Are you suffering from analysis paralysis? (and what to do about it)

Are you stuck spinning your wheels with your digital transformation?

Digitally transforming all or a part of your business is a high-stakes game! For many businesses they get stuck through being afflicted by Analysis Paralysis!

And the cost?

Lost time. Lost money. Lost prestige. Lost trust. Maybe even lost customers or clients!

So, what’s getting in the way? What’s stopping you moving forward?  

Let’s take a look at some of the signs that might indicate that you're suffering from analysis paralysis:

1. It’s easier to do nothing (in the short-term)

It’s often said in consultancy that even when there are no competitors, the main competition still remains, and that is inertia. Or in layman’s terms, the client does nothing!

I have some sympathy. The realisation that you need a software solution typically creeps up on you. You might throw people at the problem for a while - for example, accepting that you’ll have to pay people to re-key data; or hire additional people in a call centre to handle a rise in complaints – but you know that’s not a long-term fix.

The trouble is, once the realisation sets in, it also comes at a time when you’re at maximum capacity. The business is stretched, which is why you need to digitally transform in the first place.

It’s plain as day that the growth and potential of the business is being held back. So, what do you do?

Do you kick the can down the road and hire one more call centre operator? Or do you bite the bullet, and bring in an expert to overcome your capacity constraint, and help you accelerate your digital transformation journey?

Inertia. The status quo. These will be familiar and easier to grasp. But they’re sticking plasters. They address the symptoms, not the cause.

2. It’s too expensive

Once you’ve brought in the right expert – a trusted advisor who tells you how it is, not just what you want to hear – you may find that their initial feedback is rather uncomfortable.

It’s not uncommon to find that you’ll need to invest more in a software solution than you would in just recruiting that additional call centre operator.

However, software brings the ability to scale, so it’s essential to look beyond initial one-off investment costs.

Even after engaging a trusted adviser, you’re still risk being right back at square one – looking for quick-fix, tactical solutions and ultimately remaining in the status quo. Why? Because committing to digitally transform is exactly that – a commitment! You have to make the decision to change in order to overcome your business challenges, and you must be prepared to invest.

3. There’s too much choice

So, you’re keen as mustard to get on with your digital transformation journey, but how do you decide on the right solution when there’s just so much choice?

A way I often see people approach this is to download a Request for Information (RFI) template from the web. A template that has all the possible features you could ever want or need. Then, they simply fire it off to software vendors, asking them to provide their answers.

Now, assuming that they can get a vendor to respond to this approach – and many self-respecting ones won’t - you’re immediately out of the frying pan and into the fire!

Suddenly you’ve got this huge list of promised features coming at you. But how do you weigh up the importance of each feature? For example, is website integration more important than ease of use? Is a mobile app more important than slick Outlook or G-Suite integration?

Unfortunately, this approach to overcoming the challenge of overwhelming choice does anything but. Instead, it leads you into deeper confusion. Typically, this approach ends up driving people towards selecting the most scalable system, which doesn’t necessarily mean the most capable nor best suited to your business.

In fact, the most scalable systems often evolve out of big corporates and so come with an associated big price tag!

4. You can’t find what you need

For others, completing an RFI exercise ends up leaving them disillusioned. All they found out was that, whilst what they want is available, it’s not within their budget. So, as a result, they adjust their aspirations downwards, reducing the number of required features.

In itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do. But where it leads to frustration is when the only affordable solution is missing some feature that you’ve deemed critical to your needs.

Finding a single solution that does everything you need AND is affordable is like trying to find the gold at the end of a rainbow.

5. Too many people having a say

Digital transformation typically impacts multiple areas of a business. In searching for a solution, there is a risk that, in your attempts to be: a) inclusive, and b) to ensure you don’t miss out on any opportunities – that you end up seeking input from too many people.

Not only does this needlessly slow the process down, but it also leads to overwhelm and the mistake of trying to find consensus. As a result, everyone gets frustrated as they feel they’re not being heard.

Even if you do manage to pull together a list of requirements from across the business, you soon become aware that not everyone is adept at articulating what a new system should do. And there’s little by way of standard definition of requirements across the business. This leads to people making assumptions that their needs are fully understood, or worse still, they brush over the process and choose a solution because they like the sound of it.

What I mean here is that they’ve fallen for the salesman’s patter rather than objectively assessing a solution against business needs.  

6. Your best friend is your biggest enemy

You know who I’m talking about! It’s the guy that’s built all those amazing spreadsheets. The one’s that do what no system ever could. He’s gotten your business out of a hole many times.

The trouble is, your business is now entirely reliant upon a spreadsheet, and you’ve become beholden to this person.

It wasn’t something that anyone did deliberately. It just kind of happened. But don’t be surprised that this person isn’t exactly champing at the bit to replace all his business-critical hard work with a system that he has no control over!

Yet the fear of upsetting these key people can lead to an unintended slowdown of digital transformation efforts. Or an alternative reality is that you’ve engaged these individuals early, but as a result you’ve ended up with such a prescriptive set of features that you couldn’t possibly find a solution that complies with them.

All of a sudden, the problem has tipped over into the ‘too big to fix’ category.


Let's recap

Do any of these challenges sound familiar:

  1. It’s easier to do nothing
  2. It's too expensive
  3. You’re overwhelmed by choice
  4. You can’t find what you want
  5. There are too many people sticking their oar in
  6. And the business is hinging on the whims of a former saviour!

Any one of these challenges can lead to a slowdown and ultimate halt of your digital transformation efforts. In this case it’s likely that you’re afflicted by what’s known as Analysis Paralysis.

DEFINITION:

Analysis paralysis is when the fear of either making an error or forgoing a superior solution, outweighs the realistic expectation or potential value of success in a decision made in a timely manner. This imbalance results in suppressed decision-making in an unconscious effort to preserve existing options. An overload of options can overwhelm the situation and cause this "paralysis", rendering one unable to come to a conclusion. It can become a larger problem in critical situations where a decision needs to be reached, but a person is not able to provide a response fast enough, potentially causing a bigger issue than they would have, had they made a decision.

Or, in layman’s terms, you’re stuck!

So, how do you go about getting unstuck?


The 5-Step Action-Plan to overcoming Analysis Paralysis

Here’s our 5-step action plan that we’ve used with many clients over the years to help free them from analysis paralysis. The 5 steps are:

  1. Gain understanding – of your business and your people
  2. Simplify – break down the complexity
  3. Let it go - Get comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty
  4. Be clear and honest - Tell people what they will and what they won’t get
  5. Fail and fail fast - Create a pilot or prototype

1. Gain understanding – of your business and your people

Not everyone understands what software can do, and how it can be moulded to suit a business. Not everyone is able to think sequentially about business processes, spotting inefficiencies and bottlenecks, and what to do about them. Tools like process diagrams, and swim lane diagrams can be a massive help when trying to document what the current ‘as-is’ processes are. And they are helpful in defining what the future, optimised, ‘to-be’ processes might look like.

It helps to engage a business analyst who has expertise in both using the tools, and in facilitating workshops where you document ‘how stuff works around here’.

Rather than get input from everyone in the business, the people you surround yourself with will need to have adequate skills and a mindset to move the project forward. It obviously depends massively on the size of your business and project, but usually a core team of 3 to 4 who can knowledgeably interact with software vendors will suffice.

And of course, there’s no problem with sharing some of the highlights along the journey with the rest of the staff, but not with the intention of accommodating every little objection. That can come much later during usability and user acceptance testing.


2. Simplify – break down the complexity

There are various approaches you can deploy to breaking down complexity. Internal workshops, led by a suitable person, could help elicit an understanding of the complexity vs. business value. This is what must always be determined – whether the complexity is there because it enables business value, rather than being there because, well, that’s just how things have always been done!

A simple tool I like to use a value-complexity matrix. Ironic that its name sounds complex, but fortunately its use isn’t.

Using the model you simply determine which if the four possible boxes your requirement belongs.

3. Let it go - Get comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty

Ever hear of the term VUCA? It’s an acronym that comes from US military training and means: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. You’re just as likely to see it nowadays in strategic leadership training.

It’s actually quite apt for the complexity of software solutions. There’s often more than one way to look at. and to solve, a problem. Each having its own advantages and disadvantages. Or, in other words, there’s ambiguity.

You might think greater planning and analysis would mitigate the problems of ambiguity and uncertainty, but the reality is that by the time you’ve figured out a complex problem, the earth is likely to have shifted under you rendering your analysis obsolete from the moment it’s created!

I always advise clients to consider the issues, and to group them by those for which you understand solutions, and those which are uncertain.

This might be as simple as: “We need a list of all our customers so that we can send Christmas cards”. The more opaque the problem, the tougher it gets.

Asking the question: “How do we integrate the system with our website?” when, say, you currently have a brochure site with no customer interaction, this could lead you into the world of analysis paralysis.

You might consider a sub-committee to investigate what integration looks like. Or what services your customers might like from you. Each of these uncertain facets taking you further away from getting started on your journey.

The sooner you get started, the greater your ability to influence decisions through what you learn along the way.

There’s obviously a balance to be struck here. But seeing a system perform well in one area, will likely help you come up with better ideas for those yet-to-be-solved requirements.

To make progress I help clients put requirements into two simple categories. As you can see in the diagram below, as your progress clarity increases, and solutions become more easily identified.

The big proviso is that the system you choose should be flexible enough to cope with new functionality when you’re ready for it. This is why systems with a mature API (Application Programmers Interface) better enable the exchange of data and integration with other systems.


4. Be clear and honest - Tell people what they will and what they won’t get

An obvious problem with requirements gathering, and the resultant system procurement and subsequent design, is that people make two assumptions:

  1. At the least they’ll get what they always had
  2. They can have whatever they want

This problem is often perpetuated by poor requirements prioritisation. Or, in a basic attempt to prioritise, vague definitions are used along the lines of: high, medium, and low.

There are many tools and tactics to prioritise requirements. Some are quite advanced and require a great deal of thought. For instance, WSJF - Weighted Shortest job First which is a prioritisation method based on maximum economic benefit.

A model that I particularly like is MoSCoW. A prioritisation method based on the following categories:


5. Fail and fail fast - Create a pilot or prototype

A pilot or prototype can be a useful way of unlocking inertia. This involves modelling how a single customer moves through their interactions with your business, from lead, to buying your product or service, and having it delivered.

Then of course there are additional interactions where a customer will have queries and complaints or, at the other end of the spectrum, they may be super-pleased with your product or service and become willing advocates of your business.

Modelling how a single customer moves through the business has the advantage that all the complex data held in existing systems can serve as the gold standard for how customer interactions are handled.

A prototype can then be compared to outputs from the existing system. Starting with a smaller subset of processes and/or teams through a pilot helps identify handover points between business functions. It also clarifies the minimal set of data needed, which in turn will help determine which elements to migrate from older systems, and which to leave behind.

The aim here is to try stuff out. To find what does and does not work, and to move on quickly. As Desmond Tutu once said that,

“There is only one way to eat an elephant - one bite at a time.”

What he meant by this is that everything in life that seems daunting, overwhelming, and even impossible can be accomplished gradually by tackling just a little bit at a time.


Recap

To recap, many business are afflicted by analysis paralysis. This can happen due to one or more of the following 6 reasons:

  1. It’s easier to do nothing
  2. It's too expensive
  3. You’re overwhelmed by choice
  4. You can’t find what you want
  5. There are too many people sticking their oar in
  6. And the business is hinging on the whims of a former saviour!

The 5 steps action-plan to overcome Analysis Paralysis and get unstuck is to:

  1. Gain understanding – of your business and your people
  2. Simplify – break down the complexity
  3. Let it go - Get comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty
  4. Be clear and honest - Tell people what they will and what they won’t get
  5. Fail and fail fast - Create a pilot or prototype

Are you feeling stuck?

If your business is experiencing analysis paralysis, or if you're challenged with digitally transforming,  then get in touch. Click the button below to schedule a call with one of our CRM experts.