as “lifecycle” (similar to projects), breaking problem solving obligations down into a series of five (5) standard phases (initiation, planning, execution, review and closure).

  • Initiation: The problem is reported and evaluated.
  • Planning: Short and long term responses are planned.
  • Execution: Response plans are executed and applied.
  • Review: Resolution activities are verified.
  • Closure: The problem is resolved and closed.

How does it work? Once again, it’s all about the roadmap. When problem solving is viewed as a series of standard phases you have a framework for fact gathering, analysis, communication and status reporting, elements that are so easily forgotten in the rush to get problems solved. When problems occur, the “plan” is activated, and staff is free to focus on problem specifics (without the panic of “what should we do first”). In a fashion similar to disaster recovery management, this helps to get problems solved in a more productive manner, ensures that end-users are informed, keeps speculation and unrealistic expectations to a minimum, and ensures that proper records are kept for how all problems are solved.  To achieve desired results “Proactive Management Plans” should be developed and implemented as part of the “IT Service Portfolio” and related service level agreements.

Overall, the lesson here is very simple – decision making and problem solving strategies provide a head start to desired results, lessening the risks involved. It’s wise to remember that every decision, recommendation and solution is an opportunity. In truth, it’s an opportunity to fail (that’s the risk), but more importantly it’s an opportunity to succeed and to promote the adopted IT management vision.

Continue: Preparing Actionable Plans for Project Governance

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