Analysis Paralysis – the Innovation Blocker During a Crisis

What is Analysis Paralysis?

Analysis Paralysis is a methodological anti-pattern. It is comprised of an existing situation where decision needs to be made by a group or individual in order to proceed to the next step but due to a variety of factors, is not made, thus paralyzing the project. This term refers to over-thinking (or over-analyzing) a situation so that a decision or action is not taken.

Brief History

While the term itself goes back to the 1970s, the idea of analysis paralysis goes back to Aesop’s Fables. One of the stories written tells about a fox and a cat who are being approached by hounds. The fox brags about knowing a hundred ways to escape while the cat says he knows only one way. It is apparent who got eaten in this tale.

Warning Signs

While each case has unique characteristics, there are some commonalities regarding analysis paralysis and delayed decision-making.

You may find deadlines and due dates slowly being extended. As indecision sets in on certain areas of code production, this will impact other parts of the project.

Team members will begin to express their frustration at either the lack of decision-making, meetings to make decisions or become frustrated at the wait to complete their tasks due to prior work that needs to be completed in advance, for example.

The organization may be gathering and calling for more and more data continuously to assess and reassess the same issue but now are over-analyzing from as many angles as possible. This serves only to further complicate decision-making.

Organizations will let missed opportunities to go by, which may seem obvious to the teams, but may appear more ambiguous to the team or individuals in charge of decision-making.

There is also the obvious sign that no actual decisions have been made in a series of meetings.

Common Reasons Decision-Making Stops

If and when the warning signs seem apparent, it is vital that the team or individual seek out and identify as best as possible, why this has occurred. Again, while no two projects are alike in every way, there will be some common patterns to look for.

Perhaps one of the reasons could be new requirements that have been set on project features that may be risky or politically charged in the organization.

The decision that must be made impacts critical business, for example, human lives (e.g. healthcare application programming) or financial institution stability.

Another reason that may have contributed to analysis paralysis could be related to the product. This could be in relation to final product pricing, budget issues, scope creep potential etc.

It is critical to recognize the root cause of the blockage as quickly as possible as the following will result in a negative impact to the organization:

  • Lost opportunities for continued work
  • Lost time to market and lost market share
  • Lost trust from customers/clients and/or employees
  • Failed project or overall business
  • Potential loss of life (depending on the project)

Mitigation and Overcoming of Analysis Paralysis in a Crisis

There will always be hesitation or fear in a project. This is a natural occurrence and not at all uncommon during the project life cycle. What matters most is how the hesitation or fear is handled and reasoned. It is obviously better to tackle the situation immediately and avoid the potentially damaging steps of budget cuts until a proper investigation can take place.

Keep in mind that black swan events over the past years, (2008 financial meltdown, H1N1 and now COVID-19) will cause you to learn quickly how to reassess how the business will need to adapt and change to reflect the new normal due to these global events.

In a crisis, making decisions must be kept fluid and removed from any impediment. The following steps will help move the decision-making process along:

Prioritizing decisions

If you treat all decisions the same, as if they had an equal impact on your work then this can lead to analysis paralysis.

The first step here is to differentiate which decision requires immediate attention and for the moment, set aside any that can be acted upon later. Ask yourself or your team.

  • How important is this decision for this particular issue for the overall health of the project?
  • Will the decision’s outcome directly impact the next stage of project development?
  • Does the decision have to be made immediately?
  • What can go wrong based on the decision?

Identify the goal for each decision to be made

As often is the case, sometimes the problem isn’t as much fear as it is having too much choice. Defining goals at this point will identify which to pick from the available alternatives.

For example, in one scenario, your team will need to choose from one of two possible features. Feature one is complex and requires slow and tedious development but is a complete solution. Feature two is a less sophisticated alternative and has immediate impact, but lacks some nice-to-have angles.

While you could gather mountains of data and analyze which one offers the best prospect for the future, the simple fact is that the goal is to deliver by a certain date. It is obvious now that the less sophisticated alternative is the more efficient and for now, smarter choice to make.

Break the Decision Down into Smaller Pieces

Rethink the decision as one major step and break it down into smaller actions.

By shifting it from one major decision to incremental actions can help to free up the paralysis of having to make one large and significant choice.

Disregard Perfection

Unless it is life altering, you or your team will not need to demand perfection. Sometimes, given all the data you have, a “good-enough” decision may be all that is required and the best decision available.

Every decision has a downside. Do not let that delay moving forward with the project.

It’s Ok to Put Healthy Pressure on The Team or Yourself

It is ok to put a deadline on decision-making, especially if you are an individual who works well under pressure.

If you have a team involved in the decision, inform them that you will schedule a final meeting to review the issue with a decision made at the end. Let them know there will not be any related sessions held about the matter any further. Delays during a crisis obviously create new crises. This needs to be avoided at all costs. Sometimes a bit of a pressure-cooker session is what was needed.

Recovery

When the crisis has been averted, ended or the event is resolved, it is important to reflect on the decision-making process and influences that contributed to each decision made.

During major events, staying focused on review and investigation of the impact of the crisis immediately and after it concludes will most likely lead to reinvesting smartly rather than calling for quick budget cuts.

  • R&D
  • New products/services
  • Marketing & sales channels/processes
  • Customer relationships

The list above are only a few areas where technology can help with smart investments especially during the most recent crisis involving changes to remote working, employee and customer communications, and delivery of new products while coping with the crisis.

Support from Technology Organizations

During a crisis, technology/software companies are more flexible in terms of service. Their goal is to see you through the crisis event safely.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for additional business and technical analysis. Technology companies can help overcome analysis paralysis.
  • They can help you to evaluate current technology and provide expertise on where to focus first and what developments can be postponed.
  • Technology companies can help you to restructure your teams in order to meet your target deadlines, even with limited resources.
  • Technology companies can offer years of deep experience and provide ready-made solutions in order to drive your business forward during a crisis.
  • Technology companies can provide short term support from a technology perspective, allowing your organization time to strategize and work on your new way forward.