The best way to improve is to record your thinking process and review your outcomes.
The main job of leadership teams is to make decisions for the company. Teams that make more efficient decisions will win. It will allow them to quickly respond to issues and take advantage of opportunities. It will also expose more impactful issues that will drive strategic growth and transformation.
One of the best ways to learn how your decision-making process is affecting your outcomes is to keep a decision-making journal as a team. This captures the thinking, analysis, assumptions, and criteria you used to make decisions. By reflecting on this later, after you know the outcomes, you can find ways to improve your process.
Here are a few things I suggest to include in your journal to capture the key insights and maximize your learning.
1. Formalize Your Process
First, define your decision-making process. You can’t improve on something that isn’t well-defined. What steps do you take to make a decision currently? If you don’t have a process, just record what you do during your next decisions and use that as your working model. Then you can evaluate what worked and what didn’t and make changes for the future.
For example, if you had a cost overrun because you forgot to budget for legal fees to review the contract, make sure this in on your checklist going forward.
2. Take Notes on Your Thinking and Rationale
While you’re making your decisions, it is important to capture your thinking rationale, and assumptions. Did your team consider an option but then reject it? Make a note on what it was and why. I also capture all of the brainstorming notes and photos to review later.
Most people are overly optimistic by nature. By tracking estimates and actuals for time and budget estimates you create feedback that can be used to make better estimates in the future.
3. Document the Options You Considered but Didn’t Take
One of the best things you can do to improve your decision-making is to generate more options. Most teams come up with two or three options and then decide. Better teams spend time coming up with more options and then spend time developing them further into novel solutions.
Capture the ideas you generated and what you toss aside and what you developed. Often times I see ideas that the team disregarded that ended up being great ideas in retrospect. A journal can help you understand what thinking lead to missing that option and how you might do it differently in the future.
4. Define the Criteria You Used to Make Your Decisions
Before you begin the debate, discuss and agree on what will make the best outcome. Decide what your boundaries and priorities are for a final solution. Do you have a budget or time limit? Is quality more important than quantity? What tradeoffs are you willing to make? Determine these factors before you start.
Then, record the information in your journal and discuss how you’ve evaluated your options based on those factors. Later, when you review your journal, this will help you see if you missed important criteria or if you misjudged the ability to meet them.
5. Capture the Data You Had and Where You Got It
Many decisions are based on the data collected and analyzed. The challenge is that good data can be hard to come by and difficult to assess in the heat of the moment. By recording the available data and the conclusions and decisions you made from it, you capture the context at the time.
Too often I see teams look back on a decision but use their current informational context to evaluate it. This skews the evaluation and can lead a team to miss key insights. You need to assess the decision you made within the context of the information you had at the time, not the information you have now.
6. Record Your Assumptions and Certainty Levels
Many times decisions go south because the team made assumptions about what was or was not true, likely, or possible. However, if you don’t capture those assumptions, you won’t be able to compare them to real outcomes and learn what you can safely assume going forward.
While you can’t always capture all of this data, choosing a few key decisions to document your process, thinking, and data will be extremely helpful in reviewing your outcomes and evaluating your effectiveness. Teams that get this right will dramatically accelerate their learning and their results.
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