How to Make Better Decisions by Waiting Until the Last Responsible Moment

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Decision Dilemmas

Have you ever made a decision that you later wished you had waited to make because some new information came along that would have influenced you in another direction? Or, perhaps you recall a time when you delayed a decision just a little too long and then missed out on some opportunity?

3 Types of Decisions

There are early decisions, late decisions, and decisions made at the right time. The only ones you likely will never regret are the ones made at the right time, and those decisions are what lean proponents call “the last responsible moment.”

Early Decisions

Dilemma: You may likely be wrong
The fact is, you know the least about a situation earlier in the process than you will later on. This is why large up-front plans make no sense. The less you truly know and understand about a thing, the less confidence you should have in the decision. Therefore, making a decision too early is risky and the chances are you may be wrong.

Late Decisions

Dilemma: You may miss out on opportunities
If you wait too long to make a decision, the opportunity that was available may very well be gone. Do not mistake this with waiting so long the problem goes away, which would be a good thing, but rather this is about missing out on opportunities. For example, you may only have a small window of opportunity to be first to market with a product or feature. Wait too long and you will miss it.

Perfect Decisions: The Last Responsible Moment

There may not actually be such a thing as a perfect decision, but there certainly is an optimal time to make it. As you can see from the earlier graphic, there is a cost of deciding and a cost of deferring and the last responsible moment sits perfectly at the intersection. It will be hard to always perfectly time your decisions, and only you will know where that point is, but the key is to understand that there is an optimal decision making point.

How To Make Responsible Decisions

So, the last responsible moment is the best time to make a decision. That’s great, but how do you know when that is? How do you make “responsible” decisions?

Assess the cost of deferring

First, you have to determine as best you can the cost of deferring the decision. What happens if you do not make this decision right now? Not every decision needs to be made — at least not right now. As long as the cost of deferring is low, you can afford to wait. But wait on what?

Assess the cost of deciding

If the cost of deferring is not so clear or seems to rise, then you may be closer to needing to make the decision. The next thing you will need to consider is what is the cost of deciding right now? Do you foresee any new information that could come along and change this decision in the near term — before you can see value from it?

Key Takeaways

Lean is all about eliminating waste and doing things Just-in-Time (JIT). Making a decision at the last responsible moment could not be more just in time. Remember, though, the key word here is “responsible.”

  • You know the least early on, so early decisions should feel less confident
  • Early decisions are more risky due to the impacts of pending change
  • Time and effort making decisions on things you will not do for a while is wasted effort — you may never actually need what was decided (think requirements analysis for low priority items)
  • Focus on what you know today and assess the risk of the unknown
  • Do not spend much time on something that likely will change by the time you touch it
  • Not every decision needs to be made, at least not now

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Jimmie Butler

Jimmie Butler

Challenge what you know about strategy, business, leadership, product development, and Agile. Follow me. Get weekly insights in your inbox — jimmiebutler.com.