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Chapter 11 - Make smarter decisions

Decide faster, yet take enough time to get things just right.

Forget acronyms – go with a decision-making process

Let’s enhance the previous chapter on the “Pyramid of Communication” and get very practical. Below, you won’t find any smart (or S.M.A.R.T.) acronyms, but a pretty straightforward decision-making process that we follow in my team. I’ll explain it first and later I’ll follow up with two real-world examples.

People should be empowered to make small decisions

Micromanagement is a thing of the past. At least, it should be in all modern teams. After all, each team member is an expert in their field, and whenever they see something they can change or improve, they should just go with their gut and do it.

They should follow this simple rule:

Don’t ask for permission – ask for forgiveness!

Small decisions have small consequences, so even if people make a mistake or two while deciding on their own, these are usually easy fixes. I always explain to our new hires that they won’t be fired for making mistakes – they’ll be fired for not moving forward fast enough, for not shipping things, for not delivering value.

Bigger decisions should be done deliberately

By “bigger decisions,” I mean things that require involvement of more people – either by participating in the process of deciding or being impacted by the decision. Such decisions shouldn’t be made on a whim, but on the other hand, a modern team cannot lose too much time waiting until someone finally decides one way or the other. For this, we have a process that was partially outlined in previous chapters of this book, but let me recap it for you here.

Just follow a simple 5-step decision-making process

First, identify the problem you’re trying to solve, then take your time to think, research and come up with a solution. Next, write up the solution for yourself and others on the team. After that, discuss it at your next weekly meeting and either revise it or move to implementation.

Pretty easy, right? Let me break it down for you with an example. Here’s how we implement a new feature in our app:

Step 1. Identify the problem

After talking to some customers and listening to their stories, I realized they needed a particular problem solved in our Nozbe Teams app.

Instead of writing to our VP of Product saying, “Hey, we need this feature in Nozbe Teams!”, I create a task for this problem in our “Nozbe Teams Design” project and schedule a few hours the next day to think about it and come up with a solution.

Step 2. Research and come up with a solution

Now, it’s time to do some research. I’d ordinarily do a mix of the following things:

– Audit past tasks and documents to see if we’ve already tried to approach this problem before. – Research how other companies are dealing with similar situations. – Find some books or articles on the subject. – Watch some helpful videos on YouTube. – Ask some teammates for their thoughts by mentioning them in the comment to my task.

It’s important to take the time to do proper research. I give myself at least two hours to do the initial study. And based on my gut, I then decide how much more time I need for this.

Step 3. Write it up for myself and everyone else

Now, it’s time to write it up. As I know that the next “design meeting” is on Tuesday, by Monday evening at the latest, I write up a proposed solution to the problem in a Dropbox Paper document. Once I’m done, I update the task in Nozbe Teams and move it to our “next meeting agenda” section to show everyone that I want my topic to be discussed in the next meeting.

I design my write up in such a way that people can post their comments on Tuesday morning ahead of the meeting. This way, the discussions are happening before we even meet and many issues can be addressed early on.

Step 4. Discuss the solution in a meeting

Once the meeting has started, everyone in the room (or “virtual room,” in our case) has already learned about the problem, read the solution and usually also posted their initial reactions in the comments.

That’s why I don’t spend time presenting the solution – instead, we dive right into the nuances of and issues with my solution. In Chapter 8, I explained how we talk, discuss, argue and fight in our meetings, and how we eventually reach a conclusion.

Step 5. Make the decision

With this whole process, the goal is to reach one of three outcomes:

– Move to implement the proposed solution. – Take one more week to review the feedback and discuss the revised solution next time we meet. – Completely discard the solution and make a task for the future to approach the problem differently.

That’s it. The decision comes down to these three options. Sometimes the solution is really straightforward, and after little debate, it goes to implementation unchanged or with a few tweaks. Other times, we just need one more week. There’s lots of feedback given, so the person proposing the solution must digest it, incorporate it and present a revised solution the following week. However, there are times when we decide the problem identified is not really that big of a deal or that the solution that we came up with is not something we’d be proud of or it’s just too early for the discussion, so we discard it entirely for now.

Why take a few days to make a decision?

As a team with a strong bias towards action, it’s sometimes hard for us to wait for the next weekly meeting to discuss a solution. We’re a small, agile, nimble and smart team, so why not just do it?

Not so fast.

What we’ve found out is that with most decision-making, taking a few days to review, analyze and ask for feedback is not really a big deal – and it makes a decision much better.

Go with your gut with small decisions, but take a few days for bigger ones.

This is when having regular and optional weekly meetings makes so much sense. Instead of deciding on something today, I know I can take a few moments to analyze, think more, write it up, get feedback and discuss it at the next week’s meeting. The decision will be delayed by a few days. but it will allow for an improved decision.

Very often these few days make all the difference. You have the time to identify additional context and gather more information. That being said, it’s a week’s delay tops. This prevents you from dwelling on the decision for too long and reaching a so-called analysis paralysis1.

How to implement a decision in a smarter way

OK, let’s say you’ve gone through all 5 steps of this decision-making process and you’re still unsure. You’re almost ready to run with a decision, but you still have some doubts. Maybe it’s not right? Maybe it’s too early? Maybe there’s a better way? Luckily, we have a few tricks up our sleeve that we’ve successfully used in such situations to help us move forward.

The “cheapo” way is the best way

The definition of “cheap” in the dictionary stands for inexpensive and of poor quality, which is exactly what we’re aiming for here. If we’re not sure about a decision but we want to try to see how it feels, what we do is figure out the “cheapest way” to get it done. Without much overhead, with minimum design… we just implement it and live with the decision like this. When we see that we already like the decision done in a “cheapo” way, we then move forward with the full-blown implementation.

In our products, we very often just add a feature without announcing it to customers. We observe if they notice it at all, if they use it, if they report back to us how much they like it but feel it could be improved.

Limit the impact to just few people

When we’re unsure about a decision, we limit how many people it affects. In our products, especially in Nozbe Teams, we release a new feature to our team only. We call it “Dogfooding”2.

When we introduce a new policy in our company, we very often limit it at first to just a few people or to a department to see its impact. We then gather feedback and only later roll it out to the entire team.

This practice is very common in marketing activities. Savvy marketers first try out an ad on a smaller target group and measure its impact. After initial tests, they roll out the ad to larger groups of prospects.

Set a date to review, because decisions are not set in stone

We assume that each decision is temporary. Very often after committing to a decision, we set a date for a “revision meeting” set two or three months in the future to review the decision.

In such meetings, we analyze what went “OK,” what was “not OK” and what needs improvement. We usually do it through a virtual video conference meeting, where the host of the meeting shares a screen with a mind map of all these points visible to everyone. They update the mind map as feedback is given. After such a meeting, the host writes up their conclusions and suggestions for the future.

The one thing: take just enough time to make a decision!

It’s a good idea to take a little time to make a bigger decision because we as humans tend to make too many rushed decisions. Just follow the 5-step process outlined above and don’t be afraid to implement something in a cheapo way.

Parts of our process are inspired by Ryan Singer’s Shape Up book3, so I recommend you read it too.

  1. What’s analysis paralysis? 

  2. Dogfooding, or eating our dog food 

  3. Ryan Singer’s book is free to read online: Shape Up 

Next: Chapter 12 - Eliminate waste

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