“In good decision making, frugality matters,” says Malcolm Gladwell;taking complex problems, and reducing them to the key levers that help us choose is a critical skill. Getting to the heart of the decision, however, isn’t always so easy!

I was recently reminded of this; a project team spent weeks designing, dreaming and negotiating what could be achieved with their new website design. There was a list of requirements that was like an out of control Christmas list, and everyone was very excited at the idea of something new that would improve the customer experience. But one thing had been forgotten. Just a small matter of how much they had to spend.

We’ve all been there, beer budget but champagne taste (I do it all the time). So, in the end, the decision was easy and the constraint of having to work within the budget helped them decide.

Constraints help the decision making process

I  noticed a similar pattern years ago whilst waitressing. When customers came into the restaurant, if there were no bookings, it didn’t matter where they sat. Gesture to the restaurant’s ‘sit anywhere you like’ would result in much debate back and forth.  They would often choose one table only to move to another and then another. Whereas, if I gestured to a specific table and said, “would you like to sit here?” customers would either accept the offer or ask to be seated at another table.

It’s that old chestnut about cognitive load. If the decision is made for you, it is either accepted or not, but being forced to make an active choice and decide for yourself from the whole restaurant is much harder.

The project team were constrained by the limitations of what they had to spend. How much time and effort could they have saved by getting this basic building block in place before the requirements even got underway?

The decision could have been made a lot earlier in the project. Finalising the budget and the business case before the project starts helps make the decision process smoother because it’s obvious to everyone the boundaries we’re working within.

As soon as we were able to articulate the right question(s) the decision was easily made.

Projects are all about working with constraints.

Usually, there’s limited budget, time and people.  Clearly articulating the constraints that are going to drive a decision early in the process, can save a lot of time and energy and reduce frustration and disappointment all around.

Why does restricting options help us to get on with good decision making?

There has been a lot written on the topic of ‘choice’ and I particularly like the advice of Sheena Iyengar, who highlights 4 ways to help with decision making:

  • Less options are easier to process: Sheena Iyengar talks about the ideal number of items that we can hold in our head (maxing out) at around 7. Meaning that once we’ve got to more than 5-7 options, it’s much more likely that we’ll be struck down with inertia and unable to decide. I am reminded of a talk I listened to years ago from Guy Russo post-Kmart turnaround. At the heart of the strategy was a reduction of options – making it easier for customers to choose and for the buying and product teams to manage.
  • Understand the consequences of the choice and make the outcomes more ‘real’. Techniques like adding images and thinking about the likely outcomes in greater detail. It is the basis of scenario planning, thinking through what’s likely to happen and filling in as much detail as we can to experience the full impact of our decisions.
  • Group options into categories helps us process information more easily. I was helped with my wine choices recently; when presented with ‘The Bible’ of wine options, someone had helpfully grouped together by taste: ‘nutty’, ‘floral’ and ‘berry’, making the narrowed down options easier.
  • Condition for complexity, which basically means making smaller numbers of choices first, and then moving up to more complex decisions. For example, training for a long hike or a run by starting at a more manageable level and working up to the more difficult level is always a good idea.

If you are struggling with the best way to train on a new system, get in touch.  We buddy up with retailers to equip internal teams for the project efforts ahead. Our project management tools are light and flexible for retailers.

The 6R team work behind the scenes, leading through project management, testing, training and team building to deliver project success. If you’re preparing for a project or need help to sort out decision making please connect!