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BATimes_July04_2024

Beware Indecision Inertia: The Importance Of The “Do Nothing” Option

Organizational change can be hard. People get into routines, and convincing people to adapt the way that they work can be difficult. This is a seemingly human trait: think about how hard it can be to adapt when an icon or menu option moves in a new version of Windows. We have probably all taken a while to adapt to things like this, occasionally wishing that we could reinstate the older version of the software that we are so used to. If even a simple change like this can cause initial confusion and frustration, no wonder a larger change such as an office move or process change can be challenging.

When a potential change is being discussed, there are usually supporters and detractors. It’s important to understand the different perspectives, and work together to understand the best way forward. Yet beneath the overt support and reluctance, there are other subtler things to look out for too.  One is indecision inertia.

 

What is indecision inertia?

Although you might never have heard the term ‘indecision inertia’, you’ve almost certainly experienced it. Imagine a stakeholder needing to make a key decision, which is pivotal to a particular project progressing. It is a key dependency, and it is going to block progress if the decision is not made. They very reasonably ask for some data or a report in order to make the decision.

It takes some time to assimilate the information provided, but when it is played back to them (with a recommendation) rather than making a decision, they ask for more information. Or they raise a set of new questions, and more investigation is required. On the one hand, this is useful as they are helping to mitigate risks. On the other hand, it sometimes feels like the ‘can is being kicked down the road’.

Put simply: Sometimes the perception is that the least risky thing to do is nothing. In order to build a case for doing something a stakeholder might feel there needs to be watertight evidence and data. Yet, in reality, ‘watertight’ data rarely (if ever) exists. Can you say for certain the benefits that a project will bring? Or how long it’ll take? Or how much it’ll cost? Sure, these things can be estimated, based on a set of assumptions, but any certainty that is provided is entirely illusionary.

 

Indecision inertia occurs when the path of least resistance is doing nothing even though, when analyzed holistically, that might not be the most appropriate thing to do.

Incidentally, this pattern plays out in personal life too. People sometimes stay in jobs longer than they should (I know I did!) for fear of the ‘risk’ of applying elsewhere. People keep the same old car for too long, even when the maintenance is a nightmare, because it’s the car that they know and love…

 

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The Role Of Holistic Analysis

This is an area where business analysis is crucial.  In many cases ‘doing nothing’ isn’t a cost-free, or risk-free option. Imagine an organization running an older, legacy, packaged IT system that is going into extended support. Soon it’ll be out of support entirely. It’s been extended and customized over the years, and the development team affectionately define it as a ‘bag of spanners’. It works, it’s reasonably reliable (at the moment), and the prospect of spending money to replace it is a hard decision to make.

Yet doing nothing will lead to increasing maintenance costs, risks that it’ll become unmaintainable, and when support eventually expires there won’t be security patches and updates which leads to an even more worrying risk. Just like a beloved old car that is kept too long and breaks down at the worst of all times leaving its passengers stranded, this beloved old IT system might implode, get hacked, or develop other issues at the worst time. And if it’s a core system, every minute it is down is probably costing significant sums…

 

This is a hypothetical example, but it shows the importance of understanding that doing nothing is an option, and it has costs, benefits and risks associated with it. This is important as it is a way of reframing the decision.  Often a decision is seen as:

  1. Stay as we are (which is safe, and nobody gets sacked for doing nothing)
  2. Do something risky / costly (and put the sponsor’s neck on the line if it goes wrong)

 

Whereas, the real decision is often

  1. Stay as we are, and things will get progressively worse, riskier and more costly (and action will need to be taken at sometime)
  2. Do something, understanding the risks and costs (but do so at a time of our choosing, rather than when some major risk event forces us to)

This is simplified, but it illustrates the point.

 

Conclusion

In summary, change is hard, and decision-making is hard. As analysts, we can help decision-makers to make informed decisions. Analyzing and presenting the ‘do nothing’ option can be part of this.


Adrian Reed

Adrian Reed is a true advocate of the analysis profession. In his day job, he acts as Principal Consultant and Director at Blackmetric Business Solutions where he provides business analysis consultancy and training solutions to a range of clients in varying industries. He is a Past President of the UK chapter of the IIBA® and he speaks internationally on topics relating to business analysis and business change. Adrian wrote the 2016 book ‘Be a Great Problem Solver… Now’ and the 2018 book ‘Business Analyst’ You can read Adrian’s blog at http://www.adrianreed.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/UKAdrianReed