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The happy path to pragmatic decisions about low-hanging fruit...

We've probably all been there, involved in change and trying to get things prioritised.

There are three common phrases that we frequently hear:

  • Work to the happy path

  • Pick the low-hanging fruit

  • Be pragmatic

Sound advice or a perilous descent?

Work to the happy path

Sounds good, doesn't it? We all seek happiness, don't we?

But is working the happy path destined to bring success?

The good thing about the happy path is that we have a clear target that has had the distractions of 'edge-cases' and low revenue removed.

The bad thing about following only the happy path is that when things don't meet our expectations we have to deal with them or suffer potential revenue drops.

We know that our lives have both light and shade; so it will be with the changes that we create.

Pick the low-hanging fruit

Said quickly this sounds like good advice, too. But all too often when we pick the low-hanging fruit we choose to do the easy stuff; even though we know that there is harder stuff to do, we focus on and celebrate the small stuff and can be distracted from the big stuff. If we spend too long congratulating ourselves we can start to almost celebrate mediocrity and miss the opportunity to approach the things that will make the major difference. If we get used to modelling on the basis of the low-hanging fruit we can potentially end up with 400% more work to do to get to the end point that we actually need

Be pragmatic

Pragmatism as practiced by many seems to be to follow gut instinct and to challenge reason. Making quick decisions to keep things moving; looking at the short-term. I'd prefer to call this reductionalism rather than pragmatism

However, pragmatism as defined is quite different to that, PHILOSOPHY

an approach that evaluates theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.

Pareto principle 101 - 80% of the benefit for 20% of the effort - so for many, pragmatism in its reductionalist nature could be said to be accepting that 80% is good enough - that's possibly fine for one singular 'pragmatic' decision in the scope of delivering a change - let's call that 1 Pareto.

Then another decision needs to be made and we get 80% of the benefit expected from that 1st Pareto - that takes us down to 64% of the benefit by the time we have reached the 2nd Pareto. Something else happens and we need to make a 3rd 'pragmatic' decision - we're potentially down to 51.2% of the original expected benefit. Doesn't sound too great - it certainly doesn't sound like successful practical application

How about a different way of looking at these?

Protect the happy path

Know where the edges of the happy path are and make sure you know what you need to do if you are at risk of crossing them. Staying on track means knowing that you have the countermeasures in place for when the happy path is lost.

Reap what you sow

Have a plan to harvest all of it, don't focus too closely on the low-hanging fruit; perhaps know where it is and keep it in mind for when the going gets tough(er). But always plan to get the maximum benefits

Be practical

It might not be easy to assess the impact of decisions, but always be willing to challenge the pragmatic decision for its potential risk to benefits. Take the time to think and ensure that reductionalist pragmatism isn't automatic - it shouldn't be the reflex response to difficulty. By definition, you can't be pragmatic all of the time.

This may fly in the face of some conventional thinking; that's fine as it is worth the slight increase in effort to be practical, to protect the happy path and to reap what is sown, harvesting the best mix of benefits that can be developed.

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