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Why you should document every important decision

Posted on:February 6, 2024

In this second of my series of posts about documenting decisions, I want to discuss why every organization can benefit from diligently recording crucial decisions. Here are seven key reasons.


The foremost reason is transparency. How often are decisions made behind closed doors? By documenting your decisions and making them accessible to those who need to see them, people can follow along and comprehend the decision, who made it, and why. This builds trust across your team and creates a ripple effect of heightened awareness. Individuals won’t need to be part of the conversation or decision-making process to feel included. This transparency will help the entire group make better decisions through awareness of previous ones.


Next up is accountability. Documenting decisions is crucial for accountability because written commitments help everyone understand who made the decision and who is responsible for its outcome. It also clarifies who is affected by the decision, like those who need to carry out or honor it. Accountability is difficult when roles are unclear, so this practice forces identification of responsible parties, allowing everyone to focus less on responsibility and more on doing the work. In a system where nothing is documented, it’s challenging to remember agreements. It’s akin to not being able to improve what you don’t measure or follow what you didn’t write down.

Rationale Clarity

Documenting decisions leads to clearer rationale. Writing things down is known to clarify thinking. If you’re struggling to put something on paper or articulate it effectively, you may not understand it well enough yourself or need to refine your explanation. While speaking can gloss over details, writing exposes any weaknesses in your argument. It helps identify gaps in your reasoning so you can address them. If you’re unable to do that (though most times you will), presenting your thoughts in writing allows others to offer feedback and constructive criticism. By being thoughtful and diligent about documenting decisions, you can more effectively weigh options and evaluate pros and cons.

Having a Historical Record

Maintaining a historical record of decisions is crucial. This history helps everyone understand the current situation and make better decisions moving forward. They’ll know what’s been tried, failed, succeeded, or evolved. New team members can get up to speed faster by referring to past decisions instead of relying on others to explain things. This takes less time and energy from long-time team members, who additionally benefit by not forgetting things in the past. Also, when people leave an organization, they often take knowledge with them. Documenting decisions leaves behind a trail of information that prevents knowledge drain and helps everyone move forward. In situations where high legal and regulatory compliance is a factor, having an audit trail of decisions already set up can be incredibly helpful.

Policy Consistency

Another advantage of properly documenting decisions is policy consistency. A standard practice creates an expectation that everyone knows how to make important choices in a standard manner. Shared practices keep people in sync and prevent conflicts that arise when team members have different approaches. Having a clear process for decision-making ensures that everyone knows what is expected when introducing new ideas or reconsidering previous ones. In cases where a decision is rejected or changed, the path to reaching whatever conclusion is familiar. People don’t feel as cheated when expectations are set and norms are followed.

Time Savings

We already touched on the time saved both as a new member of the team, or the people doing the onboarding. But also, how much time is lost by constantly re-hashing decisions that have already been made? It’s a rampant problem in a lot of organizations, and it’s often not people’s fault. How would they know that something had already been discussed and reviewed if it’s not written down? And how many bad decisions are made, where the ideas weren’t clarified through writing and able to be reviewed by others, led to a huge amount of wasted time and money? A lot!

Learning and Improvement

All of this leads to learning and getting better. With clear documents outlining what the thinking was all along the way, you can truly grasp the essence of how to improve things and build upon previous ideas. An organization will have a means to learn over time what traps it fell into and why, and rather than repeating the same mistakes, learn how to avoid them. This is obviously critical for any organization looking to grow over time, but without writing things down along the way, many things are lost.

I hope I’ve convinced you by now that documenting important decisions is crucial.

Next up, we’ll talk about why people don’t document their decisions.