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Why people don't document their decisions

Posted on:February 7, 2024

In my last post, I explained why documenting important decisions is crucial for any organization. However, in my experience, many people haven’t adopted this practice. While I can’t be certain why it’s not embraced everywhere, I have some suspicions as to why this might be the case.

A lack of exposure and internalization of the benefits

Some people may not have been exposed to the idea of documenting decisions. It’s not a practice followed by every organization, and if you haven’t come across it, it might not even occur to you to do it. Without exposure to the concept, you probably haven’t thought about its importance and internalized the reasons for doing so.

Unclear how

It might be unclear how to document decisions effectively, especially if it’s new to you or your organization. We’ll dive into that in a later post, but if the tactics are unclear, that could be another barrier preventing people from adopting this practice.

No critical mass

Another reason could be the lack of critical mass within an organization. Perhaps someone wants to start documenting decisions but feels like it won’t make much of a difference because no one else is doing it or the team is set in its ways. In this case, I still believe it’s worthwhile to try building this practice even if you’re the only one doing it. However, I understand why some may hesitate.

No enforcement

There could be an issue of enforcement. Without any consequences or an organization-wide understanding that this is expected, people might just not bother.

Time and effort

Perhaps most significantly, documenting decisions takes time and effort. Many people believe their energy would be better spent elsewhere – a notion I disagree with. Some may view documentation as the opposite of productivity or akin to bureaucracy and avoid it for that reason. This mindset is misguided and often stems from laziness or a lack of introspection. Writing is challenging and not everyone’s strength. A lot of people would rather play to theirs.

Not beneficial depending on motives

Lastly, if we want to be cynical for a moment, it might not be in everyone’s interests to prioritize clarity, clear accountability, fairness, and transparency. It certainly would for anyone I want to work with, but for various reasons, others may not have an interest in those team-wide benefits.

So that’s it: those are the primary reasons that I think people wouldn’t adopt the norm of decision documentation. There might be other reasons I haven’t considered, and I’d love to hear why others think their organization or certain individuals haven’t embraced such practices.

The next posts will focus on heuristics for when a decision is worth documenting, and the actual tactics.