Indecision is a Decision: The true cost of indecision in new product design

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With a seemingly insatiable need for more innovative design, consumers have put designers under tremendous pressure to produce the next big product. This constant appetite for “cutting edge” makes indecision by product owners and leaders a costly mistake in the form of missed opportunity, wasted time and money, and a depleted team morale.  That indecision will impact your clients, your company, your team, and yourself.

Decision by indecision. The worst part about it? Everyone is susceptible to this – from the highest-level executives to the engineers facing a challenging task. Just as likely to be indecisive are clients who are unclear about their vision and goals. By not making a choice on the path forward, the decision-maker has chosen to “kick the can even further down the road,” an action that has profound impact on every aspect of the business.

Factors of Indecision

Understanding where indecision comes from and how it effects all aspects of a project’s execution is paramount in avoiding it. The choice to do nothing can be attributed (not an exhaustive list) to some factors:

Fear

When pushing into the realm of the unknown and untested, it is easy to succumb to fear. You feel like failure is not an option – it means you let down your team, your boss, and your client. Decision-makers often ask for more research, analysis, and reanalysis ad infinitum. The stakes are always high in new product development, and out of fear of making the wrong choice, we ask for more data points to help steer us – trading time for what we perceive as valuable information. This turns into the proverbial “paralysis by analysis.”

Losing Sight

Complex products have complex features leading to a plethora of ideas, features, and designs that need to be explored. With so much happening, it is easy to lose track of the broader vision and the goals set for the entire project. Teams and individuals may find it easy to make decisions on small items in the project but unable to make decisive moves on the larger, more critical aspects. Without strategic planning and big picture goals to direct effort and decision making, those seemingly  “small details” may ultimately compound into the wrong direction for your product or business overall.

Perfectionism

We are in the business of finding a solution to our clients’ problems. Preferably a perfect one, but is that possible? Many times, it is difficult to accept or understand when it becomes impossible to achieve a goal. Decisions that need to be made to move forward aren’t being made because we strive to find the perfect solution – and sometimes that perfect solution is not there. Inevitably, the team falls into the cycle of continuous research and progress stalls.

The Cost of Indecision

Regardless of the source of indecision, the impacts can be felt in many places:

Time and Money

Time is money. Indecision will cost a project time and money. Team members sit idle and unable to progress, usually reduced to the ad infinitum research/re-analysis busywork while the decision-maker delays. It costs the client potential revenue as the schedule is pushed to accommodate for the time taken to overcome the problem.

Less Opportunity, More Risk

It is a roll of the dice on how quickly technology evolves. The longer it takes for a company to roll out a product, the higher the probability that their industry competitors will develop and release something similar. It also provides an avenue for the target to change. Furthermore, it is possible that as time progresses the more obsolete the original requirements may seem to the client and the urge to change them increases.

Morale

In line with the cost and schedule impacts is the less tangible, mental impact to the team. Reduction of meaningful work can sap energy and morale from the team and bog down the forward momentum. Inventive and good problem-solving thoughts stagnate, and overall satisfaction becomes non-existent.

Breaking Through Indecision

Despite the enticing nature and multiple factors that lead to indecision, there are ways to avoid it through practice and stepping out of your comfort zone to fight it.

Acceptance

It will happen. Indecision will happen to you and those around you. It is important that you remember inaction will have far-reaching consequences. So, when faced with decisions, make a habit of being decisive – reasonably. Use your best judgement with the available information and move forward. Also, when you notice indecision emerging, point it out and work with the team to get things moving.

Practice

Decisive action is not a skill everyone is born with. The human mind looks for patterns and simplicity and low risk activities to build its habits; it’s a survival instinct. To be able to step forward during a critical juncture and make decisions despite the risks, is something that is learned. Know that you will make mistakes but to decide to move ahead, fearlessly into the unknown, will build invaluable experience and skill. 

Leadership

It is up to the leaders of the business and the project to create an environment that fosters decisive action. Much like the delicate leadership of innovation, an environment that cultivates an atmosphere of understanding and mutual respect allows for members of the team and leadership to collaborate and making decisions that the entire team is on-board with. Coach, educate, and lead your clients to be decisive as well. It minimizes conflict, improves teamwork, and ultimately provides for the most synergistic path to success.

Success by Decision, Not Default

Decisiveness is one of the most important characteristics of project owners and leaders in the product development process. Don’t let your product’s outcomes happen by default. Practice being proactive, nurture a culture of decisive team members, and be confident in your work to make important decisions.