Making decisions faster

Many product development organizations focus more on eliminating the waste of idle workers than on the waste of idle work. […] We are acutely aware that finding the bottlenecks in the flow of work and focusing our efforts on eliminating them is a far more economically sensible activity than trying to keep everyone 100% busy.

Kenny Rubin in Essential Scrum

Removing barriers to shipping is still the secret to velocity.

Kellan Elliott-McCrea

I hate slow decisions. I admit that part of my hatred is an aspect of my personality; I just like to move fast. The larger problem is that indecision is a productivity killer. Indecision causes idle work. And fixing it doesn’t require brilliance or 18-hour days. It simply requires making decisions.

I recently spoke with our team at Managed by Q about how to make decisions happen more quickly:

  • Ensure that roles are clear. It should be clear who needs to be involved in a decision, and it should also be clear what role they need to play. Can they veto the decision? Do they only need to be consulted? Or do they simply need to be informed. Decision frameworks like RACI have good guidance on how to define decision roles.
  • “Get in sync” on the relevant information. In Principles, Ray Dalio talks about the importance of “getting in sync” before making a decision. He defines getting in sync as trying “to attain alignment consciously, continually, and systematically.” Everyone involved in a decision should have the same understanding of facts and of each other’s positions. Getting in sync doesn’t require that everyone gets to agreement — but they need to understand their points of disagreement.
  • If you’re responsible for the decision, make it before the last responsible moment. There’s a tendency to delay decisions until you’re fully confident. But, as most important decisions are reversible, that’s too generally too long to wait. Colin Powell’s 40–70 rule helps here. If you have less than 40% of the information you need, you are bound to make a bad decision. If you have more than 70%, you’ve probably waited too long.
  • If you’re not responsible for the decision, make sure the right person knows they are responsible. It helps to ask, “Who owns the decision here?”
  • Don’t fear escalation. People fear escalation — the process of appealing a decision with someone’s boss — because it can seem like a vote of no confidence. It’s actually just a tool to make a decision happen faster. I can accelerate controversial decisions by making a call and inviting someone who disagrees with me to escalate to my boss. It’s a faster route than trying to please everyone, which rarely ever works.

Making decisions quickly is one of the cheapest productivity tricks I know. It requires getting comfortable with disagreement, but it’s a great way to boost a team’s morale and to improve output.