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Paul Armstrong



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How to decide when to make a technology decision and what level to invest in seven simple steps


Artificial intelligence, blockchain and other technologies poking their heads out of the ground are impacting HR departments across the globe. Technology companies are coming for your budgets, but how do you know which ones are going to help you do what you’ve got to do? What should you invest your time and money in?

I created the Technology, Behaviour, Data (TBD) system over a decade ago and have used it with numerous clients from Coca-Cola to O2 in order to solve problems and decide when to make technological investment. The framework is flexible and bespoke – two key areas that distinguish it from other frameworks and make it valuable to HR departments when evaluating technologies.

Outlined below are seven simple steps to using the framework to help your organisation with technology-related decision making.

STEP 1: Get the right head on those shoulders

Setting the right tone or mindset is key.  John Gardner, a famous leadership expert calls this ‘tough-minded optimism’ (Gardner, 1990):

“I can tell you that for [organisational] renewal, a tough-minded optimism is best. The future is not shaped by people who don’t really believe in the future. Men and women of vitality have always been prepared to bet their futures, even their lives, on ventures of unknown outcome. If they had all looked before they leaped, we would still be crouched in caves sketching animal pictures on the wall”.

This may look like a series of blog posts, a conference or a webinar, but someone in authority (or, better yet, at all levels) should be pushing this view throughout the organisation – whatever level of technological development you are in.

Technology is coming and you can use a stick to beat back the tide or you can build a raft. The choice is yours but the wave is coming.

Now that heads are in the right frame of mind to accept this information, let’s get started.

STEP 2: Talk about outcomes

TBD is a three-part question and scoring mechanic that will help you figure out whether or not to invest in something.

In order to do this you’ll need to create a scoring mechanism – this can be as simple as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ scenario, but experience tells me the best use is often through outlining a range of decisions and aligning them to a score range.

I call this the ‘Decision Matrix’ and it is a list or a grid of 0-30 (as each of the three questions has a maximum score of 10) that is broken into ranges or has an entry for each possible number. No wishy-washy answers are allowed in any Decision Matrix – make everything action-orientated.

Start with a blank piece of paper and list out what would be the decision if something was ranked 30 on the scale; in other words, it could not be a more perfect fit for the company based on it’s current aims, goals and objectives.

Now start thinking about any score below 30 – some of the best examples I have seen clients create are:

  • If the TBD score is 20-25, [COMPANY] will instigate the agile delivery team within 48 hours. The team then has 10 working days to return a final costing and recommendation for board to approve within five days (if above £10,000 or equivalent). If the cost of the technology is below $10,000, the team can decide to implement the technology or request further counsel with the senior team.

  • If the TBD score is below 15, no further action is required but the technology will be reviewed in six months if the score is between 10-15.

  • Within 24 hours, the senior team will meet and discuss any TBD scores between 20 and 30.  At the end of the meeting the group will vote on the next course of action from three options; go ahead and fund test case, approve further research or deny further action at this time but revisit in 3/6/12 months.

Your outcomes can, will and should be different to other companies within your sector. The point is to make them unique to the company at hand.

The Decision Matrix is a way of pre-assigning outcomes to specific numbers so that when you finalise the TBD score you can go back to the matrix and see what the next steps are. The key is to make them as specific and action-orientated as possible.

STEP 3: Technology

Let’s imagine we have some AI-enabled software to evaluate. Is a new AI-enabled CV sifting system that looks for emotional intelligence going to save us £50,000 per annum?

The technology part of the TBD framework is the ‘can they’ element to any decision. The question you should ask yourself is: based on the evidence I have in front of me, can the end users do what I need them to do using this technology?

Gather the relevant information through discussions with the supplier, online research, asking colleagues and generally doing a bit of hard research. Once you have read everything and determined a reasonable idea of the capabilities, think about the score you will give the ‘T’ section.

A score of 0 means the users will not be able to do what you are asking them to do, a score of 10 means that the users are already doing what you need them to with the technology. Be ruthless.

STEP 4: Behaviour

The question you have to ask yourself here is ‘Based on the evidence I have in front of me, will the end users do what I am asking?’. In this area you must know your consumer (or the consumer that is using the technology) and decide whether it immediately overlaps, will overlap or could potentially overlap.

Users may resent using the technology, fear it will replace them or get less hours as a result of it. The ‘B’ is based on your understanding of the user – not the idea, but the people that will be using it.

The user might end up being you – choose carefully and, again, be ruthless. For ‘B’, a 0 score means the user would never use the technology, a score of 10 means the user is already doing what you need them to do.

STEP 5: Data

The final potential 10 points for the TBD score come from the ‘Data’ section. Here the question to ask yourself is whether enough of the users will use the technology. In other words, “Based on the evidence I have in front of me, will enough of the end users do what I am asking?”.

In this section, you need to assign a score to this question based on the research you have conducted. Internal or bespoke software is always tough because it is often a ‘must use’ scenario, but try to speak with similar or existing customers from the technology provider to see if this is the case.

STEP 6: Do the maths

Add up the three scores to get your final TBD score. The maximum score for TBD can only ever be 30.  There is never any subtracting, multiplying or dividing involved… you’re welcome!

STEP 7: Apply the matrix

Now you have your TBD score it is time to assign a decision to that score. As previously mentioned, everyone’s Decision Matrix is different but it is important to remain true to whatever decision you have agreed to.

Clients have told me it is tempting to knock points up and down based on the time of day, energy levels or current workload at that time. Don’t do it! Stick with what you have and move forward. You’ve taken the time to get this far, so don’t sabotage yourself – stay true to your decision.

Don’t make yourself feel better in the short term to make yourself feel miserable in the long term.

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Paul Armstrong


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