Some thoughts on decision making

Jason Yip
4 min readNov 12, 2022

How decisions are made is more important than who makes them

“Wow, everything about that decision is wrong… but at least we have a clearly accountable decision-maker.”
How decisions are made is more important than who makes them

Higher decision quality is about data, reasoning, insight, perspective, consideration of alternatives, consideration of timing and context, etc. It has nothing to do with who makes the decision.

If a decision is made well, it doesn’t really matter who makes it… except in terms of decision buy-in.

“Decision by consent” over “decision by consensus” or “decision by authority”

Decision by (unilateral) authority tends to lead to low-quality decisions with low buy-in.

Decision by consensus is good for quality and buy-in but tends to take a long time.

Decision by consent is generally the best balance between quality, buy-in, and speed.

Table showing decision approaches and their corresponding quality speed and buy-in assessment. Unilateral authority has low quality, high speed, and low buy-in. Consensus has high quality, low speed, and high buy-in. Consent has high quality, high speed, and high buy-in
Assessing decision approaches for quality, speed, and buy-in

NOTE: Edgar Schein described these and even more alternatives in Process Consultation Revisited

The first question should be “what problem are you trying to solve?”

Decisions in a workplace typically exist within the context of solving a problem.

If the problem is clearly defined, what the decision is, and when it needs to be made, should be obvious.

Leave expensive decisions open until the last responsible moment

“Schedule irreversible decisions for the last responsible moment, that is, the last chance to make the decision before it is too late.”

Mary and Tom Poppendieck, Implementing Lean Software Development

Some decisions are cheap to reverse. These kinds of decisions should be made quickly and changed quickly if needed.

Some decisions are very expensive to reverse. These kinds of decisions should not be made until the last responsible moment so you can maximise the amount of information you have before you make the decision.

Jason Yip

Senior Manager Product Engineering at Grainger. Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean guy. Ex-Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl