Good decisions / Bad decisions

I wrote this for a previous team a while ago. It borrows heavily from Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager and many other people much smarter than me. I forgot about, found it, and figured I’d share it in case it’s helpful…

Photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash

Making better decisions

A GOOD decision maker anticipates high impact decisions early in any new endeavour, and creates the space and time to make good decisions in their plans. A BAD decision maker doesn’t recognise or understand the consequences of the decision that they need to make, and rushes or runs out of time to make good high impact decisions.

A GOOD decision maker matches the effort to make a decision with the impact of the decision. A GOOD decision maker isn’t afraid to make a quick decision when it is easily reversible. A BAD decision maker spends too much time on decisions that have a small impact and not enough time on the decisions that will have a big impact.

A GOOD decision maker makes decision based on the impact to customers, the business, partners and internal teams. A BAD decision maker ignores one or more of those groups. A BAD decision maker makes decisions solely based on what will keep more senior people happy, or advance their own career.

A GOOD decision maker will change their decision when new input is received. A BAD decision maker will stick to their guns despite new evidence that may allow for a better decision.

A GOOD decision maker is aware of their own emotional state and biases when making decisions, and will delay a decision if they feel they are reacting emotionally rather than rationally. A BAD decision maker reacts emotionally without reflection or understanding what’s driving their emotional reaction, and proceeds anyway.

A GOOD decision maker will gather and filter a broad range of perspectives and data points before making a decision. A GOOD decision maker solicits the appropriate input to ensure that a decision is being made with a holistic view of the impact that decision will make. A BAD decision maker makes decisions in isolation that have knock on impacts to other parts of the business without consultation or understanding.

A GOOD decision maker understands perfect data is rare and they will be judicious in how much data they need to decide based on the importance of the decision. A GOOD decision maker will realised when there’s easily obtainable data that will improve the quality of the decision. A BAD decision maker will either delay making a decision until they have perfect data, or will only use the data already available, irrespective of whether that data is appropriate or sufficient.

A GOOD decision maker isn’t afraid of robust disagreements and discussions that involve different perspectives. A GOOD decision maker will advocate for their opinion while being open to other perspectives. A GOOD decision maker will support a decision that they don’t agree with if that is the agreed path forward. A BAD decision maker avoids confrontation or ignores perspectives they disagree with. A BAD decision maker battles other perspectives based on emotions and escalates disagreement instead of understanding. A BAD decision maker continues to challenge a decision after agreeing to disagree.

A GOOD decision maker continually moves the conversation around the decision forward. A BAD decision maker continually revisits prior discussions without adding anything new.

A GOOD decision maker keeps an open mind until a decision is required, allowing new information to be presented. A GOOD decision maker communicates the status of a decision to people who are impacted by the decision throughout the decision making process.

A GOOD decision maker checks in for approval with relevant people when a controversial or high impact decision is made. A BAD decision maker will rush a big decision, and run out of time to consult more broadly before the decision needs to be made.

High impact decisions

A GOOD decision maker recognises that high impact decisions usually have one or more of these characteristics:

  • Difficult/impossible to change once you’ve implemented them (non reversible)
  • Have a non trivial cost implication
  • Lower customer trust in our brand / break a promise we’ve made
  • Prevent customers/partners/suppliers access to a service they desire
  • Impact multiple teams or other initiatives

Escalating decisions for approval

A GOOD decision maker escalates when:

  • It is a high impact decision
  • They have not made this kind of decision before
  • They feel uncomfortable/nervous making the decision
  • Their manager would be surprised to find out they were making the decision
  • They do not feel like you are the best person in the company to make that decision
  • They have made this kind of decision before, but the decision was overturned at a later point in time
  • They have only considered their perspective and don’t know if it affects other people

A GOOD decision maker seeks approval for a recommendation rather than asking for a decision without a recommendation. A GOOD decision maker succinctly explains the options they considered and why they dismissed other options. A GOOD decision maker makes it easy for a senior to agree/disagree with their recommendation quickly. A GOOD decision maker identifies the tradeoffs between underlying tensions in any chosen option. A BAD decision maker presents a decision as final with no context as to why that option has been chosen, and makes the senior do the work to understand the situation.

Getting alignment on decisions

A reliable way for achieving buy in on high impact decisions:

  • Start with a view point. Have an opinion, and formulate a recommendation
  • Do your research to validate your view point
  • Adjust your decision if you need to
  • Get peer feedback — discuss with those closest to you first, but try to get representation from all teams impacted
  • Adjust your decision if you need to
  • Outline the options — include reasoning of why you didn’t go for the other options
  • Expand your circle to get input from all stakeholders before presenting to leadership
  • Present to leadership as simply as possible — rarely should anything require more than a page

Developing decision making skills

Decision makers get better at making decisions by:

  1. Trying to understand different perspectives on decisions they disagree with
  2. Reflecting on the decisions they have made and how they could have made them differently
  3. Developing relationships with people in other parts of the business and understanding their perspective and what they care about
  4. Challenging their own decisions, and probing their own biases
  5. Using the following questions to interrogate logic/rationales/discussion:
  • Go / NoGo. Do we need to talk about this?
  • Clarification. What do you mean?
  • Assumptions. What are we assuming?
  • Basic Critical Question. How do we know this is true?
  • Causes. What’s causing this?
  • Effects. What will be the effects?
  • Action. What should be done?

Product person. Current infatuations — leadership, data and decision making

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