Top-Down or Bottom-Up?
Those who know me would probably say I am a top-down decision man. In many ways this is true, but anyone who has run strategy decision projects or programmes will concur that any top-down decision is only as good as its bottom-up validation. Getting this balance right is critical to the strategic processes in organisations. We all know of strategies and programmes that have failed because the top-down decision was never validated, and the initial feel was way too optimistic. We all know of decision making processes that have been stymied because the fact collection process has become endlessly drawn out, meaning that decisions never get made. So, how do you achieve the correct balance?
I believe that when making a decision, it is best to rapidly get all the available options on the table, rate them quickly top-down and “fail fast”. It is good to start top-down and think in a “blue sky”, open way of all of the choices, e.g. strategic decisions or programme delivery options. These can be rated very quickly against key objectives and risks, and from this, just few can be selected for validation. Clearly it is not viable to fully validate with detailed plans and estimates for a huge number of options, so initial selection should be top-down, followed by a bottom-up validation of the selected few usually proves an efficient decision making process.
So do you need the bottom up validation at all? Why not just go for it? We have seen organisations that due to time constraints and or knowledge or expertise issues, or just for their culture that have have taken rapid top down decisions quickly, selected one route to the future and moved in to execution mode with minimal reassurance that the selected solution can be delivered. Of course this, if it works, is the fastest way to get something done, but it is also by far the riskiest. I would place a bet 4 times out of 5 this route will fail. It has a chance of incredible success, but a high risk of abject failure. A top-down decision like this clearly has a higher chance of success if the team involved is small, the deadlines very short, or the work packages small. Larger programmes, with longer delivery times, will inevitably stumble and fall without proper checks, balances and communication of a fully believable, validated and well communicated plan.
So in conclusion start top-down, select fast, but do take time for some bottom-up planning before you go for it…..