Monday, December 22, 2014

A-DAR-able Moments

[Dear Readers, our good friend Pat O’Toole, CMMI expert and seasoned consultant, is collaborating with us on a new monthly series of CMMI-related posts, "Just the FAQs." Our goal with these posts is to provide answers to the most frequently asked questions about the CMMI, SCAMPI, engineering strategy and software process improvement. This month Jeff discusses Decision, Analysis and Resolution (DAR).  Take it away! ~ the CMMI Appraiser]

This DAR thing just seems silly to me.  Aren’t we supposed to be experts?  Why do I need a bunch of overhead when I’m smart enough to make the call on my own?

Make the call on your own?  That’s so a-DAR-able!  And it reminds me of a little story…

Back in the early 90’s I was leading a software project to develop a retail point-of-sale system for a major department store (yeah, we were pretty “RAD” back in the day….), and the job of selecting a code library that provided basic retail functionality fell to my team.

We quickly assembled a list of available suppliers some members of the team had heard of, and asked them to provide us more information about their code libraries.  Even though we didn’t conduct a “formal” selection process, we thought we were asking the right questions about platform, funtionality, cost, and viability.

After lining all of them up side-by-side, we had three solid, but similar, choices that ran in a text-based Linux environment, and one that ran on the then new-fangled Windows platform with a touch screen. Wait. Touch screen? Graphics? Ooooh.  Our inner-nerds were salivating!

While we went about the process of discussing our options, the buzz around the office about “touch screen” was palpable.  Words like “sexy”, “innovative”, and “groundbreaking” could be heard at all levels of the company.  Text-based systems were “old-school”, “yesterday’s news”, and “boring.” The CEO even weighed-in and said the new graphical interface would be the “soul” of the new system.

The CIO, who reviewed the data and found the touch screen system to be lacking in functionality while higher in cost, added a column to our matrix which he labled “pizzazz.”

Oy vey.

I think you know the rest of the story.  I don’t need to tell you about how the momentum to choose that touch screen system was unstoppable, or that the code library of basic retail functions didn’t even WORK, or that the entire project was a disaster that resulted in substantial cost and schedule overrruns.  No, I don’t need to tell you THAT story….

But I do need to tell you about the “3D’s.”

The 3D’s is a tool I use to remind myself about that project – and to help make sure that it never happens again.  It stands for Deliberate, Durable, and Defendable.  If you’ve taken one of my CMMI classes, you’ve heard me talk about it during the section on Decision Analysis and Resolution (sometimes I call it “Dalton’s 3Ds,” but that would make it FOUR D’s, and that’s way too much overhead!).

Here they are:

Deliberate: Applying a deliberate step-by-step approach that leverages proven criteria, which involves a limited set of the right stakeholders, and follows a useful, fact-based series of steps would have stopped the momentum of the touch-screen cold in its tracks.  This approach is sometimes called “a process.”

Durable: We need our decisions to stand the test of time, and to last beyond the next great thing, or perhaps just the next new manager.  Making a decision durable not only requires that a deliberate process be followed, but also that consideration is given to scaleability, change (including reorganization, acquisitions, or unforseen changes in business climate) and evolving preferences in technology or culture.  “Durable” doesn’t necessarily mean “solid,” “robust”, or “large.” More often than not, it means “flexible” and “adaptable.”  

Defendable.  Every decision we make has political consequences, as it reflects postitively or negatively on key stakeholders.  A successful choice can catapult a manager’s career into the boardroom, or relegate him just as easily to the mailroom.  Who we involve, how we communicate, and how we present the data to these stakeholders has an impact on whether it will be accepted, supported and implemented for the long term.  And it will also help control (or at least identify) those who would hide in the weeds waiting to pounce the minute they smell an opportunity to do so.

Start with the identification of a small number of key moments in time where important decisions need to be made – the kind of decisions that must be both durable and defendable, and then follow a deliberate path from selection, to analysis, and then on to resolution.

These could be some of the most important decisions of your career – you might even call them “a-dar-able moments.”

© Copyright 2014: Process Assessment, Consulting & Training and Broadsword Solutions
“Just the FAQs” is written/edited by Jeff Dalton  and Pat O’Toole.  Please contact the authors at and to suggest enhancements to their answers, or to provide an alternative response to the question posed.  New questions are also welcomed!

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