Making hard decisions

Daniel Morse
3 min readDec 11, 2022

We can relieve raucous ambiguity and stressful indecision …

How can we make complex decision easier?

Often we have no “design” or structures in place to support decision making. We are like kids trying to land a quarter in a small hole without the right tool.

In our effort to make the right decision, we can design support structures along the way to guide and direct every consideration: risks, dependency complexity, market analysis, historical context, bandwidth issues, opportunity costs, user feedback, etc.

Somehow, laying everything out helps you wrap your head around it.

Tool 1: the Decision Document

The best support structure I know is the “decision document.” A decision document outlines all of these components in a centralized place. You can dissect all the tricky conflicting dynamics one by one. For instance, a product developer must consider:

  • Historical context: background on motivation for project, learnings that serve as basis for this project, nuance of how it fits into larger goals and positioning
  • End User (for products): getting a nuanced sense of the needs being served by the product or project.
  • Budget: your financial and resource constraints
  • Dependencies: outline which divisions will need to sign off, confirm needs from others ahead of time & create checkin cadence if needed
  • Risks: what could go wrong and how can we mitigate them?
  • Trade Offs: outline the tradeoffs between sub-decision
  • Goals of different departments: how does this decision ladder into priorities of marketing, business, QA

The “decision document” is also the best way to engage others in your decision making process. All stakeholders can be immediately brought up to speed. Through centralization, readers can think through all the considerations and leave comments, growing an ever more nuanced outline for every reader. The document allows you to usher in no-meeting massive organizational changes and launch projects. From this process, the best choice often emerges.

There are two more complex decision making tools.

Tool 2: the Root Cause Map

Another tool aims to diagnose the root causes of a problem. The exercise, designed by Dale Carnegie, helps you discern which factor actually has the deepest influence on the issue. First, draw out all potential causes of the problem in a circle.

Next, draw arrows to denote which causes are root drivers of other causes. The resulting image helps you identify the root causes: the causes with the most influence on other issues (arrows pointing away from it) and the least influence it (arrows pointing to it). In the example above, “We don’t understand users” is the most influential root cause. The activity is a quick and dirty way to see which issue might be the highest priority for you to affect.

Tool 3: Foundations for Team Culture

Another tool aims to identify nuanced issues of team culture and collaboration. The framework, called the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, outlines the stack order foundations of culture and collaboration. For each issue is a solution:

Framework from the book by Patrick Lencioni

Leaders must ensure the base foundations of teamwork (trust and comfort with conflict) are in place before seeking to solve the higher order team needs (accountability and producing results).

These tools can give us a solid path forward.

Additional tools: