I'd never specifically thought of the idea of "options" until I discovered the concept in lean and agile writings. Now, I find the concept keeps popping up all over the place. For instance,
- One of my best friends, a mature student and, like myself, another Kiwi living in Scotland, is nearing the end of his Open University training (2 software courses, 1 database course, all very very very high marks. Now looking for a job in the real world - if you know anyone that might be interested, in the UK or New Zealand, then please email me) and he is now planning how to find a job.
- He wants to stay in Scotland, preferably, or the UK quite happily, but we both think it will be harder for him to find a trainee/graduate job here (compared to a local) so he's also considering returning to New Zealand and looking for work there. That's two options to start with. He's exploring both at the same time. But not making any decisions until he has to.
- Returning to NZ is risky because he has been supporting his study by working minimum wage jobs and the flight alone will wipe out his savings. So, keeping his options open again, he's finding out if he can cross-credit his OU courses to a NZ degree that he can start soon after returning (and where, as a mature student, he'll get a reasonable government grant) AND he's also preparing to email his CV to recruitment agencies several months before he will return. If, after a certain date, he doesn't get a UK job, then he'll enrol in the university course. And, if if he gets a job in the UK or NZ before the course starts then he'll forfeit the enrolment fee (which is feck-all).
- Then after another date, if he still doesn't have a UK job he'll book his flights. If he's got any sense he'll pay slightly more for a flexible ticket so that he can keep his options open.
I'm taking a similar approach with my own situation: (1) I've been approached about a potential dream job (I giggle when I think about it) in the US, but that's not yet certain, and since my wife probably can't work there it could mean a big income drop for us on top of being very remote from her family; (2) I'm planning to write an "agile" book (but don't tell anyone because I might not yet - it is only an option. If I do it'll probably be a Goldratt-style novel, so if you want a bit-part give me a yell) which I can do as I progress the US dream job application; and if after a few weeks I realise that I'm not good at writing books then I'll either (3) hand over my story-line to an author friend and pay him to turn it into a novel or (4) find an ordinary contract job as an analyst, since the market is looking pretty good. Probably, I'll end up cleaning peoples windscreens at traffic lights.
If you don't think about your decisions as a series of options then it's so so tempting to pick a solution and run with it just to avoid the ambiguity and scariness of the situation. After all, action and decisiveness feels good. But, the beauty of the "options" approach is that for a small price you literally "keep your options" open so that you can make the best decision as late as possible - and then you actually have less ambiguity, higher odds of making the best decision, and lot's of fall back positions just in case.
Thats why I hate so much forcing our customers to put a stake in the concrete early on in our software projects. If, instead we worked in small increments, where the cost of changing stuff that hasn't already started is virtually free then we can keep our options open until the last minute, keep our customers thrilled, learn as we go, and - hopefully - make lots more money in the process.