Analysis vs. Action

How Much Analysis?

People often ask me how to judge if they are stuck in “Analysis Paralysis”.

How much study is too much?

There is no single answer here, but to answer that question, I find it useful to start with the business outcome in mind, and then to set a budget for how much study a particular plan or answer is worth.

Is it a week, a month, a quarter, 6 months?

The answer depends on two key things:

1. The size and importance of the thing you are studying
2. How knowable the data is

Study is expensive!

Analysis always feels safer than deciding, because as long as you are analyzing, you are never wrong.

Once you decide you can be wrong.

But analysis is not really so safe because it is very expensive.

First you have the salary cost of the people doing the analysis instead of doing something else, and you also have the cost of every minute you delay getting to the market.

What else will you learn?

When you are deciding whether to study more or go, another valuable thing to ask is,

“What else could we learn that would make a difference in how we decide vs. today?”

Here’s an example:

I was working with a CEO and his executive team on their strategy when we came to an interesting point in the day about their needing a game-changing initiative.

The group presented their best ideas, and discussed them. We narrowed the list to three really cool ideas.

Then came the big question.

Which is THE one? Where will this team focus and invest to create a dramatic shift in their market?

At this point in the meeting the team was feeling pretty good about the choices, but decided that the next step would be to take these ideas and study them for three weeks and come back with a recommendation of which one to pursue.

Analysis Paralysis?

Why not decide right now?

The team had entered this meeting wanting to get aligned on their strategy and come out with clear actions to implement it. They had already studied these options to prepare for this meeting. Now they were going off for more study.

I asked the question – Why not pick now?  What will you learn in 3 weeks that you don’t know today?  What additional data exists that will give you more insight?

When you think you have reached this point ask yourself these questions:

  • Why am I not deciding now?
  • What additional data is available/knowable?
  • What will be materially different about our decision after more study?

The team realized that in three weeks, they probably would not learn anything materially different than what they already knew. 

So they decided.  They picked one.

Start moving forward

The other cost of study that I mentioned and is often under valued, is the cost of delaying the start of the real work.

In the case of this client, instead of leaving the meeting with a bunch of tasks to study the choices, right there in the meeting we worked on the action plan to get the game changer started. 

We evaluated the stakeholders and adversaries, cataloged resource requirements, and created the list of the first 5 questions to be answered and subsequent decisions to be made. 

We put dates in place for the first draft of the business proposal.  We talked about the timeline and approach for getting employee buy-in. They were moving forward.

Think about how much cost this team saved.

Without a decision, multiple people would have left the room with a task to study for three weeks. That would take a toll on their day job, AND not move the new strategy forward. 

Instead they left with productive tasks to make real forward progress.

Life after Failure

Of course, if you decide before you have all the answers, you can be wrong.

But a mentor of mine once told me something very profound:

Successful companies are the ones that can fund their mistakes.

And you can never know all the answers anyway.

Successful companies are not successful because they do everything right, they are successful because they make mistakes and can keep going, and eventually come up with the winning play.

Think about it this way…

De-risk with Iteration instead of study

If you study for 1 year, then at the 1 year point you put something on the market, you are putting your theoretical best guess into the market 1 year from now.

But if instead you study for 3 months, and then put your first iteration into the market, you will get real feedback on a real offer.

You might have nailed it, or maybe not. But you will learn something real.

Then you can iterate. If you put your next iteration out another 3 months later, you will again have both the benefit of the initial feedback an another chance to get real information based on a real offer.

If you continue this thinking for a year, at that same 1-year point you’ll be much further ahead in your quest to provide a successful offering because…

…you solidified your plans based on real market feedback vs. theoretical information you obtained by study.

By all means, if there is knowable data, budget a time frame and go find it. But if you’ve exhausted the knowable data, even if you feel like you don’t have a clear answer, maybe it’s time to stop studying.

What blocks your team from making decisions and forward progress? contact me if you’d like to talk about it.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.

Patty Azzarello

Patty is available to speak at your company, annual meeting, or customer event. She can also deliver a custom workshop on Leadership or Strategy Execution for your leadership team. Contact Patty.


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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

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