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The Mystery of The Proposal Killer

Picture this:

The team had worked hard to get their decision proposal in time to the board meeting. Their proposal was to invest 5 million euros in a new digital platform that they believed would offer return to investment in two years. The board met, the proposal champion made her pitch, and the board’s decision was eagerly awaited.

“How did it go?”, the team asked the board. “Well, we’re sorry but this decision is postponed. We didn’t have enough time for this – but our next meeting will be in three months!”

Three months later the board meets again – but during the wait a takeover bid has emerged and it needs the board’s full attention. Again: no decision about the great new digital platform.

So, the decision proposal is dead – but whodunnit?

Proposal autopsy

Let’s start with an autopsy of the decision proposal:


A healthy proposal, like any other communication material, should answer the questions: why, what, how, and what next.

Well, the team did answer these questions. They made a solid business case explaining what benefits will be gained over time. They studied alternative solutions, evaluated them and presented a summary which solution to take with reasoning why platform A is better than B or C. They provided a detailed project plan, identified critical resources and worked out an organizational change management approach, so that all was clear to start executing the plan. Everybody was motivated to start running, the vendor was signaled they would be ready to start next Monday if the plan got a green light, and the kickoff event invitation was ready to go out.

So, it was a proposal in good health, with no evidence of what killed it.

Motive then? Who had an interest to kill a proposal that would generate a positive cashflow already after two years?


Opportunity? Everybody involved had an alibi: some were waiting for the decision, some were preparing new decisions, and some where taking other decisions.


Did the proposal then die of a natural cause?

That seems the most likely cause of decision death.

Company hierarchies push information upwards, and more and more information from the outside world is pushing in. The decision-makers at the top get overwhelmed: they have too many decisions to make, too much information to factor in, and a growing backlog of previous unmade decisions. While everything else is speeding up, decision-making slows down. In an environment with information overflow, decision proposals have difficulties to survive.


How to avoid the Proposal Killer

The antidotes to this information overload are context and meaning.

If all stakeholders had understood better the context of the digital platform proposal, perhaps the proposal would not have been made in the first place. That there were so many other things to decide on could have been an indication that development resources were already overloaded, so yet another project would have not succeeded anyway.

Perhaps if the overall business context was understood better, the takeover bid would not have been a surprise.

Maybe the board did not understand the full meaning of the proposal: they either did not believe the business case or they did not realize that waiting for three months had an opportunity cost of about of about 100 000 euros per month. The cost of doing nothing, or the consideration of what else to do with 5 million euros euro was not discussed.

To avoid an early death of your decision proposal, make sure you are aware of the context where this decision is going to be made, and make sure that the meaning of your proposal is well communicated.


About the author:

Menno Huijben is a Senior Executive at Sofigate and a concept owner of Business Technology Transformations and Data Leadership.

Menno is interested in the realm of decision-making in business, especially where data-driven meets intuition and experience. His motto is ” Don’t forget the Human Factor “