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When should you document a decision

Posted on:February 10, 2024

All right, let’s talk about when to document an important decision. I’m realizing the semantics of “when” can be a bit confusing, but this post will focus on the literal timing of writing things down. If you’re curious about what makes a decision worth documenting, check out this post.

The core answer is simple: the best time to document a decision is as you’re making it. That’s because the decision document serves as an artifact of the overall decision-making process. You can use the document to drive your thinking, facilitate discussion, and communicate the status of the decision. Essentially, the document should mirror the true status of the decision.

When discussions are ongoing, the supporting document should be in draft form. When it’s proposed or under review before approval, its status should reflect that, and the state of the document should align with it. Once a decision has been made, the document should be essentially final and clearly indicate that.

When it comes to these statuses, there isn’t just one way to do this—it depends on your organization and workflows. So, do whatever makes sense for you.

Another reason to document decisions as soon as possible is that details will be fresher in your mind. If you write things down long after making the decision, you risk forgetting crucial aspects and perspectives.

However, we don’t always live in an ideal world—especially in fast-paced companies where things can get messy. So when should you document if you didn’t do it earlier? Honestly, whenever you can. Do it retroactively if necessary; go back and document important decisions that should have been documented. If something slips through the cracks, just go back and do it. It’s better than not having the decision documented at all. You can use points of confusion or questions that arise from not having a document as triggers to start documenting.

So that’s when to document an important decision—either during the process or as soon as possible afterward!