4 Ways Portfolio Roadmap Views Help Directors Keep the End in Mind
No man—or product—is an island. Everything exists within a larger context and must fit into a bigger picture. But when it comes to product...
Nothing slows down progress like indecision. When a lone individual is responsible for making a decision, they may stall, worrying about the consequences of making the wrong decision. But when your organization has to scale decision making, the formula is far more complicated and the process can take much longer.
But, organizations must make decisions all the time. And product management—as the hub where many parts of the company intersect—makes many big decisions. Given that a product manager has more to do than simply facilitate deliberations and prod people toward an outcome, many organizations turn to scalable decision-making frameworks. If used effectively, this can help ensure decisions are made as quickly as possible; without cutting corners or missing the input of stakeholders.
“Ultimately, a company’s value is no more (and no less) than the sum of the decisions it makes and executes,” explain Michael Mankins and Paul Rogers of Bain & Company. “Its assets, capabilities, and structure are useless unless executives and managers throughout the organization make the essential decisions and get those decisions right more often than not.”
With so much riding on the choices companies make and so many individuals tasked with making those decisions, a predefined method for reaching consensus can greatly improve an organization’s efficiency and interpersonal dynamics while also ensuring the ideal outcome.
Scalable decision-making frameworks help teams maintain momentum. They help teams reach consensus faster by removing potential points of friction related to ambiguity around ownership. When properly defined and adopted, decision-making frameworks ensure everyone knows exactly what their role is in the decision making process.
Defined processes for making decisions as a team ensure the questions about roles and responsibilities are addressed during the process definition phase and the kick-off of any particular project. This means there’s no mystery about who should be doing what.
Decisions made in a vacuum can suffer from a lack of context as they don’t take advantage of the strengths and perspectives of an organization’s individuals. Using a set process ensures knowledge gaps are closed by soliciting input from those with relevant information, understanding all potential consequences of a decision once it’s made, and getting everyone aligned regarding why a decision was made and what needs to happen next.
As teams and companies grow, silos form and different groups start doing things their own way. While that’s not always a problem, when it comes to big decisions it’s important that they are all made with full consideration of their impact and leveraging all of the resources and institutional knowledge available.
A scalable decision-making framework can create some guidelines to guarantee everyone is properly informed and consulted while bestowing final decision-making authority to the appropriate people.
Decisions are important, but everyone has other things they need to do, too. With a scalable model for decision making, team members will spend less time deliberating and more time executing, without sacrificing strategic thinking.
Although this might be a little “Attack of the Acronyms”, there are a variety of ways an organization can simplify the decision making ordeal with a well-defined process. Here are some of the popular scalable decision-making frameworks:
DACI is a scalable, collaborative decision-making framework. It was specifically devised to help groups quickly make a decision. DACI stands for Driver, Approver, Contributors, and Informed. This speedy process starts by deciding who should fill each of these roles for the decision at hand:
After spending about ten minutes defining the roles, it’s time to create an action plan, answering questions like when must the decision must be made, why you’re deciding something, and what the current situation is. For each option being considered, you’ll want to call out the pluses and minuses of each choice, as well as any potential risks or trade-offs that come with it.
Next, the Contributors have their chance to provide any additional relevant information, at the prodding of the Driver. If necessary, some in-person debate between the Contributors can happen at this point. Then, with all the data and opinions at their disposal, the Approver makes the call and the Informed are told the verdict.
RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. In this matrix, each row is for a particular task, and there is a column for each person/role in the organization (i.e. project manager, engineering manager, developer, sales executive).
Within the matrix itself, each person for each task is assigned one of the four options:
The exercise of defining the matrix is almost as valuable as using it since it clearly lays out who is responsible for what in the decision making process. It might bruise some egos, but it also plainly states whose opinion matters and who does not.
Originally developed by Bain & Company, the RAPID framework is yet another decision making process intended to speed things up while being inclusive by clearly defining individual responsibilities before the process begins. The acronym itself doesn’t follow the order of operations that are typically used:
LinkedIn’s Performance Team uses this one for important decisions that have urgency, require horizontal collaboration across the organization, and represent a significant ROI.
“Projects that require cross-team effort are expensive for the company and disruptive for the team,” says LinkedIn’s Haricharan Ramachandra. “So it is important to have clear selection criteria that ensure high ROI for the organization from such projects.”
Developed at Square, the SPADE framework is also predicated on breaking down each step of the decision-making process so it is clear to everyone what’s happening, who’s doing what, and why a decision was reached.
“Go around the room and ask each one of them to support the decision one at a time,” says Square’s Gokul Rajaram. “Commitment meetings are really important because when you pledge to support a decision in the presence of your peers, you’re much more likely to support it. As the decision-maker, you’re responsible for executing on that decision, and so you need their support to help to move forward.”
Making a decision is a process, and process mapping is always useful for ensuring all relevant information and people are considered while creating a consistent, repeatable model. And, when it comes to decision making, in particular, it can also serve as an extremely useful and insightful tool for auditing how decisions are currently being made.
Pick a few important, recent decisions. How did they come to be? Outline the steps are taken and who filled which roles during that process. You can then ask:
If the answer to any of these was “no” then you know there’s some work to do to round out the process. If it was a perfect report card, then it’s just a matter of documenting what works, and ensuring others understand how they can use it themselves when the next big decision needs to be made.
Sometimes the options for a particular decision aren’t binary. When there are many possible ways to go, one way to collect input and generate a consensus that most can live with is to ask for a ranking of the options that are more nuanced than a simple yes/no.
When using gradients of agreement, those casting a vote can signal their enthusiasm by selecting from multiple options along a scale of declining approval.
With this more nuanced input, the person or group can tally up the responses and make the final decision; weighting each opinion appropriately. This process moves beyond an up/downvote and lets you sense what kind of ongoing support a choice will really have it it’s selected.
“If everybody whole-heartedly endorses the proposed decision, then you have a unanimous agreement. That’s great but often not necessary,” says Roman Pichler. “I find that it is OK when some people agree with minor reservations. But if several individuals are neutral or can’t support it, then you should continue the discussion and look for a solution that everyone can agree with.”
A word of caution about scalable decision-making frameworks… they aren’t magic. Decision-making frameworks don’t replace hard work, research, discussion, and debate. Instead, they provide a common setting for decisions to be made and a process that should create speed and consistency while still covering all the bases.
Relying on a framework for every single decision is overkill; they should be reserved for important decisions that impact a large swath of the organization. Overreliance can destroy everyone’s sense of autonomy and create its own share of bottlenecks.
You should also start slow when you’re ready to get started, so the process doesn’t stall. Focus on decisions that have major strategic importance or cut across many parts of the organization.
“Your organization won’t miss the irony if the exercise to improve decision making suffers analysis paralysis,” says Jon Huggett and Caitrin Moran of The Bridgespan Group. “But if you can fix the critical decisions, then everyone will know that you can fix others too. If your team finds the process useful, they will incorporate it into how they work. It will become part of their toolkit for running their parts of the organization.”
Regardless of whether you adopt any of the methodologies outlined above, you’ll notice they all share some common characteristics:
“Once you do a quick assessment of the importance of your choice and start using the decision-making framework over and over, something happens. You realize that making decisions doesn’t take days,” says Rajaram. “A fast decision means you can conserve energy for the important work that comes after making the choice.”