You will make tens of thousands of decisions in your career but not all decisions should be treated equally. Learning to use the right decision making approach can result in better decisions, improved team health, and greater speed of delivery.
Below are seven ways you can go about making a decision. You can use them in your everyday work but it’s helpful to get alignment from others that the decision making approach is well suited for the decision in front of you. Each decision making approach has tradeoffs that I have tried to capture in the spectrum below. Factors to consider when choosing an approach are:
1. How much time do you have?
2. Is the decision high risk?
3. Does the decision require special high context and high speciality?
Deciding by unanimity means that everyone required to make the decision agrees with the proposed solution and is happy to support it. This is the hardest and longest form of decision making to achieve and should only be considered if the decision is a very important / high risk strategic decision that will have significant impact on other decisions that must be made by the team.
When deciding by unanimity it’s helpful to use agreement scales.
If the majority is in support of the proposal and you have only a few not in support, it’ll be important to understand what specifically about the proposal is resulting in their level 1-2 agreement. Bringing them up to a 3+ may just be a some massaging of the proposal. More efforts will be required to align a set of disagreements.
Unanimity is not consensus because it is absolute agreement, not general agreement.
|Everyone feels ownership over the decision||Takes time to make the decision|
|Everyone will be committed to follow through||Decision takes path of least resistance|
|Everyone learns much more through the process of deciding||Implementation can take much longer|
Consent (Disagree and commit)
Similar to unanimity, consent based decisions require absoluteness, however instead of agreement, we seek lack of dissent. When no one required to make the decision objects to it, the proposal is accepted.
Any proposal starts with forming a shared understanding of each aspect of the decision. When you’ve achieved this, ask the group if there are any objections and if so, to explain the objection. Often times the objection will be something that can improve the proposal through some modification. Other times you wont be able to modify the proposal in a way that changes the persons mind. If you get to the point where you have a single set of stakeholders objecting it can help to try another scale that I like to call the “Number of F##ks” scale.
Like pain test, ask the person objecting how many F’s they give about this on a scale from 1-5. If they give 2 F’s and you as the proposer give 5, then the objection is something small that if unpacked may actually be something that is easy to align on and get consent.
Majority / Supermajority
Majority based decisions are democratic in nature and require a set threshold of decision makers to agree to the proposal for it to become the decision. These decisions are rare but can be found in committee based decision making. A majority requires 51% or more of decision makers to agree, a supermajority requires 75% of decision makers to agree. Decisions that are put to a vote and use a majority are quite fast compared to consent and unanimity however they do create a win-lose scenario that leaves the minority frustrated and potentially unmotivated to follow through. They also assume that everyone involved in the decision has the necessary expertise and context to have the equivalent decision making weight as their peers.
The biggest critique of the first three methods are that they turn into bureaucratic “design by committee”. That is to say all your decisions become low risk paths of least resistance that are acceptable to the lowest common denominator.
|Clear final decision||Frustrated minority with lack of ownership|
|Variety of perspective||Decisions can be influenced by loudest voice or reporting lines|
Product Person Decides after discussion
As the product person you sometimes have to make hard decisions that in the end you may in the best position to make. Especially true if the decision requires market insight or business context that other functions on your team may not have. In this form of decision making it’s important to clearly layout the decision you need to make and the factors contributing to it. Gather more insight into factors you may not have considered and ask for help your others to understand the relative weight of those factors. If needed, see if consensus exists but let the team know that this decision will ultimately be made outside of the group and it may conflict with consensus.
It’s very important that in this form of decision making everyone feels heard. Since you will be making a decision that may have dissent, its important that your team has high trust in you, and that they feel like you took their feedback into account when making the decision.
|Quick decisions||Can alienate others in the decision|
|Decision leverages skill and high context and||Making the wrong decision is ultimately your fault (failure is how we learn)|
Product Person decides without discussion
Not every decision you make requires discussion. You will make many decisions every day and sometimes the best way to make them is to act and spare others from the cognitive load of the decision. An easy example is when to book a group meeting, or who to include in a call. These decisions are low risk, should be low bandwidth and should follow the motto of ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
Knowing when you are not the best person to make a decision is empowering. Its empowers you to make other decisions, and it empowers the delegate to make decision they otherwise would not have. You should delegate a decision if its outside of your functional skill set. Consider also delegating if it will take you too much time to gain the necessary context to make it and you trust someone else on the team with that context. Finally, consider delegation if you want to help others grow by making decisions that are not deal breakers if they pick the wring approach.
|Empowers both parties||Can be used to avoid difficult decisions|
|Helps the delegate grow|
|Decision has high context|
Escalations are unavoidable and you’ll need to use this on occasion. It happens when the decision has impact above your product feature or area and on large areas of the product or business.
The trick with escalation are to know WHEN and HOW to perform them.
You should consider escalating a decision if any of the following are true:
- The decision will affect a functional group that you don’t work with on a daily basis
- The decision will have a cascading affect and other horizontal groups will be impacted
- The decision has dependencies and needs other groups to help you implement the proposal.
- Your reporting line has ownership over a set of metrics that can be impacted by your decision.
- Your group does not have the necessary skills or context to make the decision.
When escalating, try to format the escalation by answering these questions.
- What do you want to do?
- Why do you want to do it?
- What is the outcome of doing it?
- What approaches can we take?
- Which do you recommend?
Escalations can take time but can be accelerated by clearly articulating your ask this way. It could also be very helpful to use a different decision making approach to inform the recommendation in the escalation.
Happy decision making!