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Meme #27

Do not fall for the illusion of control

What does it mean?

Humans have always tried to control their environments, scripting events to attain the perfect outcome. Control is almost always seen as a positive, something to strive towards. In fact, the desire to be in control can prove so compelling that we can sometimes overestimate our ability to have power over events we cannot possibly hope to influence. This phenomena is known as the illusion of control.

We can see the effects of the illusion of control in all areas of life and we often see the same behaviours playing out in digital problem-solving. For example, when implementing a complex system, project teams might commit to a detailed plan early on even when understanding is limited. Creating this illusion of control may be reassuring but can often be counterproductive to innovation.

Why do we believe it’s important?

Experience tells us that applying stringent processes will not deliver the desired outcomes and are unlikely to  deliver any further, unexpected, benefits. Truly innovative projects must be given the freedom to experiment and to validate. By accepting that we cannot control a situation, we are free to ask and answer the right questions.

In a predictive waterfall approach, scope, time and budget are often agreed and locked down early without the necessary understanding of what needs to be delivered. If you commit to deliver x, and it becomes apparent y is better, plans will need to change. Projects need to adapt efficiently to succeed and this can be prevented where there is a desire for control.

How do we put it into practice?

Firstly, we make sure we are addressing the right problems. We use agile methods - design, build, measure and learn - to solve problems and continuously validate our hypothesis. We deliver working software early and often, allowing frequent feedback to create a transparent, lean and efficient process.

Collaboration is a key part to our approach. We work side by side with our clients and build cross functional, supportive teams who feel responsible for the solution, ensuring creativity, quality and adoption.

An example of this is our work with a Global Entertainment company. We pivoted from using a prescribed solution, not able to deliver their real-time marketing needs, to developing a hybrid solution into production within a few months. We iterated a basic concept, with well understood technology, to give the business a “Minimum Viable Solution” quickly that gave the business key capability beyond the benefits of original plans.

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