How do we buy technology

Original author: Graham Oakes
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Organizations can pretend to make objective choices. But it is not as simple as it seems.

Technology is complicated. We react to them emotionally. This changes the balance of power between people, provoking them to a political reaction. Manufacturers are trying to confuse us without telling what and how it really works.

Most organizations benefit from this. They rely on “objective” decision-making, on measuring their capabilities against the background of small losses in functionality.

By “weighing” the importance of each technology, an option with clear criteria is determined, and organizations believe that in the end they found an option with an objectively “best” solution.

Thus, in the end, it all comes down to the scorecard. Each line lists some features or options that someone has identified as “important” and “required”. Each of these features is weighted by its degree of importance.

Then in the columns place all the choices. Each cell is filled with points, depending on how well this option provides the desired features, which allows you to calculate the score for each option. Choose one option with the highest weighted score - and you have the best technology for your needs.

The problem is that it almost never works.

For starters, the function and weight of the scores are not objective. Someone collects requirements and throws away excess ones as they become available. People begin to argue about the weights of points. Ultimately, everything is decided by a person endowed with the greatest power. We just moved the policy to the table structure itself.

The assessment process is no better. I can’t tell you how many times I saw people who give points, and then countless times correct them to allow their favorite technology to come forward.

They have already made a choice - assessment is just a rationalization to solve them.

The main problem is that the selection process itself ignores the way people make decisions. Hiding “irrationality” behind the appearance of objectivity, we actually make it very difficult for people to make the right decision.

Research into the decision-making process by experts shows that they rarely think about a multitude of options and from evaluating through objective “decision-making criteria”.

In a situation where they must process a lot of information and balance the interests of various points of view, experts must go through the following steps:

First, they imagine themselves in this situation.

  1. They define one function that is likely to satisfy their needs.
  2. They test this function, in the mind, as an example of the current situation.
  3. If this function works well enough, they do not spend time on further analysis. They apply it in action.
  4. If this function does not work, they adapt and tune it in the mind. If they can find a way to make it work, they use it.
  5. If they cannot find a way to make it work properly, they are looking for other options.
  6. They can go through this cycle several times, using the selection, testing and adaptation of opportunities to improve their understanding of the situation. They are developing an acceptable solution.
  7. Experts can do this surprisingly quickly. Firefighters and other emergency workers go through this “loop of choice” in deadly situations in a split second.

In the future, they can adjust their decisions to an objective framework, explain what they did, but this will not be quite the way they made this decision for the first time.

Of course, very rarely the life of people depends on our choice of technology. But pretending that we make decisions by conducting a thorough analysis of options with predefined selection criteria has negative consequences. For example:

We spend time defining the scope of our decisions. If people don’t use them, this is useless stuff. Even worse, the framework makes people focus on the little things of individual characteristics, which prevents them from seeing the big picture. We hide the real criteria for decision making.

We make them easier to allow manufacturers to beat the system. They can play features and get better results in this game than end users.
We overlook the following difficulty - how exactly do people use technology. They are hidden in the table. We do not leave ourselves a solid rear for making changes before we begin to implement the selected technologies.
Marketers are well aware of this dynamic. Making technology easier for people to imagine themselves in their situation - a new car, a new jacket, a holiday - and they are already halfway to the sale. Long lists of various attributes appear later, and often only if entanglement is necessary. (Think about the plans for cellular communications and their pricing - they are designed to hide the differences between brands, but not to promote rational decision-making).

What does this mean for us, when we must acquire a system, choose an agency, or, on the contrary, make a decision about technologies?

To begin with, we must imagine ourselves in a situation that we are trying to solve. What happens if we start using this system, working with this agency, etc.? You need to write a script, not make lists, and directly ask sellers to explain how their technology is suitable for each scenario.

Secondly, we must give ourselves a period of time for each option in order to be able to experience how they really work. Showy presentations from the manufacturer are not enough. Pilot projects are an ideal choice, or at least practical seminars, where we can try to choose options for ourselves during the procurement.

We are not firefighters. Our lives do not depend on a couple of seconds spent on our decisions. So it makes sense to balance the choice of solutions based on the scenarios with some thoughts on the capabilities, functionality and weight of the various options. This can help us fill in some gaps and white spots in our thinking.

But we must not allow “objectivity” to drive out an honest understanding of how we make decisions. When we use scenarios and adaptive assessment of options, we work to identify our strengths. Starting from there, and using decision support tools, this will certainly allow us to expand our capabilities. But do not let additional tools manage the entire process.

UPD: Related links from comments from alex_and_r

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