From Assumptions to Hypothesis to Decision. Better Decisions Through Methodology.

The decisions made by Solution Architects have significant impacts and consequences for the organization and their people. They can have broad impacts on their customers, suppliers, and partners. Significant decisions are not to be taken lightly, so architects need to always focus on making the right decision and not focus on being right. Those are two very big distinctions. This article will focus on the methodology of making significant decisions on a regular basis where the cost to change it later or impact of getting the decision wrong is high.

There is a methodology architects can employ when going through the process of making good decisions. You’ll be able to start by creating a set of assumptions early in the game that need to be validated along with tentative decisions based on those assumptions. Fact collecting is an important part of the process, and documenting those facts after getting a consensus or commitment as to the legitimacy of the facts is important. Once you start to clarify the requirements you’ll add clarity to your decision making and can adjust your assumptions accordingly.

(I’ve written before about where consensus should fit into decision making here, and the idea is that consensus isn’t used to make a decision by getting a group together to decide what to do, but it is better served to validate the legitimacy and understanding of facts and methodology used to make the decision.)

Once an adequate set of facts is collected, these facts may continue to provide evidence to backup your assumptions, or they may be proven wrong and require adjustments to your assumptions. Your assumptions may not have been completely correct from the get go, but the decision will become more clear as more facts are collected. It’s important not to hold on to these assumptions too closely, and it’s important to know that even though your assumptions are going to be in-flux and ultimately may even prove to be wrong, it’s an important part of the process. If your assumptions are right all of the time, then you are doing it wrong, and you will make wrong turns and ultimately lead the organization down an expensive or disastrous path. Having the capability to adjust and correct course along the way is a key core competency of an architect or any other senior level decision maker. (Also see my related article: Six Key Traits of Successful Solution Architect Consultants)

Once we get into the position where the decisions to be made have been well researched with facts collected and validated, we get into a better position to make a decision. We become more confident in our assumptions, and we can turn these assumptions, along with the facts collected and research done, into a hypothesis that will need to be proven. Even though the word “hypothesis” is often misused by the business community, let’s not get into the scientific method too much and just give it a simplistic definition and agree that a hypothesis is a statement that we will set to test and validate our assumptions.

Hypotheses can be tested by building proof of concepts to validate that the approach will meet the requirements, the technology is sound, and that the implementation is do-able. Not every hypothesis will need to be tested this way, but rather they can be validated based on past proven implementations (think, industry standard design patterns, etc). When testing new ground, certainly, testing your hypothesis before going forward with implementation is the most desirable.

Once your hypothesis passes muster, you should be able to move forward with a decision based on the validation of the hypothesis. Assuming the quality of the methodology and experimentation at this point is sound, you are on steady ground to make the decision and to help move the organization forward. Using a methodology such as what I have described here helps to remove any emotion and bias from the decision making process and allows you to focus on making the most practical decision and provide evidence and transparency to backup your decision when put under scrutiny.

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