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What makes a decision important enough to be worth documenting

Posted on:February 8, 2024

Throughout our days, we make countless decisions in both our personal and professional lives. While documenting decisions can be helpful, not all of them are significant enough to warrant documentation. In my previous posts, I stressed the benefits of documenting important decisions. The key word there is important. Smaller ones may not be worth the effort. But how can we differentiate between the two? Let me share a few ways to help you decide.

A common metaphor to distinguish between critical and non-critical decisions is the idea of one-way and two-way door decisions, which was popularized by Jeff Bezos at Amazon. A one-way door represents a decision that is irreversible, while a two-way door symbolizes a decision that can be reversed. If you’re facing a one-way door, treat it with more weight and think carefully because it’s much harder or even impossible to take back. This metaphor serves as a solid starting point for determining the importance of a decision and whether it warrants documentation.

From a practical standpoint, if you’re on the fence about documenting a decision, it’s better to document it just in case. There’s no harm in doing so, but there could be consequences if you don’t.

Aside from the one-way or two-way door concept, ask yourself what’s at stake and determine the impact of your decision. Consider factors such as the number of people affected or the financial investment required. Establishing guidelines based on these variables can help you decide if documentation is necessary.

Another consideration is the cross-functional nature of the decision. You might be familiar with RASCI (or RACI, or RAPID, or whatever) matrices used to identify various roles in a project or decision-making process. Sometimes, people make decisions without involving all relevant parties. In such cases, documenting the decision becomes even more crucial to ensure everyone is on the same page. If a decision is consequential and you want people to honor it, you can’t expect them to comply if it’s not written down. Along with documentation, giving people a heads up is crucial too – simply documenting the decision isn’t enough.

Another factor to consider when deciding whether to document a decision is the amount of time invested. If your organization has had multiple calls and discussions about an issue, investing significant resources in reaching a conclusion, then it’s probably worth documenting. Similarly, if a decision is non-obvious or not something everyone might agree with or feel aligned with, but you’ve chosen a specific direction, that’s also a sign that documentation might be needed. Perhaps you’re not even sure it’s the right move, but it’s important for everyone to follow it so you can see if it ultimately makes sense.

These are all good indicators that documenting the decision could be beneficial. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and document more often than not. Using these guidelines and general ways of deciding should help you determine when documentation is necessary.