The Go/No-go Decision

This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot. The superset of decision making in general is, too. The world is full of models and research on this topic. This is going to become one of my major topics on this blog. (Another topic being the customer, everyone being a customer, and customer judgment themes I’ve recently written about.)

What a Go/No-go decision is seems intuitive enough by the name. One apt example is in flying airplanes. A pilot makes a Go/No-go decision about leaving the safety of the ground. Go or don’t Go.

The Go/No-go decision is not just about the decision. It’s about what happens preceding, during, and after the decision. In project terms, there is a lot of conventional wisdom around predetermining “Go/No-go” points, static points along a project timeline that require going through this decision process. These are points at which it is determined whether to continue funding or kill a project.

There is also another school of thought that encourages this to be a more ongoing process, even trying to remove the inherent binary nature from such a decision.

In planning, common practice is to employ “if…then’s” (contingency planning) into our plans. In practice, I think this contingency planning would have more meaning if it were focused on identifying future circumstances that would force a Go/No-go decision on a part or whole of the overall plan.

Making Go/No-go type decisions are crucial in leading a project. Frankly, if I were an investor, I would rather have someone leading the project that has made 100 Go/No-go decisions outside the industry than someone with 20 years of experience within the industry but with relatively little Go/No-go decision-making that influenced the whole project they were working on. Someone skilled at making Go/No-go decisions has better odds of making correct decisions even in a foreign industry. The industry insider simply has knowledge of the industry, which, while an asset, is just that, an asset. It does very little to influence the ultimate outcome, which is by nature a result of decisions along the way.

One of the biggest Go/No-go decisions we can all relate to is in personal relationships. Let’s not even talk about marriage. Let’s talk about a simple boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. In a breakup, there is an obvious Go/No-go decision that has been made. What is not as obvious are the Go/No-go decisions along the way that resulted in “Go.” In fact, many of those decisions were probably made by just one of the parties without the knowledge of the other.

To me, mature processing of Go/No-go decisions, whether at discrete points or as an ongoing process, is perhaps the hallmark of leadership. For one thing Go/No-go is inherently future oriented. The decision forces a projection into the future. The decision is, in essence, a prediction of the future. This “bet” is the root from which even the execution, the making it happen, must spring. In the awkward phrasing of GW Bush, the Go/No-go is the domain of “the Decider.”


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